This is an effort to attack anybody who criticises the present dispensation: Anand Teltumbde’s lawyer

Anand Teltumbde appealed for public support in light of his possible arrest. Students, teachers and civil-society organisations across the country have expressed solidarity with him. Bhushan Koyande / Hindustan Times / Getty Images
04 February, 2019

On 2 February, the Pune Police briefly arrested Anand Teltumbde, a civil-rights activist, academic, and noted anti-caste scholar, despite a Supreme Court order granting him protection from arrest until 11 February. Calling the move “illegal,” a Pune sessions court ordered his release the same day, giving him the opportunity to seek bail before the protection period is scheduled to end. But Teltumbde still faces the prospect of re-arrest. His possible imprisonment is part of a country-wide police crackdown on human-rights activists and public intellectuals perceived to be critical of the Narendra Modi government. Students, teachers, and civil-society organisations across the country have expressed solidarity with Teltumbde after he appealed for public support.

Teltumbde is one of at least 11 activists who have been accused of having links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Other activists have additionally been accused of inciting the violence that took place at Bhima Koregaon, a village near Pune, on 1 January 2018, and conspiring to assassinate the prime minister Narendra Modi. Since June 2018, at least nine of the 11 activists have been arrested, while police departments across the country have conducted raids at the homes of several others.

On 28 August 2018, the Pune police raided Teltumbde’s home in Goa. He was also booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The same day, police arrested five other activists. In a press conference on 31 August, Parambir Singh, the additional director-general of Maharashtra police, claimed that the activists had Maoist links. Singh said they found a letter written by a Maoist addressed to “Com Anand,” which they claimed was a reference to Teltumbde. The police also said that Teltumbde attended a convention in Paris that was funded by the Maoists. Teltumbde refuted the allegations against him, denying any association with the Maoist party.

On 15 October, Teltumbde filed an appeal in the Bombay high court asking the court to quash the case against him. In December, the court dismissed his petition and gave him three weeks to approach the Supreme Court. Teltumbde then approached the apex court and sought a dismissal of the charges against him. On 14 January, the Supreme Court refused to quash the case, but granted him four weeks—until 11 February— to seek pre-arrest bail. On 1 February, a Pune sessions court denied his anticipatory bail plea. Though the four-week relief was ongoing, the Pune police arrested him at 3:30 am on 2 February.

Teltumbde’s lawyers challenged his arrest in court and argued that after the Pune sessions court denied bail, they should have had the option of seeking bail from a higher court. “This is a complete contempt of the court,” Teltumbde’s lawyer Mihir Desai said. “In complete disregard of the Supreme Court order, the police, and the prosecution are basically acting in a completely high handed manner. The Supreme Court order is clear, it is—[the court’s protection]— for four weeks, which gives us an opportunity to go higher up for the anticipatory bail.” The Pune sessions court ruled in favour of Teltumbde, ordered his release and gave him a chance to seek bail again.

Desai said he will file a petition for anticipatory bail in the Bombay high court on 4 February. If this bail plea is denied, Teltumbde could be re-arrested after the four-week protection period is over. Desai added that the letter the police claimed as evidence against Teltumbde is fabricated. “This is an effort to attack anybody who criticises the present dispensation,” he said.

Teltumbde, too, has described the police crackdown as a way to silence dissenters. “This time they have attacked the ones who may be called the top most pro-people activists and intellectuals in the country,” he said in an interview soon after the raid at his home. “The message is loud and clear to all others: to not speak against the government.”

After the Supreme Court refused to quash the case against him, Teltumbde wrote an open letter in which he said that he feared his “imminent arrest” and asked for public support. “There is not an iota of unlawful activities in either my voluminous writings or selfless activism,” Teltumbde said. The letter called for civil-society to “build a visible campaign” to “save” him. Since then, people across the world have campaigned in Teltumbde’s support, through petitions, statements and protest rallies.

At present, Teltumbde is a senior professor at the Goa Institute of Management and heads the institute’s big-data analytics program. He previously taught courses in business management at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. He is also a graduate of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Students and faculty from the IIMA and IIT Kharagpur have demanded that all charges against him be dropped.

“Teltumbde has contributed significantly to the cause of social justice and his actions have been in the interest of strengthening Indian democracy,” IIMA students wrote in a statement. “We are concerned about the repression faced by persons who speak for social justice, and those who serve as role models for the aspiring youth.”

Students, faculty, and alumni from IIT Kharagpur also issued a statement in Teltumbde’s support, highlighting his academic credentials. “Coming from the poorest of the poor family, Prof Teltumbde passed through the best institutes in the country with scholastic achievements,” the statement said. “He has selflessly fought against caste-based discrimination and human-rights violation of the marginalized. With all his intellectual contributions, Prof Teltumbde has lived his life as an honest truth seeker and has questioned any injustice throughout his life. Whatever criticisms he made, and whatever questions he placed, he has made it with utmost scholastic discipline.”

Another collective, the Coordination of Science and Technology Institutes’ Student Associations—an association of student groups from seven campuses that teach science and technology—also expressed solidarity with Teltumbde. Students of two institutes from this collective, IIT Madras and IIT Kharagpur, organised protests in his support on their campuses.

Another statement of support came from PEN Delhi, the Indian chapter of PEN International, the worldwide organisation of writers.“Dr Teltumbde is a leading public intellectual, a democratic and educational rights activist and the kind of human being we in India should be proud of,” Urvashi Butalia, the president of PEN Delhi, said.

Apart from his academic credentials, Teltumbde has built a reputation as a prolific writer. He has published 26 books in English and Marathi. He also wrote a column for the Economic and Political Weekly called Margin Speak, in which he discussed a range of issues—from public policy to the state of free speech in India.

Among his publications, Teltumbe’s work as an anti-caste scholar stands out. His recent work includes the book Republic of Caste and a co-edited anthology called The Radical in Ambedkar. Ambekarite organisations from across the world have also voiced their support for him. The Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, a national platform for Dalit organisations fighting against caste discrimination and social injustice, called the case against Teltumbde as “nothing but suppression of dissent and democratic rights.”

The news of Teltumbde’s possible arrest has even rattled civil-society organisations in Canada. Groups such as India Civil Watch Canada and the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy wrote a letter to the president of India to the drop the charges against him unconditionally.

In addition to these statements, a Twitter storm was held on 22 January in which Twitter users from across the world tweeted with “#StandWithAnand.” Among the public intellectuals supporting Teltumbde is the noted academic and writer Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd. “The cause of Indian democracy would be better served if the FIR against Mr. Teltumbde were dropped, and we simply let him get on with his writing and teaching,” Shepherd wrote.

Shortly before the raid at his home, Teltumbde wrote a column for the Economics and Political Weekly titled “The New Normal in Modi’s ‘New India.’” He wrote, “Modi’s ‘new India’ is proving a scary spectre for the large majority of people, particularly Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, who are unsure of surviving the next day, given the right wing backed killing squads of cow vigilantes, lynch mobs, patriotic hoodlums…and not to undermine the police who operate lawlessly with complete impunity.”