The arrest of five activists on allegations of Maoist links is symptomatic of a "constitutional breakdown" which made it "very important for us to come out" said a group rights activists, holding a press conference in Delhi today.
After multi-city raids on Tuesday, the Pune police had arrested Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Arun Fereira, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves. They have been placed under house arrest after a Supreme Court order yesterday. The arrests have raised widespread condemnation, with many describing it as "absolutely chilling".
"Those raising their voices are being suppressed. Fear is being instilled in everybody,' said activist Aruna Roy. The 72-year-old, who runs an organisation for the empowerment of workers and peasants, said, "Maybe this is happening because elections are next year -- they want to camouflage the critique against their government by suppressing these voices".
Launching an all-out attack on the government that encompassed demonetization, Rafale deal and the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, author Arundhati Roy said, "From now to elections, it will be a circus of arrests, lynchings, riots... Divide and rule is an old method. Now it is divert and rule".
When the popularity of the ruling government declines, it means "we are living in dangerous times," said Ms Roy. The author, who on Tuesday had dubbed the arrests a "virtual declaration of Emergency", today declared that it was "more serious" than that.
"At that time, rights of people were violated. But currently, whoever does not agree with the Hindutva ideology, the majoritarian government, is being criminalized.
Dalit leader and Independent lawmaker from Gujarat Jignesh Mevani, who was among the battery of activists at New Delhi's Press Club, said "The state has launched an attack against the activist community".
Echoing historian Ramchandra Guha, who said the arrests were meant to rob underprivileged Dalits and tribals of a voice, Mr Mevani said the government's "aim is to discredit the Dalit movement".
The allegations against Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao - of involvement in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, "is merely a ploy to gain sympathy ahead of 2019 elections", he added.
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