Press Release April 2nd, 2020

MOUNTING INTERNATIONAL CONCERN OVER DETENTION OF CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS IN INDIA IN THE MIDST OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Over 5,000 Individuals and 15 Organizations Sign Global Statement of Support for Dr. Anand Teltumbde and Mr. Gautam Navlakha

More than 5,000 individuals and, and over fifteen organizations have endorsed a global solidarity statement urging the Indian state to delay the impending arrest of Dr. Anand Teltumbde and Mr. Gautam Navlakha given the dangers posed by the pandemic COVID-19. Among the signatories of the statement, organized by India Civil Watch-International, a transnational democratic and civil rights advocacy group, are well-known and well-respected international scholars such as Professors Angela Davis, Cornel West, Jean Dreze, Sukhadeo Thorat, Zoya Hasan, Rajmohan Gandhi and Noam Chomsky; writers and artists such as Arundhati Roy, Aparna Sen and T.M. Krishna. Various democratic rights and social rights organizations such as European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights (ELDH), International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), Paris, Ambedkar International Center, USA, All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), India and many more have signed the petition.

Based on the denial of anticipatory bail by the Supreme Court of India, Dr. Teltumbde and Mr. Navlakha are expecting to be arrested by April 6, 2020. Both are internationally recognized for their life-long advocacy for the rights of the most marginalized communities of India. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, former Vice-Chancellor of Ashoka University endorses Anand Teltumbde as one of India’s foremost intellectuals, whose life work embodies the spirit of justice enshrined in the Indian constitution”. The global petition underscores the risks to their life and health in the midst of COVID19: “Both are senior citizens with pre-existing medical conditions that puts them at high risk for a deadly infection if imprisoned. Incarceration at such a time will most definitely endanger their lives and health. At the very least, we urge the judicial authorities to delay their arrest order, to after the global health crisis is fully subsided and there is no danger to their health and life.” As noted by prison reform advocates and health experts worldwide, “prisons and jails are amplifiers of infectious diseases,” especially for individuals with underlying health conditions.1 In India, with latest projections estimating that the pandemic could affect at least tens or even hundreds of millions of people, prisons are already in the process of releasing thousands of prisoners to forestall the spread of the virus in the population as a whole.2 Award winning poet and writer, Meena Kandasamy also asked for restraint from the Indian state at this time: “Countries around the world, have reacted to the alarming spread of COVID-19 by resorting to early release, and temporary release and presidential pardon of thousands of prisoners. Governments recognize that this is the only way to stem the spiraling fatality rates of this killer disease. To undertake a high profile arrest of a political nature at this time is absolutely inhuman and terrifying. It is, in effect, a death sentence. Dr. Teltumbde is in his 70s, and belongs to the vulnerable age group. The Indian state must restrain itself from the blunder of arresting him.”

Dr. Prachi Teltumbde, one of the co-organizers of the global solidarity statement said, “As a medical doctor I can say this with certitude: no humanitarian institution would send people into a crowded jail that has all the conditions for the spread of COVID19 and deadly risk. Anand Teltumbde is my father. I would not wish this on anyone, least of all my dad.”

India Civil Watch International would like to bring attention to the fact the threatened arrest of Dr. Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha marks another escalation in ongoing efforts to target dissent, specifically around what has come to be known as the Bhima Koregaon case, wherein more than a dozen dissidents – including internationally acclaimed lawyers and human rights activists – have been either imprisoned or threatened with imprisonment.3

Supporting the global solidarity petition, noted scholar and former University Grants Commission chairman Sukhadeo Thorat said: “Let Anand Teltumbde and Mr. Gautam Navlakha’s freedom to hold and express views, guaranteed by the Indian Constitution to all Citizens be protected.”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Notes

1 See Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic [https://www.prisonpolicy.org/virus/virusresponse.html].

2 See 1.3 billion people. A 21-day lockdown. Can India curb the coronavirus? [https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/13-billion-people-21-day-lockdown-can-india-curb-coronavirus]. Indian prisons are notoriously under-equipped to ensure the health of the incarcerated even under normal circumstances. “Indian prisons have 17% more prisoners than their full capacity. When social distancing is key to breaking chain of infections, this kind of overflowing occupancy is a matter of grave concern. Sanitation facilities in prisons are horrible.” Dr KK Aggarwal, cardiologist and president of the Heart Care Foundation of India, quoted in Coronavirus: India’s packed prisons raise Covid-19 alarm [https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/india-packed-prisons-raise-coronavirus-alarm-1661136-2020-03-30]. See also Coronavirus: Congested prisons across India to release prisoners on parole [https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/coronavirus-congested-prisons-across-india-to-release-prisoners-on-parole/cid/1760575].

3 See Bhima Koregaon [https://indiacivilwatch.org/issues-b12/]

Global Solidarity Statement for Dr. Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha

हिंदी|मराठी

Despite the recent arrests of Dr. Teltumbde and Mr. Navlakha, this statement remains open for signatures. Please read these open letters written by both on the eve of their arrests (links above).

PLEASE SIGN AND ADD YOUR VOICE TO THIS STATEMENT!


Painting by Mr. Siddesh Gautam

Signatories include eminent public figures such as Noam Chomsky, Gayatri Spivak, Sukhadeo Thorat, Cornel West, Angela Davis, Rajmohan Gandhi, Arundhati Roy, T.M. Krishna, Kshama Sawant, Ramachandra Guha, Prakash Ambedkar, Anand Patwardhan, Robin D.G. Kelley, Justice Kolse-Patil, Partha Chatterjee, Arjun Appadurai, Akeel Bilgrami, Jean Dreze, Rajeshwari Sunder Rajan, Justice P.B. Sawant, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Surinder Jodhka, V. Geetha, Manoranjan Mohanty, Dileep Menon, Aparna Sen, Zoya Hasan, Shabnam Hashmi, Sudipta Kaviraj, Ania Loomba, Suvir Kaul, Bruce Robbins, Nandini Sundar, Narendra Subramanian, Susie Tharu, John Dayal, Ram Puniyani, S. Anandhi, Alf Gunvald Nilsen, Shamshul Islam, Subir Sinha, Geeta Kapur, Priyamvada Gopal, Aakash Rathore, Ritty Lukose, Christophe Jaffrelot, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Aijaz Ahmad, David Mosse, Barbara Harriss-White, Sushruth Jadhav, Prabhat Patnaik, Utsa Patnaik, Neera Chandoke, Karin Kapadia, S.V. Rajadurai, Sankalp Meshram, Jairus Banaji, Swapan Chakravorty, Uma Chakravarti, Anand Chakravarti, Anil Sadgopal, Amit Bhaduri, Vinay Lal, Amit Chaudhury, Achin Vanaik, Jan Myrdal, Nandita Haksar, Niraja Jayal, Anjali Arondekar, Shailaja Paik, Meena Dhanda, Sudesh Ghoderao, Lawrence Simon, Gary Tartakov, Bill Fletcher, Joseph Tharamangalam, Christopher Queen, Sujata Patel, Nancy Holmstrom, Dilip Simeon, M.A. Baby, Roger Jeffrey, Kumkum Roy, Pritam Singh, G.N. Devy, Feroze Mithiborwala, Cedric Prakash, Sangayya Hiremath, K. Stalin, Cynthia Mckinney, John Harriss, Anil Sadgopal, Sudesh Ghoderao, Narendra Nayak and others including organizations (see below).

Click to see the current list of signatories –5963 have signed!

We, the undersigned (organizations and individuals) protest the impending arrest of Professor Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha and strongly condemn the attempt to malign their status as two of India’s foremost civil rights activists and public intellectuals today. On March 16, 2020, the Supreme Court of India rejected the anticipatory bail application of Dr. Teltumbde and Mr. Navlakha. They now have until April 6, 2020 to ‘surrender’ to the police. We strongly urge the Chief Justice of India and the Supreme Court bench to take cognizance of the dangers posed by the pandemic COVID19 to the health and life of Dr. Teltumbde and Mr. Navlakha. Both are senior citizens with pre-existing medical conditions that puts them at high risk for a deadly infection if imprisoned. Incarceration at such a time will most definitely endanger their lives and health. At the very least, we urge the judicial authorities to amend their arrest order to after the global health crisis is fully subsided and there is no danger to their health and life.  

Both Teltumbde and Navlakha are only the latest in an ongoing series of attacks on human rights lawyers, civil rights activists, and scholars by the ruling regime in India. They have been charged under a draconian colonial law (UAPA) against ‘terrorists’ and ‘seditionists’ which blatantly disregards fundamental rights enjoyed by all Indian citizens such as free speech, right to hold an opinion, or the right to dissent violent policies of the state, and right to due judicial process (see statements from Indian civil liberties organizations – PUCL, PUDR, WSS, Oxfam India). Their cases are part of what has come to be known as the ‘Bhima Koregaon’ case – a dubious and brazenly fabricated case (see the American Bar Association’s report that documents the irregularities and violations of the freedom of expression and association in this case, and a more recent investigation points to the fabricated nature of the evidence). Since June 2018, nine other prominent intellectuals and civil liberties activists (Sudha Bharadwaj, Sudhir Dhawale, Arun Ferreira, Surendra Gadling, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, and Rona Wilson) have been imprisoned under this fabricated case (for a comprehensive compendium of news reports on the Bhima Koregaon cases see India Civil Watch). This group of eleven are among India’s most respected activists and intellectuals who have consistently fought for the democratic rights of the socially marginalized and oppressed groups, such as Dalits, Adivasis (indigenous ‘tribal’ communities), workers, and religious minorities. 

Professor Teltumbde is a distinguished scholar, civil rights activist, and one of India’s leading public intellectuals with a long history of speaking truth to power, exposing the state’s repressive practices against its most vulnerable populations such as Dalits and working classes, and society’s entrenched regressive cultural institutions such as caste. Admired by many as an organic intellectual, Dr. Teltumbde’s writings have contributed immensely to critical debates on democracy, globalization and social justice. A consummate polymath hailing from very humble beginnings as a member of the Dalit community (India’s long-oppressed ‘Untouchable’ castes), Dr. Teltumbde graduated from India’s leading institutions of higher education with high scholarly achievements. He is an alumnus of the premier Indian Institute of Management (IIM – Ahmedabad), has had a long and illustrious career in the corporate sector in top management positions in the state-owned Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, and the petro-infrastructure company Petronet India Ltd (promoted by the Government of India in the private sector). After his corporate stint, he has been Professor of Business Management at the premier Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-Kharagpur) and is currently a senior professor and chair of Big Data Analytics at Goa Institute of Management. His astute analysis on the dynamics of caste and class and on the relevance of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (the much revered chief architect of the Indian Constitution and Mahatma Gandhi’s most important interlocutor) for contemporary society are essential references for scholars and are required reading at many universities around the world. He is frequently an invited speaker at international conferences, demonstrating the respect his work commands all over the globe. 

Dr. Teltumbde has contributed immensely to improving the lives of people and decided to devote time to make an intellectual contribution for making the world a little more just. This instinct naturally led him to actively build civil society organisations such as the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) of which he is the general secretary, and the All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) of which he is a presidium member. None of the organizations he is associated with are banned organizations in India.

Gautam Navlakha has been a well-known democratic and human rights activist and a journalist. He has been a longstanding member of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi. He has served as an editorial consultant of India’s leading social science journal – the internationally well-known Economic and Political Weekly and has been a convener of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir. His book Days and Nights: In the Heartland of Rebellion (Penguin, 2012) is one of the most serious interventions in understanding the Maoist movement in Chattisgarh. 

The intention of the state is quite clear from the vehemence with which the Central government took away the cases of Teltumbde and Navlakha from the Maharashtra government to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) just a few weeks ago. It appears evident that the state wishes to incarcerate them in jails for years just for advocating for the democratic and human rights of oppressed and marginalised sections of Indian society. This, despite the fact that their methods of struggle for justice have always been within the provisions and freedoms provided by the Constitution of India. Neither of them has anything remotely to do with organising or the subsequent events that occurred around the Bhima Koregaon episode.

As long-time observers of Indian democracy, we are shocked by the state’s vicious persecution of intellectuals and activists who have devoted their lives to the defense of the powerless and the weak, and are some of India’s strongest defenders of democracy especially at a time when the world is witness to brazen attacks on it in India. Moreover, in targeting Dr. Teltumbde – a person of exceptional antecedents as a corporate leader, high caliber scholar, and a much celebrated public intellectual, but also coming from one of the founding families of Indian democracy – that of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar – the state is sending a message to the entire country that it could go to any extent to repress the voice of people if they dare to challenge and dissent.  

In solidarity with and with unequivocal support to Dr. Teltumbde and Mr. Navlakha and all the others who are falsely implicated in the Bhima-Koregaon case, we urge:

  1. The President of India, Shri. Ram Nath Kovind to uphold the Indian Constitution and Indian democracy by intervening in this case and seeking the Supreme Court’s opinion on the use of sedition and terrorism charges against human rights activists.
  2. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to elevate the case as its highest priority and constitute an immediate inquiry into the questions of fabrication of evidence reported widely in the media.
  3. The Government of Maharashtra and the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission to immediately constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to independently investigate the matter. 
  4. The United Nations Human Right Commission (UNHRC) and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to attend to the UN Special Rapporteur who has clearly challenged the basis of this case.

So far, 5963 organizations or individuals have signed this petition. The following is a partial list of highlights:

  • National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), India
  • India Civil Watch International, USA
  • Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), India
  • Ambedkar International Center, USA
  • Indian American Muslim Council, USA
  • All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), India
  • Dalit Solidarity Forum, USA
  • Ambedkar King Study Circle, USA
  • Dalit Adivasi Adhikar Shakti Manch (DAASM), India
  • International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), Paris
  • Indian Alliance Paris, Paris
  • Hindus for Human Rights, USA
  • Equality Labs, USA
  • Central Jersey Democratic Socialists of America, USA
  • Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA), India
  • Indian Community Activists Network, India
  • Science for the People, USA
  • Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus, MIT and Laureate Professor, University of Arizona 
  • Arundhati Roy, Writer, India
  • Cornel West, Professor of practice of public philosophy, Harvard
  • Robin D. G. Kelley, Distinguished Professor of History, UCLA, USA
  • Partha Chatterjee, Senior Research Scholar, Anthropology  Columbia University, USA
  • Gayatri Spivak, University Professor, English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, USA
  • Angela Davis, UC Santa Cruz, USA
  • Sukhadeo Thorat, Professor Emeritus, School of Social Sciences, JNU, and Former Chairperson of University Grants Commission and ICSSR
  • Kshama Sawant, Member, City Council, Seattle, WA USA
  • Anand Patwardhan, Film maker, India
  • Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics, JNU India
  • Gyan Prakash, Professor of History, Princeton
  • Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Distinguished Professor, Syracuse University
  • Akeel Bilgrami, Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University
  • Arjun Appadurai, Paulette Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University, NY
  • Rajeshwari Sunder Rajan, Global Distinguished Professor, New York University, NY
  • Justice Kolse-Patil, retired High Court Judge
  • Justice P. B. Sawant, Former Supreme Court Judge and President, World Association of Press Councils
  • Prakash Ambedkar, ex-Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha), India
  • Ramachandra Guha, Historian and Economist
  • V. Geetha, Feminist Historian and Writer
  • Professor Manoranjan Mohanty, Durgabai Deshmukh Professor of Social Development at the Council for Social Development, New Delhi and Co-chair of the Institute of Chinese Studies.

Quick References

REPORTS on Case

BACKGROUNDERS

SOLIDARITY STATEMENTS

Solidarity Statements

  • Amnesty International (India) – Free the Bhima Koregaon 11 (petition)
  • NAPM Condemns Continued Oppression of Civil Liberties and Targetting of Dissent (April 14, 2020)
  • 8 Members of European Parliament write letter to GOI about judicial harassment of human rights activists in Bhima Koregaon arrestees (April 3, 2020)
  • 29 European Members of European Parliament letter to GOI (September 12, 2018)

All India Forum for Right to Education Solidarity Statement for Anand Teltumbde

Statement by Scheduled caste / Scheduled Tribe Employees of Bharath petroleum Corporation Litd., India in support of Anand Teltumbde

Nepali Citizens Solidarity Statement for Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha

Preliminary Report by American Bar Association Center for Human Rights: This is in October 2019 by the Justice Defenders Program (American Bar Association Center for Human Rights) of the Bhima Koregaon judicial records which raised serious concern regarding procedural irregularities, abuse of process, and violations of fundamental human rights. 

Statements by Amnesty International India

  • Dalit Protestors’ Voices Must Not Be Suppressed (Bengaluru/ New Delhi: 20 February 2018) READ HERE
  • Bhima Koregaon: Clampdown On Dissent Continues, Three Human Rights Defenders Placed In Police Custody (Bengaluru/ New Delhi: 28 October 2018) READ HERE
  • Ill-Treatment Of Arun Ferreira Shows How India Is Becoming A Dangerous Place For Human Rights Defenders (Bengaluru/New Delhi: 8 November 2018) READ HER
  • India: Dalit Rights Activists Detained (Bengaluru/ New Delhi: 25 June 2018) READ HERE
  • Crackdown On HRDs In India A Threat To Freedom To Dissent (New Delhi/London: 31 August 2018) READ HERE

Statements by Oxfam India

  • Crackdown on activists cannot become the order of the day (28 Aug, 2018) READ HERE

Statements by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) 

  • WSS Statement On The Arrests of Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Varavara Rao (August 31, 2018) READ HERE

Statements by People’s Union for Civil Liberties, India (PUCL)

  • PUCL Condemns the Arrest of Public Intellectuals (August 31, 2018) READ HERE

Statements by the People’s Union for Democratic Rights, India (PUDR)

  • On The Release Of Our Long-Standing Member Gautam Navlakha (October 1, 2018) READ HERE
  • On the Supreme Court’s Verdict on the Arrest of 5 Activists under the UAPA (October 1, 2018) READ HERE