On 2 February, the Pune Police briefly arrested Anand Teltumbde, a civil-rights activist, academic, and noted anti-caste scholar, despite a Supreme Court order granting him protection from arrest until 11 February. Calling the move “illegal,” a Pune sessions court ordered his release the same day, giving him the opportunity to seek bail before the protection period is scheduled to end. But Teltumbde still faces the prospect of re-arrest. His possible imprisonment is part of a country-wide police crackdown on human-rights activists and public intellectuals perceived to be critical of the Narendra Modi government. Students, teachers, and civil-society organisations across the country have expressed solidarity with Teltumbde after he appealed for public support.
Teltumbde is one of at least 11 activists who have been accused of having links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Other activists have additionally been accused of inciting the violence that took place at Bhima Koregaon, a village near Pune, on 1 January 2018, and conspiring to assassinate the prime minister Narendra Modi. Since June 2018, at least nine of the 11 activists have been arrested, while police departments across the country have conducted raids at the homes of several others.
On 28 August 2018, the Pune police raided Teltumbde’s home in Goa. He was also booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The same day, police arrested five other activists. In a press conference on 31 August, Parambir Singh, the additional director-general of Maharashtra police, claimed that the activists had Maoist links. Singh said they found a letter written by a Maoist addressed to “Com Anand,” which they claimed was a reference to Teltumbde. The police also said that Teltumbde attended a convention in Paris that was funded by the Maoists. Teltumbde refuted the allegations against him, denying any association with the Maoist party.
On 15 October, Teltumbde filed an appeal in the Bombay high court asking the court to quash the case against him. In December, the court dismissed his petition and gave him three weeks to approach the Supreme Court. Teltumbde then approached the apex court and sought a dismissal of the charges against him. On 14 January, the Supreme Court refused to quash the case, but granted him four weeks—until 11 February— to seek pre-arrest bail. On 1 February, a Pune sessions court denied his anticipatory bail plea. Though the four-week relief was ongoing, the Pune police arrested him at 3:30 am on 2 February.
Teltumbde’s lawyers challenged his arrest in court and argued that after the Pune sessions court denied bail, they should have had the option of seeking bail from a higher court. “This is a complete contempt of the court,” Teltumbde’s lawyer Mihir Desai said. “In complete disregard of the Supreme Court order, the police, and the prosecution are basically acting in a completely high handed manner. The Supreme Court order is clear, it is—[the court’s protection]— for four weeks, which gives us an opportunity to go higher up for the anticipatory bail.” The Pune sessions court ruled in favour of Teltumbde, ordered his release and gave him a chance to seek bail again.
Desai said he will file a petition for anticipatory bail in the Bombay high court on 4 February. If this bail plea is denied, Teltumbde could be re-arrested after the four-week protection period is over. Desai added that the letter the police claimed as evidence against Teltumbde is fabricated. “This is an effort to attack anybody who criticises the present dispensation,” he said.
Teltumbde, too, has described the police crackdown as a way to silence dissenters. “This time they have attacked the ones who may be called the top most pro-people activists and intellectuals in the country,” he said in an interview soon after the raid at his home. “The message is loud and clear to all others: to not speak against the government.”
After the Supreme Court refused to quash the case against him, Teltumbde wrote an open letter in which he said that he feared his “imminent arrest” and asked for public support. “There is not an iota of unlawful activities in either my voluminous writings or selfless activism,” Teltumbde said. The letter called for civil-society to “build a visible campaign” to “save” him. Since then, people across the world have campaigned in Teltumbde’s support, through petitions, statements and protest rallies.
At present, Teltumbde is a senior professor at the Goa Institute of Management and heads the institute’s big-data analytics program. He previously taught courses in business management at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. He is also a graduate of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Students and faculty from the IIMA and IIT Kharagpur have demanded that all charges against him be dropped.
“Teltumbde has contributed significantly to the cause of social justice and his actions have been in the interest of strengthening Indian democracy,” IIMA students wrote in a statement. “We are concerned about the repression faced by persons who speak for social justice, and those who serve as role models for the aspiring youth.”