On 16 March 2020, a Supreme Court bench comprising the judges Arun Mishra and Mukeshkumar Rasikbhai Shah rejected the anticipatory bail pleas of civil-rights activists Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde, in relation to the violence at Bhima Koregaon in January 2018. Navlakha and Teltumbde were booked by the Pune Police under the draconian Unlawaful Activities (Prevention) Act for alleged Maoist links in 2018. The Supreme Court has asked Navlakha and Teltumbde to surrender within three weeks.
Hours after his pre-arrest bail was rejected, Navlakha wrote a letter addressing his imminent arrest.
I thank Justices Arun Mishra and MR Shah of the Supreme Court for giving me three weeks to surrender before the NIA. I am grateful to senior advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Kapil Sibal for defending us. I cannot thank enough my dearest friends lawyers for investing their precious time to represent me.
Now that I have to surrender within three weeks I ask myself - dare I hope to be freed from the burden of being accused in what appears to me, to be yet another conspiracy trial, one more in the long list of such trials? Will the co-accused and others like them get their freedom back? These questions creep in because of the times we live in where civil liberties are getting progressively squeezed, and where only one narrative dominates, backed by crassness in public life.
The dreadful act - the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act - allows for banning of an organisation and outlaws its ideology. As a result, the most innocuous and legitimate of engagement and interaction can become criminal in the eyes of the state. It is a law that makes the very process an instrument of punishment, without even waiting for the trial and its outcome.