Pune: More than 30 people, mainly from Marathwada region, are struggling to get bail and multiple others are being arrested and released frequently on several charges filed against them in connection with the Maharashtra bandh on January 3 this year after the Koregaon-Bhima violence. Lawyers, activists and parents are claiming that many of these arrests have been done on dubious charges.
Tanaji (name changed), 18, was at Shrigonda railway station when he was arrested along two others on charges of causing the sole fatality that happened during the Koregaon-Bhima incident. “He was going to Mumbai to his aunt’s place to get an Aadhaar card. My son has his SSC exams now and he is in custody,” said Tanaji’s father on the condition of anonymity, adding, “We are farm labourers and where do we bring the money to get the bail of our boys? They have been charged with killing a person when they were not even involved in stone-pelting.”
After Prakash Ambedkar, of the Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh, gave the call for a Maharashtra bandh post the Koregaon-Bhima attacks, thousands of people poured onto the streets in anger.
The 'bandh' was successful in disrupting the day-to-day life, especially in Kolhapur, Beed, Aurangabad, Mumbai and Kalyan. Many areas in these cities saw people damaging property, burning vehicles and a few incidents of physical violence. The total damage was estimated to be around Rs 9.5 crore.
Post the bandh, activists and lawyers claim that the police took drastic measures and filed charges against thousands and arrested hundreds in combing operations. “In the Vikroli region, there were ambiguous charges filed against at least 1,500 people. The crime reports mentioned 20-25 people, but added 200-250 ‘other’ nameless people,” said Atish Kasbe, an advocate who helped many of the accused or arrested get bail.
“The police detained people under the ‘other’ category for reasons like their names on a flex board,” he added.
“A single person has multiple cases against him. The police have made a separate complaint for every 10-20 metres that the accused may have walked. So if the person gets a bail for the first complaint, he is detained for another charge,” said Kasbe, adding, “Only 50 people have been actually named in the complaints. The rest are just picked up on the basis of acquaintances, social media posts etc. The police called them to the police station on the pretext of enquiry and then detained them for days.”
“I am a publisher and an activist. When Prakash Ambedkar gave the call for the bandh, we took to the streets to protest against the attacks on innocent people at Koregaon-Bhima. But even when we were not involved in any violence, the police slapped charges like dacoity, rioting and even attempt to murder and arrested us,” said Anil Mhamane.
Mhamane adds, ”I and many others had to stay in custody for almost 40 days. When the court asked the police to present evidence like some footage or recording, they had none and hence, the court granted us bail.” Mhamane was one of the 183 people who was arrested in Kolhapur area with charges.
In Dhule-Bhusaval region, almost 20 protesters are still under arrest. “The police have considered incidents that happened under different jurisdictions and slapped them with same charges. The charges of damages have been shown under recovery and section 307 has been applied to all the accused,” said Rahul Wagh, a lawyer for the accused in Dhule. “So a person who may have only broken a glass or a window has been charged with attempt to murder. It is very difficult to get a bail in these cases and this is adversely affecting the career and education of these youths," Wagh added.
“We had issued strict instructions to our officers that they should avoid arresting innocents. The only people who are in custody, as far as I know, are the ones who we have evidence against,” said Bipin Bihari, the Director General - Prisons for Maharashtra. Bihari also said, “In the heat of the moment, there may have been some arrests, but they have been released. If there are innocents in custody, they should be rest assured that they will be released.”
Keshav Waghmare, of the Dalit Adivasi Adhikari Andolan, said, “When it comes to arresting actual culprits like Bhide-Ekbote, the police are reluctant. But in these arrests, the police have eagerly slapped charges against hundreds.”
”If the accused are supposedly involved in damaging property, they should have been charged with that, but by slapping charges like attempt to murder, do the police mean that thousands of Dalits who were protesting against injustice, were there to take lives?” he added.