Gujarat church leaders have condemned the arrest of two activists as a move to stifle opposition to human rights violations in the western Indian state.
The government “is trying to link human rights activists with Maoists” and terrorists “without any evidence,” says Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, who directs a human rights center in Ahmedabad, the state’s commercial hub.
On June 1, a day after the activists’ arrest, the priest made his center available as a platform for several NGOs to brief the media on government “excesses”.
Earlier, police had arrested Srinivas Sattaya Kurapati and his wife Hansa, both working with two different NGOs.
Activists say the arrests happened despite the state having no record of Maoist activities.
The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people’s party) headed by Chief Minister Narendra Modi now rules the state.
Father Prakash says that NGOs in Gujarat have countered Modi’s “fascist” approach to the sectarian riots in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.
“He is now creating a ghost of Maoism to target human rights groups,” Father Prakash alleged.
The government has already arrested twelve NGO activists for alleged Maoist links, the priest said.
“We will defend them,” he added.
Social service society manager Father Xavier Manjooran noted that the activists were arrested after they questioned state violence against tribal people.
A third Jesuit, Father Joseph Appavoo, echoed the comments, accusing Chief Minister Modi of trying to silence dissent so that he could continue his agenda of violence against tribal people and religious minorities.