Detentions in Gujarat: A Brief Overview

July 12, 2010

By Aarti Shah

The mainstream press recently reported that several so-called Maoists were arrested in Gujarat. Yet civil liberties groups maintain that those arrested are actually leaders and workers belonging to a spectrum of political formations and working with the adivasis, slum-dwellers, and so forth. The police, however, appear to be operating on the assumption that these arrests will inculcate fear amongst activists, giving an advantage in the game of psychological warfare. This witch-hunt of the Gujarat police amounts to a systematic effort by the state government to suppress all manner of dissension and opposition.

Arbitrary policing is the modus operandi. The comprehensive FIR filed by Gujarat Police (number 1-37/2010, dated 26 February, 2010 at police station Kamrej, Surat Range) alleges that “Maoists” are attempting to expand their networks into Gujarat and in particular the tribal regions of South Gujarat. The Inspector General of Police (Surat), A K Singh, has aptly summarised this principle of arbitrary policing when he stated that the police had :

analysed the source materials and believe that their activities in South Gujarat are in continuation with their activities in the other Naxal-affected states of the country. This is the first comprehensive FIR registered against them that will give legal power to the police to investigate and find out the spread of CPI-Maoist in South Gujarat. Earlier, only minor complaints were filed against them. It is a banned organisation and we need to track their every movement.

PUCL responded to this witch-hunt with a complaint to the NHRC [PDF], which makes clear that :

[t]his ‘omnibus’ FIR reads like a general essay with no specificities given which are a must in a criminal case. The FIR, beginning with an unsubstantiated general allegation of CPI (Maoist) as having a secret plan to establish a guerilla zone across North Maharashtra, South Gujarat and Satpura forest ranges with militant cadres, goes on to say that the industrial belt stretching from Ahmedabad to Surat would be the main focus and Surat a focal point for such militant activities … The FIR also alleges that the Maoists are using the legal trade union movements as cover for illegal secret underground organization and makes sweeping statements such as accusing the detained persons as carrying out false propaganda among tribal / forest people as well as religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims to separate them from the mainstream of the nation, to create civil war and to encourage revolt against the constitutionally established government …

The police investigations of the so-called Naxal network aim to extract details from the arrested-cum-accused and force possibly false confessions about their association with Naxal outfits. The initial arrests in February and March were allegedly based on information received from the Orissa government about the ongoing Naxal preparations for a violent movement in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat Police have not produced evidence — except the alleged confessions by those arrested — that they were involved in any armed, violent or anti-State activity. Any connection with various political groups in the remote past has been considered sufficient evidence for arrest and harassment. The chargesheet reflects the flimsy nature of what constitutes evidence, e.g., certain literature in Telugu, posters, “having cassettes of Godhra incident”, and “visiting Surat, Songarh, Ahva Dang every now and then”.

The accused have been booked under various sections of the IPC and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2004. With respect to the IPC these include criminal conspiracy (120B), waging war against government (121A), Sedition (124A), and promoting enmity between different groups (153A). With respect to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2004, these include sections 38, 39, and 40. These draconian laws are quite dubious, e.g., consider section 124A of the IPC :

Sedition. — Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, [the Government established by law] in [India], shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine. Explanation 1. — The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. Explanation 2. — Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section. Explanation 3. — Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

Several activists have been arrested under this FIR and this note attempts to summarise the available information about these arrests as collated from various media and activist reports. The reported number of arrests since February are 12-15. According to speculations in national newspapers 21 additional arrests are expected. The persecution of human rights, cultural and trade union activists is completely intolerable and we must vigorously protest any such attack on the freedom of expression and right to dissent.

Niranjan Mahapatra (35)

The Surat Police (16 March, 2010) arrested Niranjan Mahapatra, a former freelance journalist of Orissa from Pandesara in the Surat district, for his alleged involvement in the Maoist movement of Surat city and different tribal areas of South Gujarat. Police sources indicate that he had been working among the tribals of South Gujarat since 1996 and had shifted his base to Surat since 2005. Police investigations suggested that he had sought to mobilize the dam evacuees of Ukai, living in Tapi, Surat and Dang districts. The Police claimed to have recovered several incriminating documents from his rented accommodation at Jagannath Nagar.

Avinash Kulkarni (55)

Avinash Kulkarni was picked up (during the afternoon of 21 March, 2010) from the house of fellow activist Bharat Pawar by Dy. SP Shri Patil under the pretext of questioning. He was taken to an undisclosed location; no information was provided to his family members or colleagues about where they were taking him and the right of contacting his advocate. Similarly, Bharat Pawar was also detained the same evening by policemen from the DSP office of Ahwa, Dangs (Arrests constitute a violation of the Justice D K Basu Guideline of Supreme Court. <http://www.alrc.net/doc/mainfile.php/cl_india/143/ >).

The remand application for Avinash submitted by the police alleges that he is a member of the CPIML (Janshakti) party. It is alleged that he plays a “behind the scenes” role of instigating tribals to begin a violent agitation by being in touch with CPI (Maoist) forces. The application proceeds to cite extremely flimsy grounds for his remand such as it being required to obtain details of meetings with certain CPI (Maoist) leaders, to secure more “Naxalite” literature from his place of residence, and identify all the other people who aided in his “Naxalite” activities over the last 18 years in Dangs district.

In point of fact, Avinash Kulkarni is an activist based in Ahwa and forest rights activist involved in issues pertaining to the empowerment and development of adivasis, through the Dangi Lok Adhikar Samiti and the Dangi Mazdoor Union, in Dang district. Avinash Kulkarni and Bharat Pawar have played a significant role as part of the leadership of Adivasi Mahasabha Gujarat, both in the advocacy and struggle that brought about the Forests Rights Act and the monitoring of its implementation across the adivasi areas of Gujarat.

Bharat Pawar

Following the arrest of Avinash Kulkarni, within 3-4 days Bharat Pawar was also arrested. Initially detained for questioning, he was arrested on the same charges as Avinash Kulkarni. Bharat Pawar, an adivasi from the Dangs district of Gujarat, has been a committed worker for the cause of the rights of the adivasis. Closely associated with Avinash Kulkarni, he has been working over the past few years to improve the wages of adivasi labourers through the Dangi Mazdoor Union. More recently, he has been involved in the struggle of the adivasis to pass the Forest Rights Legislation and obtain the forest land rights of the adivasis through proper implementation of the Act. In this process, he has been victimized constantly by the Forest Officials.

Vishwanath Vardharajan Iyer (60)

Following the arrests of Avinash Kulkarni and Bharat Pawar Surat, approximately on April 22 and 23, Surat police arrested retired customs officer Vishwanath Vardharajan Iyer for suspected Naxal links. The police say Iyer regularly visited Gujarat and was on good terms with Avinash Kulkarni. Iyer had taken voluntary retirement from the Customs Department in 1988 from Nagpur where he was last posted. The police claim that Iyer is one of the central committee members of CPIML (Janshakti). Allegedly, moreover, Vishwanath Vardharajan Iyer had provided guerilla warfare training in Gujarat and Kerala in 2000. The police are apparently probing Iyer’s links with the Philippines Communist Party, which is believed to have conducted a guerilla warfare training camp in Kerala; it is claimed that 30 persons from India, including two from Gujarat — Bharat Puwar and Sulat Puwar — had participated in this training. Singh said the Gujarat Police is in touch with their Kerala counterparts for more details. The police allege literature related to CPIML (Janshakti), in addition to incriminating CDs and DVDs, have been recovered.

Srinivas Sattayya Kurapati and his wife Hansa

Human rights defender Srivinas Sattaya Kurapati was arrested by police in Ahmedabad (30 May, 2010) on accusations of involvement in Maoist activities. Srinivas hails from Nalgonda district in Andhra Pradesh. In the 1990s, he went to Surat in search of a livelihood, worked as a labourer, and became a trade union activist. Dire poverty drove him to Ahmedabad in search of a more stable job to pay off his debts. Through friends and acquaintances, he managed to secure a job as a typist in an NGO called “Darshan”. Darshan is a cultural organization led by Hiren Gandhi, a theatre expert, and Saroop Dhruv. It works mainly with the mode of street theatre, raising awareness on the issues of poor dalits and adivasis while contributing to the process of peace and reconciliation in Gujarat following the 2002 communal carnage. Srinivas was picked up in the evening from Gomtipur area of Ahmedabad and taken to Gaekwad Haveli Crime Branch office in Ahmedabad.

The police informed the family that he was taken into custody and hence the family members should come over to give statements. Accordingly, his wife Hansa, activist Ambubhai (founder of the Lok Kala Manch organization), Hansa’s father Ishwarbhai, and Hansa’s sisters reached Gaekwad Haveli Crime Branch station around 9.00 p.m. the same night (30 May, 2010). Hansa works in SEWA and hails from a family of cultural activists (her father Ishwarbhai was also part of Lok Kala Manch along with Ambubhai). She had an interest in theatre and participated in theatre performances a few times as part of the Lok Kala Manch troupe. In any event, they were given no further information regarding Srinivas and were not allowed to meet and talk to him. Ambubhai and Hansa were separated from the rest and not permitted to communicate with the others. The police forcibly sent Hansa’s father and sisters back home to Gomtipur but Ambubhai and Hansa were detained for questioning. The two were taken to Surat along with Srinivas and released in the middle of the night on 1 June. Hansa, along with Ambubhai, was under illegal detention of the Crime Branch of Ahmedabad and of the Surat Police from 30 May to 1 June. They were subsequently released on the night of 2 June. It is reported that all three human rights defenders were denied access to a lawyer and family members while in detention. Attempts to stigmatise Srivinas Sattaya Kurapati followed his arrest with media reportage in local channels like TV 9 which repeatedly broadcast the police accusations against Srivinas as the “mastermind” of a Maoist strategy in Gujarat, linking him to the Jhargram railway derailment.

Activists claim that the arrests are part and parcel of an apparent campaign of police harassment against Darshan. On the evening of 31 May, 2010, Hiren Gandhi, the director of Darshan, was summoned to the office of the Crime Branch in Ahmedabad; however, he was advised not to attend any such meeting in the absence of a formal summons and without legal representation. Furthermore, on 31 May, 2010, a raid was carried out on the offices of Darshan by officers of the Crime Branch and the organisation’s computer was confiscated. The computer was returned to Darshan on 4 June, 2010.

Amrit Waghela (Amubhai)

Amrit Waghela (Ambubhai) has been a cultural activist since the 1980s. He founded the Lok Kala Manch in 1980, which has produced and performed several plays on dalit issues, women’s issues, and political satires (i.e., particularly on communal harmony and the dangers of the ideologies of communal hatred). He was countering communal forces in Gujarat long before the carnage in 2002 but his activities naturally intensified thereafter. Recently, he led a major grassroots movement known as “Swabhiman Andolan” against the bootleggers of Gomtipur area of Ahmedabad, which exposed conclusively the well-known nexus between the police and the bootleggers. His recent efforts to mobilize the urban lower middle class people against raising electricity charges by the private company that has taken over the power generation in Ahmedabad created substantial discomfort in the corridors of power.

Amrit Waghela was detained along with Hansa on the evening of the 30 May, 2010, when he had gone to enquire at the Gaekwad Haveli Crime Branch office about the whereabouts of Srivinas Sattaya Kurapati (Kishore). From that time till late night of the 1 June, he was not allowed to communicate with others and was under illegal detention. He and Hansa were taken to Surat along with Srinivas during these 48 hours without even their family members being informed. He was not even allowed access to their lawyer.

Abdul Shakeel Basha

The latest to be arrested under the comprehensive FIR is one Abdul Shakeel Basha (17 June, 2010). Basha has worked with the homeless and NGOs in Gujarat including Harsh Mander’s Aman Biradari. For the last six years, Abdul Shakeel Pasha had been working relentlessly with homeless and street children with organisations like Aman Biradari (2004-2008) and since 2009 with Shahari Adhikar Abhiyan. His work with Aman Biradari also took him to Gujarat several times as the work on “Justice to the victims of the 2002 Gujarat genocide” was carried out through the Nyaya Grah project of Aman Biradari. The Gujarat police disseminated stories in the media that accuse A Basha of being the Maoist area commander (or the area committee secretary) for Surat. The police later said Basha was with the Maoists till 2004.

Others arrested

In addition to the activists mentioned above, there are others who have been arrested and for whom much information is not currently available. Their names and circumstances of arrest are listed in this section.

Surya Devra Prabhakar was arrested (18 January, 2010) at his residence in Kanjurmarg by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on charges of attempting to disseminate Maoist philosophy in Mumbai. An ATS statement said Surya Devra Prabhakar was a member of a Naxal group and former member of the banned People’s War Group (PWG). It claimed to have received “reliable information” from other arrested Maoists, besides which “…we have seized a bag with PWG literature, a CPU, a pen drive and a mobile phone,” said an officer. ATS also alleged to have recovered Rs. 10 lakh, believed to be a portion of the Rs. 25 lakh collected by him from Surat. The ATS said Prabhakar’s name cropped up during the interrogation of Srinivas and Vernon Gonsalves, alleged CPI (ML) activists. ATS chief K P Raghuvanshi claimed : “Prabhakar was wanted in our records for quite some time. We know him as a person who has taken important policy decisions on Naxal operations. Gadchiroli alone has some significant cases registered against him”. In Nagpur, police sources said Prabhakar is named in the FIR in the October murder of Suresh Halami, allegedly a police informer. He is suspected to have been involved in an attack on a poll security team on 13 October 2009. He had been working as an English and Maths tutor in the MMRDA transit camp in Kanjurmarg, Mumbai. An alleged CPIML (Janashakti) activist, Ramu Puvar, was also brought to Surat on a transfer warrant from Mumbai. He had been active in south Gujarat. Finally, Kamkhya Narayan Singh (19 March, 2010), an alleged cadre of CPIML (Janshakti) was arrested from the Alang ship-breaking yard in the Bhavnagar district of the Saurashtra region where he was running a labour union. He hailed from Begusarai in Bihar. The police had extracted his mobile phone number from Niranjan Mahapatra.

Sources :

South-Asia Terrorism Update : <http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/detailed_news.asp?date1=6/12/2010&id=12>

PUCL letter to NHRC : <http://countercurrents.org/pucl190610.htm>

Press release by Adivasi Mahasabha Gujarat & People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Gujarat. Is it a crime to work in a democratic and peaceful way for the empowerment and development of Adivasis?. 23 March, 2010.

Kamaal Saiyed. Former Customs officer arrested for training Naxals in Kerala. Indian Express. 23 Apr, 2010.

http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/2559

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/former-customs-officer-arrested-for-training/610295/

http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/ats-arrests-english-tutor-for-spreading-naxalism/569374/

http://news.outlookindia.com/item.aspx?683837

http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/page_view.asp?date1=6/1/2010

2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Detentions in Gujarat: A Brief Overview”

  1. Nitinchandra Devidas Nayak Says:
    May 18th, 2012 at 19:19

    Dear sirs,,

    I am comming fom the schedual tribe familly and my familly are living at Nayak wadi s.v.patel roadBilimora 396 321 South gujarat INDIA Related to my property I was complains to local police station but they are not given a proper co-operation in this connection I want to see personaly to the incharge IGP of surat office so, kindly send me the physical brnach office in city of surat and oblige.

    Thanking you,

    Nchandra 19/05/12

  2. Nitinchandra Devidas Nayak Says:
    May 18th, 2012 at 19:23

    Kindly send me the physical IGP Office in surat city

    Nchandra My e-mail ID are shubha_niti@yahoo.co.in or SMS on mobile No 919737649226

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