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Who is Vernon Gonsalves?

Vernon Gonsalves is trade unionist, activist, an academic (former professor of business management in a college in Mumbai) and a writer, who writes extensively on Dalit and adivasi rights, the conditions of prisons in India and the routine violation of rights of prisoners. Along with Arun Ferriera, he has authored a number of popular articles on the condition of Indian jails, the abuse of authority by Indian police, and draconian laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), a piece of ‘anti-terror’ legislation with a wide ambit and vague concepts, which allows its misuse against academics, lawyers and human rights defenders. Equally importantly, their writings expose the hypocrisy of democracy in India.  

In one of their scathing reports on ‘fake encounters’ – a routine extra-legal killing carried out by the Indian police, they write:

Fake encounters are murders by the state and therefore a gross contempt for rule of law and this is known to all in the political, bureaucratic, judicial and media establishment.
Nevertheless they have become so routine as to acquire the acceptance and even silent approval of those running Indian “democracy”.

They continue to show the shocking levels of impunity enjoyed by the police thus:

In Maharashtra, a “successful” encounter by the police claimed more than 40 adivasi lives in Gadchiroli in April 2018, without a single police personnel being injured. The Maharashtra Police celebrated their “success” with a party of song and dance at the Gadchiroli police headquarters. The videos were not only shared on social media but also publicised approvingly by all the mainstream networks. One national daily called it a mantra of “Work hard, party harder!” Rare are the stories of even Nazi occupation armies celebrating and jubilating at the mass killings of the citizens they subjugated. For a force presumably tasked with the protection of the people, the death at their hands of more than 40 fellow citizens from the poorest of poor communities of their land should have been cause for regret, if not mourning. While their obscene display of delight is thus a telling commentary of how they have been instilled with contempt for the country’s laws and its people, the loud cheers from the sidelines by the media — the self-admitted fourth pillar of any democracy — is a more damning comment on the pathetic state of India’s polity [Link].

Not surprisingly, both Arun Ferreiera and Vernon Gonsalves have incurred the wrath of the same police and security personnel.

Brief Biography

Vernon Gonsalves was born to a Mangalorean Catholic couple, and grew up in a lower-middle class chawl in Byculla in south Mumbai. He graduated with highest honors from mumbai University. He started as a management trainee at Siemens before becoming a social worker in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur area. He has taught business management and economics at various colleges in Mumbai, including Ruparel College, HR College of Commerce and Economics, and Akbar Peerbhoy College of Commerce and Economics. Gonsalves is married to Susan Abraham, a lawyer who is also defending Advocate Surendra Gadling – one of the B-12 arrestees. They have a 23-year old son, Sagar.

Gonsalves, along with Arun Ferreira, writes regularly on prevailing law and order issues, and is critical of the establishment. He also writes extensively on Dalit and tribal rights, the condition of prisons in India, and is a vocal about wanting UAPA to be scrapped. In their detailed critique of the UAPA, Vernon and Arun explain why it should be repealed [Link]. They have also co-authored a number of articles on the Daily O, one of which for instance, exposes the nonsensical claims made by the Pune police for the arrests.

Commenting on the alleged ‘Rajiv Gandhi-type’ assassination plot to kill the Prime Minister (an allegation made as part of the charges against many of the B-12 arrestees), Gonsalves writes:

“The sole purpose seems to be to whip up a false narrative, favourable to the current regime. Sidetracking the demands of the Dalit movements to punish the Hindutva leaders and the organisations responsible for the attacks of 1 January 2018 on the congregation at Bhima Koregaon can be another probable purpose.”

Gonsalves has been previously arrested under UAPA in 2007, and kept in jail for six years before being acquitted of all the cases against him except one, which is still pending. Vernon was not a regular writer prior to 2013. It was during his time in prison from 2007-2013 that he started writing short stories. He started writing regularly in early 2014, months after he was released from the prison.

On 19 August 2007, the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad arrested Gonsalves from his residence in Mumbaii. They alleged that he was a “top-level” Naxalite, who possessed explosives, that he was an ex-central committee member and former secretary of Maharashtra State Rajya Committee of the Maoists. He was charged in 20 cases under the UAPA. On June 27, 2013, Gonsalves was released from prison. He was acquitted in 17 cases against him, discharged in one, with one underway trial, and convicted in one case for which he had already spent time in jail [Link].

Speaking to Rediff after his release, he said:

“The falsehood was evident even to the magistrate. During the trial, the explosive expert was called to give his assessment. He said with the kind of explosives mentioned, it could blast a whole station and I was supposed to have stored it here? It is absurd for such things to be stored in a match-box-size house of sorts that we live in. The expert did mention the unlikelihood. It was all absurd.”

Gonsalves’ son, Sagar, who is now witnessing Vernon’s most recent arrest observes: “Any form of freedom of expression and dissent is only tokenism. If you have ideals and they question you and your authority, then you will be arrested.” He continues about his father:

“Among the many things that I admire greatly about my father is his commitment to his beliefs and ideals. To stand up for what is right and help those whose rights are denied- he has always done that and will continue to do so. This did not deter him the last time and will not do it now as well. He has an unbreakable spirit and will always stay true to what he believes in” [Link]

Indian Civil Watch International (ICWI) is a non-sectarian left diasporic membership-based organization that represents the diversity of India’s people and anchors a transnational network to building radical democracy in India.