Mumbai, Feb. 10: Merely being attracted to the communist philosophy doesn’t make someone a terrorist or criminal, Bombay High Court has said, granting bail to two members of a Pune cultural forum and two students accused of being Maoists by police.
Justice Abhay Thipsay said in his order last week “it is surprising the state should consider the activities of the applicants as incriminating material” and stressed any alleged membership of a terrorist organisation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act “cannot be passive”.
For street-play artistes Dhawala Dhengale and Siddharth Bhosale, and university students Mayuri Bhagat and Anuradha Sonule, the relief came almost two years after their arrest in April 2011 by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) which alleged they were members of the CPI (Maoists).
Charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and various sections of the Indian Penal Code, their bail pleas to lower courts had been rejected.
The ATS alleged that the four, in their early 20s, were aware of the activities of Maoists and knowingly associated themselves with the rebels.
According to the prosecution, however, the youths were not shown to be, or even alleged to be, involved in any acts of violence or terrorism.
Justice Thipsay highlighted this key aspect. “It is clear none of the applicants has allegedly resorted to violence, none is alleged to have handled weapons or explosives, none alleged to have committed a terrorist act,” he said.
“It (any association with such an outfit) has to be treated as an active membership which results in participation of the acts of the terrorist gang or organisation performed for carrying out the aims and objects of such gang…. by use of violence or other unlawful means,” the order added.
Dhengale and Bhosale, both members of Kabir Kala Manch (KMM) formed after the 2002 Gujarat riots, created awareness on social issues through street plays and protest songs. The court touched on this, pointing out that Dhengale was part of such plays highlighting the need for communal harmony, alleged oppression of Schedule Castes and Tribes, gender equality eradication of corruption.
Justice Thipsay expressed surprise how the state was highlighting these activities to convince the court about the four being Maoists. “Speaking about corruption, social inequality, exploitation of the poor is not banned in our country. Many of the statements attributed to Mayuri and Anuradha are often made by several national leaders and social thinkers also.”
The judge lauded as “commendable” their attempts at creating social awareness.
“…On the contrary, such a reasoning would indicate that these issues, which are real and important are not addressed by anyone else, except the Communist Party of India (Maoists), which in turn would mean the other parties or social organisations are indifferent to these problems,” Justice Thipsay said. The trial will go on in a lower court.
Advocate Mihir Desai, who represented the four, welcomed the order, as did National Award-winning documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan who set up a forum called Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee last year to help them in their legal battle.
“It is a very powerful judgment, which re-establishes our faith in the judiciary. The members of KMM who were arrested are performers, nowhere accused of any violence,” said Patwardhan.