India, five Modi critics arrested. Attempt to 'create a culture of silence'

Seized documents, mobile phones and PCs for a total of 25 thousand gigabytes of data. Police accuse human rights defenders of inciting protests from the Dalits. A priest in Ranchi has also been arrested and released. Bishops' Secretary: "Dissent is a value for democracy".

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - With raids conducted simultaneously throughout the country, the Indian police arrested five prominent activists and seized from their homes dozens of documents, mobile phones and PCs, for a total of 25 thousand gigabytes of data.

The intellectuals are known to be leftist exponents, defenders of the rights of the Dalits and the marginalized. And above all, they are critical of the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi and the aggressive campaigns conducted by Hindutva followers to impose Hindu ideology and religion.

Msgr. Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Indian Bishops' Conference (CBCI), declares: "It is an attack on the human rights of these activists". He stresses that "the arrested defend the Dalits and the indigenous peoples" and recalls what the Indian Supreme Court said yesterday evening: "Dissent is a value for democracy".

Likewise Lenin Raghuvanshi, an activist for the Dalits and executive director of the Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (Pvchr) in Varanasi. He denounces: "The fascist forces of Hindutva want to create a culture of silence. All those arrested work to assert the rights of the Dalits, minorities and tribals ".

The police searched the homes of the activists between the night of August 28 and yesterday. The arrested are: Varavara Rao, writer and poet of Hyderabad; Sudha Bharadwaj, lawyer and secretary of the Chhattisgarh People's Union for Civil Liberties; Gautam Navlakha, journalist and activist for Kashmir; Vernon Gonsalves, a writer from Mumbai; Arun Ferreira, a lawyer from Mumbai accused in 2012 (and acquitted) of complicity with the Naxalite, the Maoist guerrillas active in the north-east of India. The officers also arrested and then released four more people, including Fr. Stan Lourdusamy (known as Fr Stan Swamy), a Jesuit priest from Ranchi.

The authorities accuse them of having incited the Dalits protest that last January led to clashes with police and one death. The former "untouchables" gathered in the city of Pune, in Maharasthra, to commemorate the 200 years since the battle fought in the village of Bhima-Koregaon, considered the first Dalit victory against the oppression of their masters.

The authorities' accusations range from terrorism to outrage against a public official, disturbance of the peace, criminal conspiracy and support of the Maoist ideology.

Regarding the priest who was arrested and released, Msgr. Mascarenhas declares: "We did not understand the reasons for his arrest. He is accused of complicity with the events in the Maharasthra, even though he lives in Jharkhand. In this state, someone does not want the rights of Dalits and indigenous peoples to be defended ". Then he denounces: "On TV channels, anyone who expresses different opinions is accused of being against the nation. Instead I believe that the antinational are those who do not respect the constitutional law ".

Protests have been organized all over the country to spread the news of the arrests. Intellectuals and ordinary people denounce attempts to destroy the critical opposition to the central government.

Raghuvanshi reports that "the Pvchr is deeply shocked by searches and arbitrary arrests" and "condemns the way they happened". Then he highlights: "In recent months we have witnessed a systematic abuse of legal proceedings by the government with the aim of defaming human rights defenders. The arbitrary arrests are nothing more than the escalation of the government's campaign to break dissent and criminalize people or organizations who ask questions or oppose the violation of fundamental rights and human rights by the state and its agencies ".

Recalling the moral caliber of the arrested activists, "exceptional people, with a sense of professional integrity and dedication to the highest public service", he calls for their immediate release.