Why Anand Teltumbde's impending arrest is distressing
The Supreme Court on January 14 refused to quash a first information report filed by the Pune Police against civil rights activist Anand Teltumbde for his alleged role in the violence at Bhima Koregaon and for his alleged Maoist links.
The top court refused to interfere with the ongoing investigation. It, however, provided him four weeks interim protection from arrest granted to him by the Bombay High Court.
On January 1, 2018, caste clashes broke out at Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra, on the venue celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Last Anglo-Maratha War. Several activists have been arrested since, on the charges of inciting violence. The 1818 Battle of Koregaon is of legendary importance for Dalits as the British Army defeated the superior force of Peshwa Baji Rao II. Since Dalit leader BR Ambedkar's first commemoration in 1927, Ambedkarite Dalits have gathered at Bhima Koregaon to celebrate their victory against the upper caste Peshwa regime, who they see as their oppressors.
In an open article written by Anand, he says, "I was supportive of the idea of commemorating the end of oppressive Peshawa [rule]. However, I was uncomfortable with the projection of the Elgar Parishad that the Bhima Koregaon battle was won by Mahar soldiers to avenge their oppression during the Brahmanic rule of the Peshwas. I thought that such a distorted reading of history may further reinforce identitarian obsession of the Dalits making it difficult to strike broader unity of people."
Anand Teltumbde, a Dalit, is a management professional, writer, columnist, educationist, civil rights activist, and political analyst. While working in the corporate sector, he had a parallel career as an activist since his student days. He has received many prestigious awards and recognitions, such as Vikas Ratna, Ambedkar Centenary Award (UK) and Maharashtra Foundation Award (2010). But now he faces the prospect of an imminent arrest.
Arundathi Roy commented on this issue stating that Anand Teltumbde is one of our most important public intellectuals. She said, "To arrest him is to try and silence a powerful and unique Dalit voice with an unimpeachable intellectual track record. His impending arrest cannot but be seen as a political act. It will be a shameful and shocking moment in our history."
In his letter, he has added that he did not attend the conference at Elgar Parishad where he was invited by Justice PB Sawant, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, and Justice BG Kolshe Patil, a former judge of the Bombay High Court, to mobilise people against the “communal and casteist policies” of the BJP.
Although Anand has proof that he was not present at the location during the protest, he is being charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which means he can be held without bail for months together on the basis of little or no evidence.