Late in the afternoon today, civil-society organisations such as the People’s Union for Democratic Rights, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, and Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression held a press conference at the Press Club of India in Delhi. Among the speakers were the Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, the activists Aruna Roy and Bezwada Wilson, the lawyer Prashant Bhushan and the writer Arundhati Roy. The speakers had gathered to discuss the recent arrests of five activists—the trade-unionist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, the writers Gautam Navlakha and Varavara Rao, the lawyers Arun Ferriera and Vernon Gonsalvez—by the Pune Police, which they claimed was in connection to the caste-based violence that took place in Bhima Koregaon in January, and a public meeting that was held the previous day. The police later said that the arrested activists were involved in a plot to overthrow the government. On the day of the arrests, the police also conducted raids at the homes of various activists, writers and intellectuals, in Mumbai, Delhi, Ranchi, Hyderabad and Goa, including the writer Anand Teltumbde, the journalist Kranthi Tekula, and the Jesuit priest and activist Stan Swamy.
The speakers at the press conference condemned the police crackdown. Mevani described the arrests and the actions of the police as “a combination of an undeclared emergency, fascism and the Gujarat model,” while Wilson said that the Indian state was attempting to undermine forms of Dalit assertion. Roy delivered a statement at the press conference, adapted from the text below.
This morning’s papers (August 30 2018) settle something that we have been debating for a while. A front-page report in the Indian Express says “Police to Court: Those held part of anti-fascist plot to overthrow govt.” We should know by now that we are up against a regime that its own police call fascist. In the India of today, to belong to a minority is a crime. To be murdered is a crime. To be lynched is a crime. To be poor is a crime. To defend the poor is to plot to overthrow the government.
When the Pune police conducted simultaneous raids at the homes of well-known activists, poets, lawyers and priests across the country, and arrested five people—high-profile civil rights defenders and two lawyers—on ludicrous charges, with little or no paperwork, the Government would have known that it was stirring up outrage. It would have already taken all our reactions into account, including this press conference and all the protests that have taken place across the country, before it made this move. So why has this happened?
Recent analyses of real voter data as well the Lokniti-CSDS-ABP Mood of the Nation survey have shown that the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are losing popularity at an alarming pace (for them).This means that we are entering dangerous times. There will be ruthless and continuous attempts to divert attention from the reasons for this loss of popularity, and to fracture the growing solidarity of the opposition. It will be a continuous circus from now to the elections—arrests, assassinations, lynchings, bomb attacks, false flag attacks, riots, pogroms. We have learned to connect the season of elections with the onset of all kinds of violence. Divide and Rule, yes. But add to that—Divert and Rule. From now until the elections, we will not know from when, and where and how the fireball will fall on us, and what the nature of that fireball will be. So, before I speak about the arrests of lawyers and activists, let me just reiterate a few points that we must not allow our attention to stray from, even while it rains fire, and strange events befall us.