(Eds: Updating with fresh development) Kolkata, Sep 6 (PTI) Days after the NIA summoned IISER-Kolkata professor Partho Sarathi Ray for questioning in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence in 2018, the scientist and social activist on Sunday said he had nothing to do with the incident and the probe agency was trying to 'harass him, as has been the case with other intellectuals'.
Over 200 intellectuals and rights activists also criticised the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for summoning Ray in the case in an open letter, claiming that it is a 'sinister attempt in the fascist regime's witch-hunt at silencing the voices of dissent and protest.' The professor of Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research's (IISER) Kolkata unit said that there was no charge against him, and 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.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has issued a notice to Ray, who is also the convenor of Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee's (PPSC) West Bengal unit, asking him to appear for questioning in its Mumbai office on September 10 in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence.
The case pertains to an incident of caste violence that took place near the Bhima Koregaon war memorial on January 1, 2018, following alleged provocative speeches at Elgar Parishad conclave a day earlier.
Several vehicles were torched and one person killed in the incident, triggering large scale Dalit agitation in Maharashtra.
'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.
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.
His tireless work in defence of civil liberties and for the release of political prisoners is exemplary, said the letter released on Sunday.
'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.
'We, the undersigned, strongly condemn this brazen assault on democratic activities and demand immediate withdrawal of NIA's menacing, threatening interrogation notice,' it read.
The letter was signed, among others, by historian Sumit Sarkar, actor Sabyasachi Chakroborty, human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen and advocate and CPI(M) leader Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya. PTI SUS RMS NN NN