On a cold December morning in 2018, a strange event occurred on the grounds of D.E.S. Navalmal Firodia Law College in Pune. The staff was gingerly led into their staff room for an unexpected meeting. The room was crowded with extra chairs and the doors were closed. Inside the room stood solemn-faced police officials flanked by members from the college’s senior management.
The management began the meeting with a patriotic song that somehow led to a speech on nationalism and how it was time to repay one’s debt to the motherland. Soon the police took over and began a lecture on Urban Naxalism. They talked about the people accused in Koregaon-Bhima Elgar Parishad case.
Eventually, the heart of the matter was revealed. The teachers had been called for this emergency meeting because the police and members of the Deccan Education Society that runs the law college, wanted them to translate documents of the Koregaon-Bhima Elgar Parishad case from Marathi to English. They were specifically asked to keep the entire matter confidential.
Taking help of professors to translate court documents from one language to another is not new. Even in the Selvi J Jayalalitha vs State case, a group of professors were asked to translate Tamil documents into English. What is problematic in the case, however, is the secrecy shrouding the matter. The rousing patriotic speeches and the demonisation of the accused make it a unique case.
For the two days that followed the meeting, the college library was closed for students and lectures remained suspended. The teachers at the college along with some staff from Fergusson College, Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce (BMCC) and a few law students stayed cooped up in the staff room, translating the documents. The importance of keeping the entire ‘operation’ a secret was emphasised multiple times during this period. Eight months have passed since but the secrecy around the event remains. When police were asked about this ‘secret mission,’ they refused to comment. They even went a step further and told this reporter to not delve any deeper into this matter.
The beginning of this story goes back to December 3, 2018, when the Supreme Court directed the Maharashtra government to submit the chargesheet filed against the arrested activists and lawyers in Koregaon Bhima-Elgar Parishad case by December 8, 2018. A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi wanted to see the charges filed by Pune police against the accused in Pune’s special court. This put the Pune police in a dilemma. How were they going to translate the hefty chargesheet from Marathi to English within a span of five days?
So, three days prior to the date of submission, Pune Police approached the Deccan Education Society for help. It is interesting to note that DES, which also runs the famed Fergusson College and boasts of founding fathers like V.K Chiplunkar, Lokmanya Tilak and Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, has been accused of maintaining close links with the RSS and the BJP. Many members are closely associated with RSS and some have even held top management positions in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. This includes Sharad Kunte, the Chairman of the DES.
According to sources, on the morning of December 5, 2018, at around 9.30 am, Rohini Honap, Principal of D.E.S. Navalmal Firodia Law College (popularly known as DES Law College) came to the staff room and informed staff members that Sharad Kunte will be conducting an urgent meeting with them in the next 15 minutes.
Until then, only the staff of DES Law College were present in the staff room. In the next 10 minutes, however, extra chairs were added to the room to accommodate staff members from Fergusson College (Junior/Senior), Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce (BMCC) and about 20-25 students of the law college who had a good academic record. By 10 am, Kunte along with Shivaji Pawar, Assistant Commissioner of Police and investigating officer of Koregaon-Bhima case and some other Pune police officials entered the staff room to conduct the meeting.
A source that was present at the meeting said the meeting began with a patriotic song in Hindi led by DES Chairman, Kunte, and sung by the staff. After this Kunte allegedly spoke about the Koregaon-Bhima and Elgar Parishad case, the involvement of Naxalites in the Koregaon-Bhima violence, and how some people wanted to create conflict in society.
According to the source, Kunte said, “Today we have got an opportunity to work for our nation, our motherland. We have to translate the pages of the chargesheet in the Koregaon-Bhima case to English. This needs to be produced in Supreme Court by the police. But you have to keep it very confidential. Please don’t tell your family members, friends or relatives about this. You cannot mention this to anyone. For the next two days you don’t have to do any other work or conduct any lectures, you only have to translate the chargesheet. It is mandatory to do this job.”
At the end of his address Kunte introduced ACP Pawar to the staff. Pawar said the Naxalite movement was spreading across the country and that Pune was not safe anymore because of it. He went on to mention the names of activists and lawyers arrested by the police in Koregaon-Bhima-Elgar Parishad case. He said all of them were Urban Naxals. “These people don’t look like Naxalites. Nobody will ever think that they are Naxalites, but we have investigated the case and it has been confirmed that they are indeed Naxals. Now it’s your responsibility to get them punished for their activities. There are many big lawyers who are supporting these people and are fighting against us. If you will not be able to translate this chargesheet within two days, then we will not be able to get them punished. Our people will also be here to help you. In the end you will also be provided with appreciation certificates,” said Pawar.
Sources who were present at the meeting recall that staff members were asked to inform students that no lectures would be conducted in the college for the next two days. This was conveyed to students via WhatsApp groups and phone calls. Soon after the meeting, around 100 people including staff and a few students (20-25) were asked to work in pairs. Each pair was given around 20-30 pages of the chargesheet in serial order. After the meeting, the staff from BMCC and Fergusson College left for their respective colleges with the copies of chargesheet pages.
The staff members of DES Law College were made to sit at the computers in the college library, computer room, and the staff room to begin the translation work. No students were allowed to access these three areas except the 20-25 who participated in the translation process. They were asked to finish the translation by 2 pm the next day (December 5, 2018). Two policemen of Pune Police and a team of 5-6 lawyers were present at the college to help the staff during the process.
According to sources, the staff worked till 6 pm on December 5 and finished more than half of the translation work. The rest of it was completed on December 6 by 4 pm after which another meeting was conducted in the staff room by Kunte in which the ACP Pawar was also present.
However, as per sources, staff members of DES Law College, BMCC and Fergusson were not very happy with the entire exercise.
“ACP Pawar along with other police officials came to college to collect the translated chargesheet on December 6. In the meeting, he thanked everyone and said that he had to catch a flight to Delhi in order to submit the chargesheet to the Supreme Court. According to the source, Kunte also thanked everyone and said, “You people have worked with great dedication. You have done a great job and nobody can harm the country till people like you continue to serve the nation.”
When Newslaundry contacted Shivaji Pawar and questioned him about assigning the translation work to colleges run by DES, he was evasive. “I don’t think it is necessary to tell you. We have taken the help of various professionals including some law and English students as we had very less time,” he answered.
On further questioning about why the staff was told to maintain secrecy and whether the speech he gave about Urban Naxalism and the involvement of accused in it was to influence the staff, he said, ” Why are you unnecessarily going deeper into this matter? We have submitted the chargesheet and you can see what is in it. I don’t want to discuss anything regarding it.”
Although Pawar was evading questions, Newslaundry managed to access a certificate of appreciation given to staff members for their work. The signatures of both Pawar and Kunte on it clearly establishes the link.
When Newslaundry questioned Kunte about why the staff was told not to reveal the matter to any one, he said, ” I don’t want to say anything about this matter. There is no need to explain why it has been kept a secret. But yes, the police did approach us and helping an administrative body is our duty.”
On being questioned further on the need for giving such speeches to the staff where the arrested persons were tagged as Naxalites, Kunte said it was because the arrested persons are Naxals. “I am not an expert on this matter and it is not our duty to find out whether it is a fact or not. They (police) approached our college and we decided to help them.” When asked whether there were other colleges involved in the translation exercise, he said, ” No, it’s only our (DES) colleges that helped the police in the translation work.”