Today (Wednesday, June 6th), Maharashtra police arrested Mahesh Raut, an activist in Gadchiroli, along with Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling (a senior lawyer) and Shoma Sen. All of these people are prominent, well-known faces in the struggle for social justice in Maharashtra. Mahesh Raut, in particular, has been affiliated to the Gram Swaraj Parishad and CSD and has spent years organising movements and struggles for forest rights in Gadchiroli, including village ownership and sale of tendu patta and bamboo. He has also been involved in working for people’s rights in the face of illegal land takeovers for mining in the area. This is not the first time Mahesh has been targeted – for years the police have been trying to claim he and his co-workers are Maoists, even though the charge is absurd.
Indeed, the charges against those arrested are even more absurd this time than earlier. In press reports, police officials are quoted claiming that the Maoists paid these activists money to incite violence at the Bhima Koregaon rally. This is the same police force that has exonerated Sambhaji Bhide and done precious little to tackle the Sangh Parivar groups that openly attacked people at Bhima Koregaon. This is clearly a politically motivated case intended to target those who have been working for democratic rights and basic freedoms in a BJP-ruled state.
We condemn this naked exercise of state repression and demand the immediate release of those arrested.