If you raise questions, you are anti-government, anti-national: Adivasi-rights activist Stan Swamy on the Bhima-Koregaon crackdown

03 September 2018
Gladson Dungdung
Gladson Dungdung

On 28 August, the Pune Police raided the homes of nine prominent human-rights activists and intellectuals across the country. These included the trade unionist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, the journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha, the lawyers and activists Vernon Gonsalvez and Arun Ferreira, the lawyer Susan Abraham, the Maoist ideologue and writer Varavara Rao, the writer and professor Anand Teltumbde, the journalist Kranthi Tekula, and the Jesuit priest and Adivasi-rights activist Stan Swamy. Five of them were also arrested through the course of the day, and booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which disallows bail. They are currently under house arrest, following a Supreme Court intervention.

On 31 August, Maharashtra’s additional director-general of police, Parambir Singh held a press conference to outline the police’s case against them. He stated that the police had seized “thousands of password-protected messages” and “sahitya”—written material—from the devices of another group of activists arrested on 6 June, which provided “incriminating material” that led to the 28 August arrests. Singh also claimed that the activists arrested worked as overground cadre of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), plotted to overthrow the government, plotted to assassinate Modi, organised Dalits and Adivasis, and incited the violence that took place in Bhima Koregaon, a town in Pune, in January.

The basis for these arrests and raids is a first information report filed by Tushar Damgude, a businessman in Pune, on 8 January this year. Another FIR was filed on 1 January, by Anita Sawale, also a Pune resident, holding two Hindutva leaders—Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide—responsible for the violence. During the press conference, Singh refused to answer any questions on the earlier 1 January FIR.

While Stan Swamy was not among those arrested, Singh has said those whose homes were searched remain suspects, and are being observed and investigated.  Swamy, an 81-year-old Jesuit priest, resides is a single room at the campus of Bagaicha, a social research and training centre, in Ranchi, Jharkhand, which he helped establish in 2006. He regularly shares his writings and updates on Bagaicha’s advocacy work with Jharkhand’s Adivasi and rural communities.

In an interview over the phone, the journalist Chitrangada Choudhury spoke to Swamy about the police’s action against him, and his work in the Adivasi areas of Jharkhand over several decades. “We directly confront the government in the courts on issues of Adivasis,” Swamy said. “Because we ask questions, we are being harassed.”

Chitrangada Choudhury is an independent journalist and researcher, working on issues of indigenous and rural communities, land and forest rights, and resource justice. She is on Twitter @ChitrangadaC

Keywords: Dalit BJP Jharkhand Adivasi Dalit activism Bhima Koregaon Adivasi community forest rights act Stan Swamy