On July 28, 2020, Indian authorities arrested scholar-activist Hany Babu in apparent retaliation for his human rights activism.
Babu is an associate professor in the Department of English at Delhi University (DU) with a specialization in policy, social justice, linguistic identity, and minority languages. In addition to his academic work, Babu is a Dalit rights activist and whose house was reportedly searched on September 10, 2019, based on alleged links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) (see report).
His arrest is part of a larger case involving eleven other activists and scholars, who have been accused of several offenses including violating the Unlawful Activities and (Prevention) Act, based on their alleged involvement in the 2018 Bhima Koregoan memorial event, which commemorated an 1818 battle between Dalit soldiers of the British army and upper-caste Peshwas.
Violent clashes, apparently provoked by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, broke out during the memorial, leaving one person dead.
Authorities accuse the activists—nine of whom have been in custody since at least August 2018—of inciting the violence one day prior at Elgar Parishad, a related event held to mark the battle that featured artistic performances and speeches that contained anti-caste and pro-democracy themes (see related report). The case against the activists is reportedly based on purported letters collected in house raids, telephone records, a pamphlet from Elgar Parishad, and other evidence that human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and legal experts have called into question for their veracity and relevance.
On July 23, 2020, Babu was reportedly summoned by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) where he was interrogated for several hours every day, until his arrest on July 28.
The day following his arrest, Babu was presented before a special court where he was remanded to seven days in custody of the NIA. On August 2, the NIA reportedly raided Babu’s home again and seized books and hard drives.
On October 9, NIA filed a charge sheet against Babu and seven of the other accused activists for “criminal conspiracy” and “waging war against the country” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Indian Penal Code. NIA accused the eight activists of “funding, leadership, and intellectual support to Maoists in urban pockets” and accused Babu of contacting banned terror groups and organizing visits with foreign journalists.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and prosecution of scholars and activists in apparent retaliation for their peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. State authorities are obligated to refrain from restricting or retaliating against nonviolent expression and associations. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of arrests and prosecutions to punish expression and associations undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.
UPDATE: On May 3, 2021, Babu was denied access to immediate medical treatment by Taloja jail authorities after he began to suffer from an acute eye infection. According to Babu’s wife and activist for his release Jenny Rowena, Babu’s infection worsened and spread to his ears, cheeks, and forehead.