Statement by Concerned Citizens on the Increasing Threat to the Rule of Law and Freedom of Expression
It seems that an undeclared state of emergency is sought to be imposed upon us: a series of seemingly unconnected events across the country, in universities (most recently in Hyderabad and Delhi), factory premises and court halls, our streets and over large parts of the countryside, bear this out. We would like to draw wider attention, in particular, to recent disturbing developments in Jagdalpur, Bastar, that have been somewhat overshadowed by events in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
In Delhi as in Bastar, the state is using its coercive power to stifle dissent and lock up dissenters by labelling them anti-national or, in the case of Bastar, Maoists. In Chattisgarh, it has long been standard practice to label anybody with an opinion of development contrary to the mainstream view (of development as corporate welfare and environmental destruction) as a Maoist. This is usually a prelude to police action ranging from harassment and intimidation to arrest, torture, and even death. The adivasi inhabitants of Bastar have not enjoyed the rule of law since 2005, when the Salwa Judum, a vigilante paramilitary group, was formed in the name of combating Maoism. Nor does the law offer much protection to ordinary people elsewhere seeking to exercise their constitutional rights as law enforcement agencies and governments trample upon civil liberties in the name of nationalism.
During the last few weeks the government of Chhattisgarh has made a concerted effort to evict journalists and lawyers who write about (or speak for) adivasis challenging corporate crimes, state collusion with such crimes, and human rights abuses in the form of rape and murder by security forces. Human rights defenders like Soni Sori have been attacked in broad daylight with toxic chemicals. The Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG) – a small band of committed, bright public interest lawyers – have been hounded out of their home. Bela Bhatia, a well-respected researcher, and journalists, including Malini Subramaniam of Scroll.in and Alok Putul of the BBC, are being driven out of Chattisgarh by hooligans in and out of uniform. Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav, two Hindi language journalists, have already been put in prison. All these individuals have exposed chilling cases of rape, sexual assault and violence by security forces during anti-insurgency operations. In Chhattisgarh, as in Delhi, police officials are overseeing these events: the Inspector General of Police for Bastar, S.R.P. Kalluri, has been personally accused of intimidation and harassment. We hope that the NHRC team presently investigating human rights violations committed by the armed security forces in Bastar will probe into the complicity of the Chhattisgarh police in the eviction of human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and the attack on Sori and the constant threats being given to her family.
The parallel with recent events in the Jawaharlal Nehru University is evident, with the difference being that constitutional rights have been effectively suspended over large parts of Baster since 2005. What is difficult to do in Delhi without attracting widespread attention and protest is easy to do in a remote region to poor groups that impinge much less upon the public consciousness. But both are different sides of the same coin and testify to this government’s readiness to stifle dissent by force and scare-mongering whereby all those who subscribe to a different idea of India – one envisioned in our constitution, of an polity that is secular, just and democratic – are labelled anti-national.
It is in times like this that it is necessary to say even more loudly and clearly than before that we, and those being called anti-national by the government, are in fact defending the constitution. The central government (and the government of Chattisgarh) must realise that a national government remains national only when it is vested in the greater common good; and that sovereignty rests in the active exercise of the democratic rights by ordinary people and not in the apparatus of the state. We welcome the Delhi High court order of 2nd March 2016, granting interim bail to Shri Kanhaiya Kumar, President of JNUSU.
Shashank Kela, Writer, Chennai
Karuna D W, Historian, Chennai
Nityanand Jayaraman, Writer, Chennai
V Geetha, Writer, Chennai
Karen Coelho, Academic, Chennai
Madhumita Dutta, Researcher, Chennai
Prema Revathi, Writer, Chennai
Kalpana Karunakaran, Academic, Chennai
Binitha V Thampi, Academic, Chennai
Venkat T., Researcher, Chennai
Vijayabaskar, Academic, Chennai
Satya Sivaraman, Writer, Chennai
Nalini Rajan, Academic,Chennai
Anandhi Shanmugasundaram, Academic, Chennai
Satyarupa Shekhar, Researcher, Chennai
Gita Jayaraj, Chennai
Radhika Rammohan, Chennai
Bamini Narayanan, ‘Citizen of India’
V Srinivasan, Organic farmer, Chennai
Om Prakash Singh, Chennai