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:
- 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.
- 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.
- The Government of Maharashtra and the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission to immediately constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to independently investigate the matter.
- 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, 3037 organizations or individuals have signed this petition. The following is a partial list of highlights:
- Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), India
- India Civil Watch International, USA
- Indian American Muslim Council, USA
- Dalit Solidarity Forum, USA
- Ambedkar King Study Circle, 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.