Urban Naxalism: Cost of Free Speech?
Recently, the Pune police conducted several raids in various cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Goa and Ranchi in the houses of left-wing activists. This is the second such crackdown by the police after the Bhima Koregaon event which turned violent. These raids were carried out to investigate the alleged connection that the activists had with the protest. The police seized around 25,000 GB of data from the five arrested persons who are suspected of having Maoist links.
The word 'Urban Naxalism' was coined by the government and indeed, this was a coordinated crackdown against the left-wing activists. Even though these raids and the arrests that followed, were carried out recently, the issue of 'urban Naxals' was discussed within the security establishments even before Bhima Koregaon Violence. An intelligence report titled 'Urban Naxalism: Growing Menace and Remedies’ was also deliberated with senior security officials of Maharashtra.
Raids had been carried out at the homes of radical poet Varavar Rao in Hyderabad, civil rights activist, intellectual, and author Anand Teltumbde in Goa, national secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad, lawyers and human rights activists Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves in Mumbai, former PUCL secretary Gautam Navlakha in Delhi, and tribal rights activist Stan Swamy in Ranchi.
In fact, they have been arrested under the provisions of anti-terrorism law as well as Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) which aims at effective prevention of unlawful activities and associations in India. The major objective of the UAPA act is to make power available for dealing with activities directed against the integrity and sovereignty of India.
Recently in another instance, Umar Khalid, an active student leader of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), was shot before this independence day, outside the constitution club, which is a high-security alert area. Though he was targeted and attacked from behind by the gunman, fortunately, he escaped unhurt.
Since 2014, there have been so many occurrences where the press, rationalists, writers, thinkers, Dalit activists and journalists were silenced, threatened, and even killed for speaking up against the right-wing ideologies and its fringe groups. Perhaps, the killing of various rationalists and journalists like Gauri Lankesh and Kalburgi are some of the significant cases to be quoted at this point.
Bhima Koregaon battle is remembered as the first step taken in the struggle against caste oppression in the state of Maharashtra. Apparently, the cycle seems to have taken a vicious turn to the past. Evidently, the tendency to sniffle the divergent ideologies point out to the emergence of the authoritarian rule in a democracy.
The activists were arrested on grounds of mere suspicion, but what does this imply? The government’s attempt to oppress these intellectuals, who have neither committed nor backed up the crime is a landmark in the history of Indian politics. Perhaps democracy’s slow death is impending. Are we heading towards an undeclared state of internal emergency in our country? More importantly, what is this government afraid of? Free speech?