Manufacturing Maoists: Anand Teltumbde on the false 2007 case against Arun Ferreira

29 August 2018
Arun Ferreira was one among several activists and lawyers arrested by the Pune Police on 28 August.
AFP/ Getty Images
Arun Ferreira was one among several activists and lawyers arrested by the Pune Police on 28 August.
AFP/ Getty Images

In the morning on 28 August, the Pune Police conducted raids at the houses of several activists, lawyers, and writers across the country, in Mumbai, Delhi, Ranchi, Hyderabad and Goa. Those whose houses were raided include the trade unionist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, the writer and activist Gautam Navlakha, the activist and lawyer Vernon Gonsalvez, the human-rights activist Arun Ferreira, the advocate Susan Abraham, the Marxist intellectual and writer Varavara Rao, the writer Anand Teltumbde, the journalist Kranthi Tekula, and the Jesuit priest and activist Stan Swamy, several of whom were also arrested through the course of the day. Some of the arrests have been made under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and the police action is reportedly related to the arrests made in June this year, in connection to the violence in Bhima Koregaon in January. 

Arun Ferreira, a human-rights activist based in Thane, reportedly saidthat he had been “arrested in the same case as Dhawale and Gadling”—Sudhir Dhawale and Surendra Gadling were among the five arrested in June. Ferreira was earlier arrested in 2007, on allegations of being a “Naxalite” and subsequently spent over four years in jail before being acquitted in 2012. In his recent book Republic of Caste, the activist and writer Anand Teltumbde—whose residence in Goa was among those listed for raids by the Pune Police—discusses how the Indian government’s approach to Maoist rebels is marked by a fear of the “grass-roots level dissent” that it represents. Teltumbde looks at Ferreira’s arrest as an example of the state's attempt to curtail such dissent. He writes, “The state has exerted all its might to discredit and eliminate individuals it deems a threat to its apparatus.”

In the film A Huey P. Newton Story (2001) on the life of Huey Newton who along with Bobby Seale founded the left-wing Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966, Newton, played by Roger Guenveur Smith, makes a perceptive observation:

If you read the FBI files you will see that even Mr J. Edgar Hoover himself had to say that it was not the guns that were the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States of America … it was the Free Children’s Breakfast Program.

The Free Breakfast for School Children Program, a seemingly ordinary community welfare scheme, was launched by the Black Panther Party in January 1969 to feed a handful of kids at St Augustine’s Church in Oakland, California. It became so popular that by the end of the year, the programme had spread to 19 cities where more than ten thousand children were fed free breakfast (bread, bacon, eggs, grits) every day before going to school. While the programme operated in predominantly black neighbourhoods, children of other communities, including those of partly middle-class localities in Seattle, were also fed. It raised public consciousness about hunger and poverty in America, and also brought people closer to the social mission envisioned by the founders of the Black Panther Party. The programme’s success spoke volumes about the needs of the black community, and the national reach and capacity of the party. It exposed government inaction towards the problems of the poor, by highlighting the inadequacies of the federal government’s lunch programmes in public schools across the country. Despite, or rather on account of, its success, federal authorities attempted to clamp down on the breakfast programme. In a giveaway of the security establishment’s mindset, the director of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, noted it as an “infiltration”—an intrusion into the domain of the state even if the state was disregarding its obligation towards the welfare of a certain class of citizens.

Anand Teltumbde is a writer and activist. He is a senior professor and chair of Big Data Analytics at Goa Institute of Management, and was earlier a professor at IIT Kharagpur. He is currently lodged in Taloja Jail, awaiting trial.

Keywords: Sudhir Dhawale arrest activists human rights Narendra Modi Naxalism Arun Ferreira Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act Bhima Koregaon Pune Police