JAIPUR – A questionable raid conducted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) at the house of noted human rights lawyer Ansar Indori in Kota, as part of its action against the now-banned Popular Front of India (PFI), has sent shock waves across Rajasthan because of the tone and tenor of the dubious incursion. The raid has been perceived as an attempt to throttle the voices of dissent and threaten those opposed to the Central Government’s repressive measures.
The premises of Indori, the national secretary of the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO), were among the seven locations raided by the NIA in Rajasthan on February 18. The case pertained to the alleged terror funding and unlawful activities by the PFI, which was banned by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, on September, 28, 2022, for a period of five years.
In Kota, the NIA team conducted raids in Badi Masjid area under Kotwali police station, Sangod area and at Indori’s residence in Aman Colony, situated in Vigyan Nagar area. Other raids were conducted purportedly at the places related to PFI in Sawai Madhopur, Bundi, Bhilwara and Jaipur districts. The searches were conducted as a follow-up to a case registered suo motu by the NIA on September 19 last year, before the PFI was proscribed.
The first information report (FIR) in the case was registered against Sadiq Sarraf of Baran and Mohammed Asif of Kota with the charge that they were indulging in “unlawful activities” along with other office-bearers and cadres of the outfit. Indori had represented the accused as a defence lawyer while challenging this FIR in the Rajasthan High Court and sought its quashing on the basis of lack of evidence.
The NIA’s raid at Indori’s house continued for more than three hours early morning on February 18 and the lawyer was taken to a local police station for interrogation. He was released after about two hours. According to an NIA spokesperson, some digital devices, an airgun, sharp weapons and incriminating documents were seized from Indori’s residence.
Some books were also seized from Indori’s house. The books included Bhopal-based writer L.S. Hardenia’s famous work on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, two human rights reports on Jammu & Kashmir, a report titled “Zindabad Murdabad Ke Bich Fansi Deshbhakti” (Patriotism Caught Between Support and Opposition) and a report prepared by the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations.
Indori denied any link with the PFI and said he had only represented two persons as their defence lawyer in the legal case challenging the FIR in the High Court. Indori has a track record of fighting legal battles against human rights violations at different places. In the Baran/Kota case, he had appeared in the High Court as the counsel of the accused on February 7, barely 11 days before the NIA came searching for him on the pretext of conducting the raid.
Indori said the raid was clearly intended to harass him because he had challenged the FIR registered by the NIA. “I believe it is an attempt to threaten and falsely implicate me in view of my fight for defending human rights. The NIA team reached my house at 5:15 a.m. and took me to the police station, where they questioned me till around 7:40 a.m. They seized some reports on human rights and some books authored by human rights activists,” he said.
Another NIA team reached Mahaveer Colony in Bundi city at 4:00 a.m. on February 18 and carried out search operations at the house of former Bundi district president of PFI, Anis Ansari, who had contested the Rajasthan Assembly election on the Social Democratic Party of India’s ticket in 2018. As he was away for attending a wedding function outside Bundi, the NIA sleuths seized mobile phones and some documents from the house.
This is the second major instance of Indori’s harassment at the hands of the government agencies for his professional work. Earlier, an FIR was registered against him and many others under the UAPA and several provisions of Indian Penal Code after he visited Tripura with a fact-finding team to probe atrocities against Muslims in October 2021 during the rallies organised by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in protest against the violence against Hindus in Bangladesh during and after Durga Puja.
A report titled “Humanity Under Attack in Tripura, #Muslim Lives Matter”, published on November 2 after the visit, highlighted violence against Muslims in Tripura. The report pointed out that at least 12 mosques, nine shops and three houses belonging to Muslims were vandalised in the state. However, the Tripura Police claimed that the incidents were exaggerated by social media users and the security forces had acted swiftly to control the situation.
Besides Indori, the criminal cases were registered against more than 70 persons, including Supreme Court lawyers, activists, journalists and religious leaders and eight persons were promptly arrested from different districts of the state. Later, the Supreme Court directed the Tripura Police not to take any coercive action against Indori, another accused lawyer Mukesh and journalist Shyam Meera Singh, who were also accused in the case, on their writ petition challenging the FIR.
Significantly, Indori’s twitter account @AnsarIndori has been suspended apparently at the request of Tripura Police. The microblogging site informs the visitors that the account has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand.
New Delhi-based human rights lawyer Kanwalpreet Kaur has reacted sharply to the raid at Indori’s house and said it was a desperate attempt to punish and frame human rights activists and lawyers in terror cases, which must stop. “Advocate Ansar Indori was part of the legal team which challenged an FIR registered by NIA before the Rajasthan High Court. Today his house was raided by NIA. Pure witch-hunt,” Kaur tweeted. Another lawyer, Saif Alam, said if the lawyers were not safe from this draconian law (UAPA) made by a legislative body, one should forget about the naive citizens of the country.
The Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) has also condemned the NIA’s raid at Indori’s house. In a statement, the CASR said it was undeniably a violation of the fundamental rights of people to be represented in the legal process as well as an attack on professional rights of pro-people lawyers. “We can see the rise in such reactionary and vengeful methods of quelling the people’s voices under the BJP-RSS regime. Trade Unionist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, Nagpur-based Lawyer Surendra Gadling and many others have also been targeted and jailed in frivolous cases for similar work of representing the oppressed and exploited people,” said the CASR.
The CASR, which is an umbrella organisation representing a large number of civil rights groups functioning across the country, said the NIA had purportedly curbed the rights of people which came about in legal connotations that varied from FIRs to UAPA. Every act of dissent is suppressed by these anti-people laws like UAPA, NSA, PSA, etc., stated the CASR, while condemning the state-manufactured legalities to suppress masses from resisting the anti-people laws and the nature of the state.
While criticising the constant attacks on activists, pro-people lawyers, and journalists in general and lawyer Indori in particular, the CASR demanded that no coercive action should be taken against Indori and he should be allowed to carry on his legal, democratic and civic activities in the interest of the masses. “We also call upon the democratic and progressive forces, conscious members of legal fraternity, students, intelligentsia, members of civil society and broad masses of people for a united struggle against the growing attacks of Brahminical Hindutva Fascism,” said the CASR in its strongly worded statement .