Surendra Gadling, now in jail in the Bhima-Koregoan violence case, is a human rights lawyer and Dalit rights activist based in Nagpur. He is known for taking up cases of extra-judicial killings, police excesses and atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis in Gadchiroli and Gondia districts of Maharashtra.
All his life he fought valiantly to defend the rights of the people belonging to marginalized sections of society who were persecuted by the State or people who would stand up for their rights and consequently were targeted by the ruling elite but in the end he paid a price for his magnanimity.
He is considered to be an expert in special laws like Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, laws under which rampant violation of rights of tribals goes on in this country.
He represented Arun Ferreira, also in jail in the Bhima-Koregaon case, between 2007 and 2012. Until his own arrest, he was also handling the case of a wheelchair-bound Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, now convicted for his Naxal links. Surendra Gandling is known to take up most of his cases pro bono.
While working as an apprentice in the railways, Surendra started the Awhan Natya Manch, which would organise cultural evenings in the bastis of Nagpur and engage in conversations around rights and oppression. He has also been a member of the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners and served as General Secretary of the Indian Association of Peoples’ Lawyers. The IAPL describes him as ‘..an iconic example to many dalit lawyers defending their oppressed communities.’
Gadling was part of an independent fact-finding team that probed the encounter killing of 40 alleged Maoists by the police in Gadhchiroli in April 2018. He has also been a voice against persecution of the lawyers by the police machinery. In this context he also visited Kashmir as part of a team. He conducted a fact-finding mission in Chhattisgarh and brought out a report about persecution and harassment of lawyers who take up cases pertaining to tribals trapped in UAPA cases.
He was also part of the Bhima Koregaon fact-finding team. Gadling has been deeply involved with issues related to backward communities, in defense of reservation and in defense of the independence of the judiciary. He has been instrumental in spreading awareness and organising public meetings on various human rights issues.
Among the persons Gadling defended, many were charged with UAPA/Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and labeled as terrorists or Naxalites. Some of these names will definitely be part of history for their contribution towards society. In the close to 25 years of legal career he was able to get acquittal for all his clients, except in three cases, who were charged under these draconian laws, no mean achievement considering the powerful state paraphernalia that he was arrayed against.
Among the persons Gadling defended, many were charged with UAPA/Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and labeled as terrorists or NaxalitesBy deploying the heaviest of police bandobast, cordoning off the court premises, issuing alerts on the court hearing days, the police would often throw its weight to intimidate him and his clients in many of the cases he was involved with.
Despite all this, Gadling has been successful in convincing the courts of law about the innocence of his clients and in the discarding of many ridiculous allegations. He has fearlessly defended many even when there was strong objection from bar associations, negative publicity in media and open threats from investigating bodies.
We continue to demand that the fabricated and malicious charges be dropped.
Following his appearance before Nakawa Magistrates Court on December 24, 2020, to face money laundering charges under section 3 (c) of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, Nicholas Opiyo was remanded to Kitalya Government Prison, where he is currently detained. Nicholas’s family and the Chapter Four board have been in touch with him, and he informed them that he is in good health and being treated decently by the authorities.
Chapter Four unequivocally reiterates that the unsubstantiated allegations against Nicholas are a fabrication, false, and will be proven to be baseless. As previously stated, the grant of 340,000 USD mentioned in the charge sheet is a routine grant that Chapter Four Uganda has received for the last five years from one of its reputable and long-standing donors. The grant is applied to lawful purposes – defending fundamental rights and freedoms. We further note that the grant in question is on Chapter Four’s bank account and not on Nicholas’s personal bank account. The organization’s bank accounts have not been questioned before, during previous years when this same grant was received. Chapter Four pays taxes to the Government of Uganda and has never defaulted on this statutory obligation.
While regrettable, the actions of the State regarding Nicholas’s treatment are not surprising. We are convinced that he faces false and malicious charges because of his bold, unapologetic conviction and tireless work towards upholding and defending the constitutionally guaranteed human rights. Nicholas and Chapter Four will be vindicated. Chapter Four remains firmly committed to its core beliefs and mission – justice and equity for all, without discrimination.