NIA arrested Delhi University’s professor Hany Babu in connection to the Bhima Koregaon case. This move was both preceded and followed by the arrest and questioning of other academicians and activists in the same case. The targeting and silencing of the voices of dissent, especially among the learned academia reflects a pattern nowadays, that should worry us all.
Delhi University Professor MT Hany Babu was arrested on 28th July 2020 by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in relation to the Bhima Koregaon case. This is not the first arrest. A number of other academicians, lawyers, poets, and activists have been arrested and questioned since January 2018, when the violence took place in Bhima Koregaon, and spread to other places across Maharashtra. These include Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Sudha Bhardwaj, Anand Teltumde among others.
In 1818, the British Army that was mostly made up of soldiers from the Mahar community of Bhima Koregaon defeated the Maratha army of Peshwa Bajirao. This event was marked as a celebration for all the Dalits. The Britishers also built a memorial for their soldiers who lost their lives in the battle. Every year on January 1st, people from the Dalit community and others reach Bhima Koregaon to celebrate this victory. 1st January 2018 marked 200 years of this victory. When people started gathering, violence broke out between the Dalits and the Marathas.
Some months into the investigation, the case was handed over to the NIA by the Union Government without the consent of the Maharashtra Government. Since then, the NIA has been arresting activists and scholars who they believe to be linked to the violence. It has also said that the violence that broke out was a part of a larger conspiracy that also included the plan to assassinate the Prime Minister. Hany Babu has been accused of being a part of the conspiracy on the basis of documents found on his laptop.
In September last year, the NIA raided Hany Babu’s Noida residence where he stayed with his wife, Jenny Rowena, who teaches at the English department of Miranda House, University of Delhi, and their daughter. After the raid, Babu released a statement saying that his laptop, pen drives and hard drives were taken by the NIA, all his social media accounts were sealed, and he had lost access to all important documents that were on his laptop including years of research work. In a statement given to The Quint after the arrest, Jenny Rowena said that her husband had no connection to the case he had been arrested for. She also added that there is a pattern to the arrests being made, and people speaking out against the system are being targeted.
Post the arrest of professor Hany Babu; activists, students and academicians criticised this move by the NIA, and called this yet another one of the government’s moves to silence all dissenting voices. Hany Babu while teaching at the department of English at the University of Delhi, had been an active member of the Saibaba committee, a group that spoke out against the arrest of G.N. Saibaba, another of Delhi University’s professors. Siababa, who is 90% physically handicapped, is in jail for alleged Maoist links. All this apart, Prof. Babu was also a loud voice speaking against caste discrimination on campus and one that was always speaking in favour of reservations.
Recently, on 14th August, two more professors from Delhi University – Prof. PK Vijayan and Prof. Rakesh Ranjan, who both teach at Department of English, Hindu College and Department of Economics, Sri Ram College of Commerce respectively, were summoned by the NIA for investigation in the same case.
A group of prominent activists and scholars from various national universities have released a statement showing solidarity with the arrested and summoned academicians, and criticised the Union Government for harassing dissenting voices. “The Union Government must stop the deliberate harassment of academicians and activists, which is destroying our democracy, violating civil liberties and subverting the Constitutional order”, the statement said. Other teachers associations have also extended their solidarity, and asked the government to stop witch-hunting the academicians. Recently, the Delhi Police also booked the DU students that were protesting against the arrest of Prof. Hany Babu.
Professor Apoorvanand who teaches at the department of Hindi, Delhi University, in an article published by Scroll titled,” If we do not speak up now against the arrest of Professor Hany babu, we may lose India forever” writes,
“The arrest of Hany Babu should alarm even those who do not know him personally. It is not necessary for them to agree with his ideology or his activities to oppose his arrest. It should be opposed for the simple fact that the government of India and its agencies are still expected to act according to the Constitution of India. It is still in vogue and we still have our rights recognised by it.”
Professor Apoorvanand, too, was called in for questioning on 1st August 2020 by the Delhi Police, as they named him as the key-conspirator in the communal violence that broke out in North-east Delhi in February 2020. Later, his phone was seized for inquiry.
With the Coronavirus pandemic engulfing the nation tighter with every passing day, there have been various arrests made by the Delhi Police and the NIA in the Northeast-Delhi violence and the Bhima Koregaon case respectively. Both the Delhi Police and the NIA function under the Union Government. The arrests have mainly been of those who have been vocally critical of the government and its policies, especially the recent Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA); that sparked protests all across the country. Fellow activists and scholars continue to raise their voice against this witch-hunt, even calling the current state of the country an undeclared emergency.
Alfisha Sabri is a student pursuing English Literature at the University of Delhi.
Edited by: Rutba Iqbal
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.