By Divya Trivedi

Delhi University Associate Professor Hany Babu was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on July 28. He was summoned as a witness in the Bhima Koregaon Elgar Parishad case and had travelled to Mumbai from Delhi to cooperate with the NIA on July 23. His request for interrogation through video-conferencing was denied despite the threat of rising COVID-19 cases in the country.

Hundreds of academics and activists have spoken up against his arrest. In a statement condemning his arrest, the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) said that forcing Babu to present himself at the NIA’s office and questioning him was “merely a ruse to force him into providing false testimony against other persons and accepting allegations of being a functionary of the Maoist group. When Prof Babu vehemently and consistently refused to agree to these ridiculous lies after five days of continuous harassment in the name of interrogation, the NIA, despite his presence in the NIA office, has now made him an accused and formally arrested him and is ironically seeking custodial interrogation.”

Babu had his first brush with the case in September 2019 when a team of Maharashtra Police came to his doorstep without any warning or a warrant. After their raid of his house that lasted several hours, the police carried away several of his books and electronic devices. Reportedly, the NIA told Babu that it had found a hidden folder on his computer that linked him to the Maoists. In a press statement, the NIA said: “During further investigation, it was revealed that accused Hany Babu Musaliyarveettil Tharayil was propagating naxal activities and Maoist ideology and was a co-conspirator with other arrested accused.”

Babu’s wife and academic Prof Jenny Rowena told Frontline: “No hash value of any of the devices confiscated were provided, no protocols were followed. Do you mean to say that you can just come to someone’s house, take away his things and then claim to have found incriminating evidence against him? Is this a joke? Can this happen in any other country? They are giving this whole technological spin to justify his arrest, but how can the courts allow this?”

Babu has always maintained that he is a Bahujan activist and not a Left activist. He belongs to a Muslim community that comes under the other backward classes (OBC) category in Kerala. As an activst, first in Hyderabad and then in Delhi University, he has fought for OBC reservations.

While Babu has been an outspoken human rights activist on various issues, his only direct association with any Left movement is that he is the general secretary of the defence committee for G.N. Saibaba (a Delhi University professor who is 90 per cent handicapped, arrested in 2014 for having Maoist links and convicted in 2017). Babu is the third member of the committee and the 12th person to be arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case. On the day he was arrested, the temporary bail application for Prof Saibaba was rejected by the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court.

After the NIA took over the Bhima Koregaon case from the Pune Police in January this year, it has arrested Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde. A Hyderabad-based journalist, Kranthi Tekula, is currently being interrogated at the NIA’s Mumbai office. Eighty-year-old revolutionary poet Varavara Rao was shifted to a private hospital in Mumbai after a hue and cry by civil society. His health conditoin has worsened and he has tested positive for COVID-19. The other accused in the case, Sudha Bharadwaj, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves, are all in prison.

Babu’s last tweet before he was arrested was: “Day in and day out we are reminded that there is no justice in this country. And there is no peace without justice.”

This story first appeared in Frontline here.