IISER-Kolkata professor Partho Sarathi Ray and Dalit scholar and activist K Satyanarayana, who is also Varavara Rao’s son-in-law, said in separate statements that the NIA was distressing them as it summoned them for questioning in the Bhima Koregaon case .
The NIA summoned the two, along with Satyanarayana’s brother-in-law and The Hindu journalist KV Kumarnath, as part of its investigation into the Bhima Koregaon violence in 2018, a case which has been criticised for use of central agencies to harass intellectuals and human rights activists in the country.
Partho Sarathi Ray, who was questioned by the NIA last week, said on Sunday in a statement that the probe agency was trying to “harass him, as has been the case with other intellectuals”.
Satyanarayana said that while he was related to Telugu poet-activist Varavara Rao, he had no connection to the Bhima Koregaon case.
The activist and his brother have been asked by the NIA to appear before it in Mumbai for questioning on September 9.
Varavara Rao had been arrested in the case in August and has been imprisoned in the Taloja Jail in Mumbai.
In his statement, Satyanarayana said. “NIA notice adds to our family distress at a time when Varavara Rao’s health condition is not very good and the pandemic is fast spreading in Mumbai. I am travelling to Mumbai in these terrible times.”
“Our father-in-law is already in their custody and is deeply affected by both prolonged incarceration and the viral infection. In such a situation, the NIA wants us to travel to Mumbai now. It is distressing,” Kurmanath told The Wire.
Ray, a professor of Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research’s (IISER) Kolkata unit said that there was no charge against him, and that he had never visited the Bhima Koregaon memorial in Pune.
“The agency (NIA) has summoned me as a witness in the case, under section 160 CrPC. Therefore, there are no charges against me. I have no connection with this case as I have never been to Bhima Koregaon. I wasn’t even aware of the incident till I read about it in newspapers,” he told PTI.
Ray, who is also convenor of Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee’s (PPSC) West Bengal unit, was asked by the NIA to appear for questioning in its Mumbai office on September 10 in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence.
“This is nothing but a tactic to harass and intimidate me, as is being done with academics and intellectuals all over India. I am a biomedical scientist who has been involved in the battle against COVID-19.
“I have also stood consistently on the side of the persecuted and disadvantaged. It is very unfortunate that I’m being harassed in this manner at this critical time,” he said.
“Since I have been working on the ground continuously in the past months, I am at a high risk of being exposed to the virus. And making me travel at such times is not just risky for me but also for everyone I will come in contact with,” Ray told The Wire.
Responding to NIA’s summons to Ray, over 200 intellectuals and rights activists criticised the agency in an open letter, saying it was a “sinister attempt in the fascist regime’s witch-hunt at silencing the voices of dissent and protest.“
The open letter written by rights activists and intellectuals said that Ray has been involved in peaceful, democratic people’s movements, especially the struggle for the rights of poor and marginalised Dalits and Adivasis.
“The harassment of Dr Ray by the NIA is yet another sinister attempt in the fascist regime’s witch-hunt at silencing the voices of dissent and protest.”
The letter was signed, among others, by historian Sumit Sarkar and actor Sabyasachi Chakroborty.
The case pertains to the caste violence that took place near the Bhima Koregaon war memorial on January 1, 2018. Several vehicles were torched and one person killed in the incident, triggering large scale Dalit agitation in Maharashtra.
Activist Sudha Bhardwaj, academic and professor Anand Teltumbde, journalist and activist Gautam Navalakha, prison rights activist Rona Wilson, activist Mahesh Raut, professor Shoma Sen and academic Hany Babu are all under arrest in relation to the case.
(With PTI inputs)