The top human rights body of the United Nations has urged the Indian government to release the activists who are in prison for the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case, “at the very least on bail”.
“We continue to be concerned about the situation of activists detained in India, including in the context of the Bhima Koregaon events. We encourage the authorities to release these individuals, at the very least, on bail while they await trial,” the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said on Friday, during a weekly briefing, sources reported.
Further, without naming the 80-year-old poet and human rights defender Varavara Rao, who is currently suffering from neurological problems, and the 83-year-old tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy, who has the advanced Parkinson’s disease, the human rights body noted that “some of the detainees are elderly and in poor health.”
It reiterated “the High Commissioner’s (Ms. Michelle Bachelet) previous call on the Government to ensure no one is detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – and to do its utmost, in law and policy, to protect India’s robust civil society.”
Earlier in October 2020, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed serious concern about “human rights, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and arrests of activists in India”, and appealed to the Narendra Modi government “to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs, and their ability to carry out their crucial work on behalf of the many groups they represent.”
Ms. Bachelet expressed “regret at the tightening space for human rights NGOs in particular, including by the application of vaguely worded laws that constrain NGOs’ activities and restrict foreign funding”.
“India has long had a strong civil society, which has been at the forefront of ground-breaking human rights advocacy within the country and globally,” the commissioner said.
However, in response to Ms. Bachelet’s comments, the Ministry of External Affairs said, “The framing of laws is obviously a sovereign prerogative. Violations of law, however, cannot be condoned under the pretext of human rights.”
Bhima Koregaon Case
The Bhima Koregaon case dates back to 1 January 2018, which marked the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon. The event was organized to celebrate the victory of the British, which included a large number of Mahars, against Peshwa Baji Rao II’s army. A person was killed and several others were injured during the 2018 event.
Several human rights activists, including Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, and Gautam Navlakha, were arrested during the course of the investigation. The case is currently with the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Other human rights defenders arrested under the controversial Bhima Koregaon case include lawyers, writers, and academics such as Shoma Sen, Sudha Bhardwaj, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut, Vernon Gonzalves, Arun Ferreira, Anand Teltumbde, and Gautam Navlakha, among others. They are currently detained in the Taloja prison in Mumbai, one of the most crowded prisons in India.