Targeting journalists, academicians, lawyers and other social activist involved in critical work, including the government is no more a rarity in India. Since the Modi led BJP government assumed power in 2014 and again in 2019, such incidents are common to come across. In another such event, the government has attacked another journalist. The criminalization is seen to be a ‘punishment for critical writing’. In Telangana, the police have charged N. Venugopal, a renowned journalist and the editor of a Telugu monthly journal Veekshanam, falsely implicating him under charges of the Telangana Public Security Act and other draconian laws. In the matter, though FIR has been registered, Venugopal has not been arrested. As per the contents of the FIR, he is the seventh accused in a case of a big Maoist conspiracy against the state. The background of N. Venugopal suggests that he an active and vocal critic on the majoritarian leanings of the party in power at the centre as well as the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) led by K. Chandrashekhar Rao in the state. His work has been continuing as long as the demand for a separate state of Telangana. After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, to give birth to a new state, he has been the most influential critic of the TRS government at the state level and has reprimanded them for their ‘anti-people’ policies.
N. Venugopal arrested for membership of the Revolutionary Writers Association
As per the allegations set out by the contents of the FIR, he has been named as a member of the Virasam, the Viplava Rachayitala Sangham (Revolutionary Writers Association). The group is known for a liberal and radical Left position and was founded by Varavara Rao. Though he is accused of being a member, the editorial team of Veekshanam has said that Venugopal is not associated with Virasam since 2009. They say that in 2009, some uncalled for controversy spurred on one of his writings, and since then he has stayed out of membership of the said group. The team noted that since his disassociation with Virasam, Venugopal has made the same clear on public platforms many times. Though he is a well-known progressive for democratic and stable views inclining towards the Left, there is no membership he holds of the said organization, said the team.
Alternatively, it is beyond understanding that Virasam is not a banned organization, that having a membership of the same attracts a criminal offence. There have been various judgments and pronouncements by the court, which suggest that police cannot detain someone merely for the reason for him to be a believer of the Maoist ideology. There has to be some proof to show that the activities of the organization or that individual are unlawful as per the law of the land. The prosecution based on belief is wrong in law. In the case of criminalization of N. Venugopal, the claim was unverified, and the records show him ‘absconding’ despite having so many public appearances at talks and seminars of Veekshanam regularly.
Despite being a renowned journalist, holding a state government journalist accreditation and a regular columnist of ‘Telanganaartham’ in Nava Telangana, he has not managed to stay away from the blow of the state. Such branding by the police is only exploiting his image as an independent journalist. It is nothing but an act of vindication of the ruling party, profoundly affecting the freedom of speech and expression, a right guaranteed to all citizens by way of the Constitution. In a statement published in favour of the journalist, it has been said that the claim of the police is ‘rubbish’, to be calling him absconding despite his frequent appearances in television debates and lectures across the state regularly. The statement calls it a ‘conspiratorial attitude’ of the police and ‘misguiding the judiciary.’
Hyderabad based couple arrested for involvement in Maoist activities.
Apart from Venugopal and before his name appeared as an accused, two other persons named Narla Ravi Sarma (52) and B. Anuradha (56) were arrested. The primary allegation on them was to have a connection with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). This is not the first time the two have been arrested. Sarma, who is an agriculture graduate, has been once previously arrested in 2009 by Jharkhand police for active involvement in Maoist activities. It was only in 2016 that he was released on bail, and since then has shifted to Hyderabad to stay with his wife, Anuradha. Both Sarma and Anuradha’s house were raided, and the police said it has found ‘incriminating’ evidence against the couple and seized ‘revolutionary literature’ written by Varavara Rao saved in three laptops, pen drives and memory cards. On a perusal of the contents of the remand diary, as reported by The Wire, it is stated that Sarma and his wife are alleged to be associated in some unlawful activities and thus ‘constitutes a danger to public order, peace & tranquillity’. It also states that as per some undisclosed sources, members of Maoist party have been paying visit Sarma and his wife at their house in Hyderabad. More or less the allegations against them remain the same, as listed by the Jharkhand police in 2009 to arrest Sarma. No new charges have come to light.
The couple is promoting ‘anti-Hindu sentiments’, says the police.
In conversation with The Wire, Ravindranath Balla of a democratic right group, the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) has said that the arrest of the couple is a fallout of their attempts to organize a press conference in condemnation of the recent Supreme Court’s judgment to hand over the disputed Ayodhya site to the Hindu side. He said the timing of the arrest of the couple casts severe doubts over the intention of the police.
“Ravi and Anuradha have been staying in Hyderabad since 2016 and led a public life. They were the convenors of an anti-fascist forum, a group that organized and campaigned against Hindutva politics. He had already booked a hall to condemn the Ayodhya verdict in a press conference. But they were arrested before they could hold a press conference,”
Interestingly in the matter, the police are in acceptance that the arrested couple was involved in organizing a press conference to vocalize their opinion against Hindutva. The police see this as an offence as amongst the list of many allegations; it is also noted that the couple is propagating “anti-Hindu feelings among the public” through the platform “Forum against Hindutva Fascist Offensive”, which as per the claim of the police is a Maoist party’s “frontal organization”.