If the arrest of five prominent(महत्त्वपूर्ण) activists by the Pune police in a coordinated operation across four States has resulted in such indignation(रोष), it is because of the widespread suspicion(संदेह) that this is part of an orchestrated (गुप्त रूप से आयोजित करना) crackdown on political dissent. The intervention(हस्तक्षेप) of high courts and later the Supreme Court has given rise to the hope that they will not be put away without sufficient basis, and that the case for proceeding against them will be properly scrutinised(जाँचना). The focus will now be on the next hearing of the Supreme Court, but the dramatic(नाटकीय) development — which has come months after some Left-leaning activists were arrested in a case relating to the Bhima-Koregaon violence(हिंसा)— has raised a fundamental question. Namely, whether the arrests were the culmination(समापन) of a legitimate(कानूनी) probe(तहक़ीकात) into a Maoist(माओवादी) plot, as the police claim, or whether this is yet another clumsy(बेडौल) failure to distinguish between those who indulge in or actively support violent activity, and those who attempt to understand or empathise(समानुभूति होना) with the social conditions that breed extremism(चरमपंथ) and insurgency(विद्रोह). It is nobody’s case that activists or intellectuals(बुद्धिजीवी व्यक्ति) are above the law, but the Maharashtra police carry the enormous(विशाल) burden of proof, having accused(मुलज़िम) the activists of doing much more than inciting the violence that broke out in Bhima-Koregaon, near Pune, this year. What began as a controversy(झगड़ा) over allegedly(कथित रूप से) provocative(भड़काऊ) speeches made at a Dalit conference relating to the 200th anniversary of an iconic battle site has inexplicably(बिना किसी स्पष्टीकरण के) morphed(बदलना) into a larger conspiracy(षड्यंत्र) involving the CPI (Maoist)
Human rights activists, particularly those working in conflict(संघर्ष)-prone(उन्मुख) areas, have been harassed and even arrested on the suspicion of being in league with extremists. While action against them routinely makes the headlines, the bald(सुस्पष्ट) truth is that successful prosecutions(अभियोग) are rare. Charges such as sedition(राजद्रोह), waging war against the government and promoting disaffection against the state rarely end in conviction. One reason for the failure is that prosecuting agencies typically believe in guilt by association; they confuse empathy(समानुभूति) with incitement(उत्तेजन) and compassion with collaboration. Also, cases are often filed with utter disregard for the principle that charges such as ‘unlawful activities’ and ‘terrorist acts’ should not be invoked in the absence of actual acts of violence or incitement to violence; mere verbal expression of support cannot and should not be the basis for arrest. The Pune police claim that the five who have now been arrested were raising funds for the Maoists, and indulging in unlawful activities; that they had a nexus (बंधन) with other unlawful groups and, ominously(बुरी बात), were plotting to “target high political functionaries”. Given the sweeping allegations of unlawful activity and the enormity(दुष्टता) of implicating them in unverified assassination(गुप्तघात) plots, the burden of proof on the police is extremely high. Unless proven, it will only confirm suspicions that the law has been bent with the sole purpose of targeting dissent(अस्वीकार).