Vernon Gonsalves, born in 1957, is a trade unionist, activist, and academician. He is a prominent scholar and a writer. He has taught Business Management and Economics in several esteemed colleges in Mumbai. He has continuously advocated for prisoners’ rights and improving prison conditions in India. Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira have written critical essays on establishing law and order in the country.
Life and Activism
He is a Mangalorean Catholic and was born in Byculla in South Mumbai. He was a teaching faculty at several colleges in Mumbai such as Ruparel College, HR College of Commerce and Economics, and Akbar Peerbhoy College of Commerce and Economics. He won a gold medal in his master’s degree in Commerce studies.
Gonsalves was in prison for six years (even before he was arrested in the year 2018). In 2007, he was charged with 20 cases under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Arms Act for allegedly having Maoist links and carrying explosives. The Maharashtra anti-terror squad accused him of being a “top-level Naxalite.” In the year 2013, he was acquitted of all the 17 charges and subsequently released.
Circumstances of Arrest
On August 28, 2018, Gonsalves was arrested alongside other left-wing activists and scholars like Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navalaka and Sudha Bharadwaj, under the fabricated charges of instigating violence during the bicentennial anniversary of Bhima Koregaon and allegedly plotting the assassination of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Incidentally, before his arrest, in 2017 Gonsalves wrote an article with the following text –
“Should the oppressed dare to show some militancy in resistance, they must be ready to face all the vehement violence that the security agencies are capable of – lathi-charges, firing, implication in false cases under draconian laws, and even torture.”
Charges & Allegations
The Supreme Court of India ordered him to be under house arrest. Prominent senior counsel Mihir Desai represented him during his bail hearings. In September 2018, other activists approached the Supreme Court of India to demand an independent probe into the high-handedness of the Pune police in the arrests of the five activists, including him. This petition was dismissed by the three-judge bench with Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud dissenting. Many bail pleas of Vernon Gonsalves based on medical grounds and merit of the case were rejected by the courts. He sought an interim bail citing his old age and vulnerability to Covid, which was denied too. He is currently lodged in Taloja Jail in Mumbai. The Bombay High Court on May 4, 2022, rejected the petition filed by eight accused in the Bhima Koregaon caste violence case seeking default bail by challenging the Pune sessions court order taking cognizance of the charge sheet filed in the case. The Bench noted that no case was made for review as there were no factual errors in the bail order.