Mumbai: Five activists associated with the Bhima Koregaon protests have been arrested early on Wednesday morning. The police alleged all of them have Maoist links.
Describing the five as "urban Maoist sympathisers", the Pune and Delhi Police carried out a multi-city joint operation this morning. While Dalit activist Rona Jacob Wilson was arrested from his Munirka flat in Delhi, Sudhir Dhawale was arrested from Mumbai, and Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Surendra Gadling were held in Nagpur.
Several teams carried out coordinated raids at the homes of the five activists in Delhi, Mumbai and Nagpur say police sources. The movements and activities of the five arrested were under scanner for over a year say sources.
Mr Dhawale is a member of an organisation associated with the Bhima Koregaon commemorative event and also the editor of a magazine called Vidrohi. He is currently being kept at the Deonar police station in Mumbai.
Rona Jacob Wilson has been sent to two-day police custody. He is a writer and activist, who has connections with Maoists claims the police, who said several objectionable material were found at Mr Wilson's house during the raids.
Shoma Sen, reportedly a close associate of Kobad Ghandy is a professor of English Literature at Nagpur University. Police sources say objectionable emails were found during raids at her home earlier this year.
Calling the arrests an "attack on Ambedkarite movement", Gujarat lawmaker Jignesh Mevani tweeted his protest saying the activists have been "booked under draconian UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) while Bhima Koregaon culprit Manohar Bhide roams scot-free."
Like every year, members of the Dalit community from all over Maharashtra had gathered in Koregaon Bhima on the outskirts of Pune on December 31, to celebrate what they called their victory over Maratha Peshwas. This year being the 200th anniversary, the gathering was larger and 'right wing' groups opposed the Dalit celebrations, saying they cannot observe a 'British' victory. This led to clashes that turned violent leading to several deaths. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had ordered a probe and warned that there is no place for casteist violence in Maharashtra.
The violence and protests had national fallout and echoed in Parliament as well. BSP chief Mayawati accused the BJP-led government of not being able to protect Dalits and shielding the accused Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide. Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar had alleged Bhide was close to senior BJP leaders. The opposition led by the Congress described the Bhima-Koregaon caste violence as an act of "state-sponsored terrorism".
On April 22, a 19-year-old Dalit woman, a witness in the clashes at Bhima Koregaon was found dead in a well. Two men have been arrested in connection with her death. Puja Sakat had seen her house being burnt in the violence during the commemorative march in January. Her family alleged that she was under intense pressure to withdraw her statement against the men who burnt their house down.