17. 04 , 2018_
In a shocking development, the Pune (Maharashtra) police today, April 17, 2018 at around 6.00 a.m. conducted simultaneous searches at homes of prominent activists in Maharashtra namely Sudhir Dhavale (Dalit activist, Republican Panthers), Harshali Potdar (Woman activist, Republican Panthers), Ramesh Gaychor, Jyoti Jagtap, Sagar Gorkhe, Rupali Jadhav and Dhawala Dhengle (all Kabir Kala Manch activists) in relation to the violence that ensued on the day of bi-centenary celebrations of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon on January 31, 2018 and the subsequent bandh.
The Pune police also conducted a search at the Nagpur home and office of Surendra Gadling, a People’s Lawyer practicing there. His computer Hard disk, DVDs and other e-storage devices were seized by the police. Surendra Gadling is the General Secretary of the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) and has been an active member since its formation in 2004. He has, since the last three decades, been litigating cases of those marginalized in the Indian judicial system, especially Dalits, tribals and workers from various backgrounds. He played a significant role in defending those incarcerated in draconian laws of TADA, POTA and UA(P)A including that of Sudhir Dhavale, Prof. G.N. Saibaba and also in defending rights of tribals arrested by the police under fabricated FIRs. Adv. Gadling has also fought for the rights of dalits in numerous atrocities such as the Khairlanji massacre. He himself has been resisting the anti-people stance of the state as a Human Rights activist and People’s Lawyer and due to this popularity, has even contested Bar Council elections for Maharashtra and Goa.
On December 31, 2017, an Élgaar Parishad was organised in Pune commemorating the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon wherein the Peshwahi rule in Maharahtra was defeated. The Elgar Parishad was organised with the stated objective of fighting Brahminism and Fascism i.e. the neo-peshwahi. The program was hugely successful and attended by thousands from across the state. However on January 1, 2018 the following day, those commemorating the event were attacked by a mob carrying saffron flags and instigated by Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote. These two right wing activists are closely connected with the ruling BJP and the Sangh Parivar and this attack was part of a pre-meditated plan.
Following this attack, the dalit community and sections from the Other Backward Castes (OBC) and Muslim communities participated in a State wide Bandh calling for the arrest of Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote. The police, rather than arresting these two instigators of the violence, retaliated by conducting massive combing operations in Dalit bastis and arbitrarily searching homes and arresting up young men. Thousands of people were detained illegally. FIRs under sections 153A, 505(1), 117 and 34 of IPC were registered against activists including Sudhir Dhavale, Harshali Potdar, Ramesh Gaychor, Jyoti Jagtap, Sagar Gorkhe and also against Jignesh Mevani (an elected Gujarat MLA) and Umar Khalid (a student leader) for participating in the Elgar Parishad.
Instead of taking strict and timely action against the inciters of the violence that ensued in Bhima Koregaon, the state machinery has sought to target activists and lawyers who are fighting regressive trends in the society. As for Advocate Gadling, his harassment is a clear case of targeting him for his persistent defence of numerous Rights activist and those arrested in fabricated cases. Gadling’s name was not even mentioned in the FIR, wherein the Pune Police have sought action. Being a dalit lawyer and activist, seems to be the rationale for making him a ‘natural’ target of the Pune FIR.
The Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) condemns the search conducted in the home and office of Advocate Surendra Gadling. Such search is nothing but an attempt to prevent Advocate Surendra Gadling from performing his professional duties, and representing clients targeted by the state, and such action amounts to interference with the administration of justice. IAPL also condemns the searches and harassment meted out to other activists and stands with them in this difficult hour of state hounding. IAPL declares that such searches are for the sole purpose of distracting people’s attention from the real culprits of the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
_Adv. Sudha Bharadwaj (IAPL, Vice President), Adv. Ankit Grewal (IAPL, Joint Secretary), Adv. Arun Ferreira (IAPL, Treasurer)_