Many of the witnesses in the Elgaar Parishad case, whose statements were recorded by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in connection with alleged provocative speeches given at the event held at Shaniwarwada in Pune on December 31, 2017, have told the agency that they could not enter the venue of the event due to the presence of a large crowd. While two witnesses have said that the speeches were “provocative”, one person said that a song performed by members of Kabir Kala Manch was “aggressive in nature”.
The NIA has so far recorded statements of 48 witnesses, including professors, activists and lawyers. The statements are part of its 10,000-page chargesheet filed against eight persons on October 9. Of the 48, statements of 13 witnesses were recorded in connection to the Elgaar Parishad event, held ahead of the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon. The event formed the basis for the FIR in the case, leading to the arrest of 16 people.
Among the 13, the three persons who described the nature of the speeches are two men booked in a separate case by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad in Mumbai in January 2018. The men said they could not enter the Elgaar Parishad venue due to the crowd and hence, heard the speeches from a footpath outside.
One of the men said that he identified the voice of Rohith Vemula’s mother, Radhika. “Other speakers loudly delivered their speeches and I felt that the speeches of participants were of provocative nature,” he added. The statement does not mention names of other speakers or a description of the provocative speeches. His co-accused also gave a similar statement.
The third witness, a medical officer, told NIA that the event began around 3 pm and went on till 10.30 pm. His added that the song ‘Udva Thikrya Rai Rai’, performed by members of the Kabir Kala Manch, was “aggressive” and that “thereafter, main speakers delivered speeches”.
The witness added that the final speech was given by Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) chief Prakash Ambedkar who appealed to the people to donate, following which members of the district committee set up for the event collected over Rs 2 lakh in a large cloth that was taken around the venue.
A witness, linked to an NGO working in the field of education, said that he came to the event with two of his friends. “On being asked about (who were present on stage)… I state (the names of) Dr Prakash Ambedkar, Jignesh Mewani, mother of Rohith Vemula, etc. Other members were also present on stage but I don’t know them… Since we were hungry and uncomfortable sitting on the ground, we all came outside and had some food. Thereafter, I heard the speeches by standing outside the venue,” his statement said.
Another witness, a Mumbai coordinator of VBA, said that he went to the event with four others. “However, due to the rush, the police did not allow us to enter the venue,” he said, adding that he could not see speakers.
Similar statements were given by a freelancer and a union member with a civic body, who said that as they heard speeches from outside, they could neither tell who gave the speeches nor comment on their nature.
Three among the witnesses are drivers of Ambedkar and arrested accused Anand Teltumbde. They told NIA that they were present in the parking area and did not hear the speeches.
A 36-year old man, who campaigned for VBA, said he came to the event to listen to Ambedkar. He added that he reached 10 minutes before Ambedkar’s speech and a stage show was being performed then. “I don’t know the persons who were performing. I left the meeting after the completion of Shri Bala Saheb (Prakash) Ambedkar’s speech, I do not remember that anyone had given any provocative speech…,” the witness said.
He added that he knew Harshali Poddar, one of the organisers of the event – who has not been chargesheeted by the NIA.
The other witnesses included a prominent social worker and a retired Bombay High Court judge.
The social worker said that she gave consent to speak at the event after she heard that retired SC judge P B Sawant and HC judge B G Kolse Patil were associated with the Elgaar Parishad. The witness also did not comment on the speeches, claiming that she arrived at the venue after members of Kabir Kala Manch had already delivered their speeches. Asked about the funds collected at the event, she said that she did not know anything about it and had not received an honorarium.
Kolse-Patil, in his statement, said that arrested accused Sudhir Dhawale and members of Kabir Kala Manch had approached him to speak at the event. He added that since the event was to bring all organisations on one platform and he and Sawant worked for the welfare of “deprived classes”, he agreed to join the programme. “I have not given any consent to anyone to project my name as convenor or organiser of this programme,” the statement said.
The NIA has claimed that the accused had “incited people” by giving provocative presentations and speeches at the event, which promoted enmity between caste groups leading to violence at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018, resulting in loss of life and statewide agitation.
A note sent to various guests, which is also a part of the chargesheet, named over 30 people as “hosts”, including Teltumbde. The chargesheet claimed that the event was a larger conspiracy linked with banned organisation CPI (Maoist).
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