Five Dalit activists held for Maharashtra violence

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Mumbai/New Delhi, June 6 : In a multi-city pre-dawn operation on Wednesday, Maharashtra Police arrested Dalit activists and alleged urban Maoist sympathizers in the state and New Delhi for the January 1 Koregaon-Bhima caste riots, officials said.

Those arrested included Rona Jacob Wilson in Delhi, Sudhir Dhawale in Mumbai and lawyer Surendra Gadling, who has defended several Maoists, besides Mahesh Raut and Shoma Sen from Nagpur.

Wilson, 47, was nabbed from a south Delhi neighbourhood in a joint operation by Delhi and Maharashtra Police.

Deputy Commissioner of Delhi Police Sanjeev Yadav said Wilson, a Jawaharlal Nehru University alumnus, was hiding in a DDA flat in Munirka near the varsity.

The Nagpur homes of Raut and Sen were also raided even as the police were reportedly contemplating invoking the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against the accused.

Among the arrested, Dhawale is the editor of a Marathi magazine, “Vidrohi”. Gadling has represented prominent Maoist activists including G.N. Saibaba and provided legal help to the Kabir Kala Manch that organized the Elgaar Parishad.

Raut is a former Prime Minister Rural Development Fellow and has alleged links with Maoist groups in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra.

The arrested, according to police, had organised the Elgaar Parishad in Pune on December 31 last year to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the historic Anglo-Marathi battle between the British forces and the Peshwa Bajirao II.

The gathering was addressed, among others, by Gujarat Dalit leader and MLA Jignesh Mewani, former JNU student leader Umar Khalid, Chhattisgarh activist Soni Sori and Bhim Army President Vinay Ratan Singh.

A day later on January 1, there was the outbreak of caste riots in the Koregaon-Bhima which left one dead. A retaliatory Maharashtra shutdown call issued by Bharipa Bahujan Mahajan Sangh leader Prakash Ambedkar and other parties on January 3 also claimed one life.

Harshali Potdar, one of the coordinators of the Elgaar Parishad, said the arrests were “illegal… a ploy to victimize us and intended to save Sambhaji Bhide Guruji and Milind Ekbote”.

Bhide and Ekbote are Hindutva activists accused of triggering anti-Dalit violence.

Bhide is the founder-leader of Shree Shiv Pratisthan Hindustan and Ekbote is the leader of Samastha Hindu Aghadi.

Bhide was given a clean chit by the Maharashtra government but Ekbote was arrested in March for his role in the Koregaon-Bhima riots and later granted bail in April.

Leftist and Dalit groups staged protests in Mumbai and Nagpur and many activists condemned the arrests of their leaders.

In April, the Pune police raided homes and offices of these activists in different parts of the country and questioned them for their involvement in various activities.