By Satyaki Chakraborty
The open letter written by fifty six retired civil servants of the country condemning the Modi Government’s intimidation of the leading figures of the human rights movement in India Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, is a clarion call to the conscience of those who believe in dissent in a democracy like India to wake up and join the protest action against the moves of the government agencies. The letter convincingly exposes how the arms of the ruling party BJP are deciding who patriots are and who are not. The atmosphere in the country favours those who make all attempts to intimidate the dissenting voices against ruling establishment into silence.
The letter begins by talking about the recent Central Bureau of Investigation raids on Lawyers Collective, run by advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover. It then goes on to talk about how people associated with the RSS are labelling credible human rights defenders as “urban Naxals” simply because they disagree with the government. The former civil servants also talk about how artists – including Miyah poets in Assam – are facing a crackdown.
The letter mentions Lawyers Collective and its founding Trustees, Ms. Indira Jaising and Mr. Anand Grover have been at the forefront in furthering women’s rights, gender equality, and environmental issues and have been committed to fighting over decades for the rule of law. Ms. Indira Jaising, who has also been Additional Solicitor General of India, has been the force behind the passing of a law preventing Domestic Violence against women in India, the recognition of right to shelter of pavement dwellers, the rights of hawkers, and many other social justice issues.
Mr. Anand Grover has done a lifetime of work on access to health and affordable medicines, and led the advocacy and litigation for decriminalization of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. He has also held the prestigious position of UN Special Rapporteur on right to health from August 2008 to July 2014. Both Ms. Jaising and Mr. Grover have been involved in politically sensitive matters, especially Ms. Jaising in the Sohrabuddin murder case where the current union Home Minister, Amit Shah was an accused.
“These raids at their residence and office of Lawyers Collective in Delhi and Mumbai by the CBI were vindictive and we emphatically denounce the abuse of authority in harassing human rights defenders. The matter relating to the alleged violations of financial laws by the Lawyers Collective is presently before the High Court of Bombay. Media reports indicate that the Bombay High Court had ordered, in January 2017, the de-freezing of the domestic and non-FCRA bank accounts of Lawyers Collective, observing also that Foreign Contributions Regulations Act (FCRA) “does not provide for a government to stifle the very functioning of individuals or associations”. The Government, instead of following an ongoing legal process, has chosen to launch a fresh attack on them in an attempt to silence them”, the letter pointed out.
The letter mentions a little-known wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose proximity to the ruling establishment is no secret, is certifying some of India’s most credible leaders of social movements such as Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh as ‘urban Naxals’. These are respected persons who have given their life’s efforts in working for the common man.
Indeed, in the “urban Naxal” case that arose out of Bhima-Koregaon, ten respected and brave human rights activists have been charged, and several of them have spent over a year in prison without even getting either bail or copies of the so-called incriminating letters which form the basis of the case. Is liberty not a fundamental value in our democracy?
Most recently, the Assam administration has registered grave criminal charges against 10 senior and young Muslim Bengali-speaking poets for writing protest poetry! In the tradition of protest Black, Dalit and Queer poetry, these poets have created a new genre of poetry which they call Miya poetry, in which they lament and protest about the suffering of their people as a result of the NRC process. They now are charged with inciting hatred under sections which could keep them in jail for many years of their lives.
The retired civil servants strongly condemned the attacks on these human rights defenders, dissenters and poets. Dissent and freedom of expression are the life-blood of any democracy. They find it intensely worrying that there are crude and ham-handed attempts to intimidate such voices into silence, using the institutions of state authority. “This appears an attempt to govern by fear and intimidation, the reverse of the India which Rabindranath Tagore dreamed of ‘where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high’. We stand in solidarity with all who follow the voices of their conscience, in their own ways speaking truth to power; and demand that they be protected and the spaces for their dissent defended robustly”, the letter says. (IPA Service)