Human rights activist Harsh Mander

RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha, during a TV debate on the clean chit given to the accused named by Pehlu Khan in his dying declaration, had accused Harsh Mander of being anti-Hindutva and anti-BJP

Within a week of the RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha threatening human rights and peace activist Harsh Mander of a probe into the source of funding for his “NGOs”, the latter has been slapped with an Income Tax notice.

“Our government does not believe in wasting time,” Harsh said, adding that “our struggle to place flowers at Pehlu Khan’s lynching spot saw Rakesh Sinha on NDTV threatening me with an investigation into the funding of ‘my’ organisations. Sure enough I return to office today to find an Income Tax notice to the Centre for Equity Studies dated September 19. This is for complete scrutiny.”

“They can cancel our FCRA. Shut down the organisation. How does it matter? This would be an infinitely small fraction of the suffering that we bore witness to in the Karwan,” he said resolutely.

On September 14, during a talk show on NDTV Nidhi Razdan anchored a debate if it was a gross miscarriage of justice and were the police trying to protect the accused after all six accused persons named by Pehlu Khan in his dying declaration were let off by the police. The debate had RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha, Congress leader Pawan Khera, PUCL general secretary Kavita Srivastava and senior journalist Javed Ansari as participants. Harsh Mander joined the discussion over phone when Rakesh accused him of being an anti-Hindutva, anti-RSS and anti-BJP activist, saying that there should be a thorough investigation into the funding and functioning of Harsh’s organisations.

Pehlu Khan, 55, and his son Irshad were waylaid on the Jaipur-Delhi national highway near Alwar in Rajasthan on April 1, when they were on their way to Haryana after purchasing cattle. They were allegedly targeted by Hindu vigilante groups for being Muslims while they were taking home cows bought at a cattle fair in Rajasthan’s Alwar.

During the discussion in which concerns were raised by some participants over threats to Harsh over Karwan-e-Mohabbat, Rakesh blurted: “Harsh Mander is poisoning….he is running an NGO (which is ) anti-Hindutva, anti-RSS and anti-BJP.” When Nidhi countered that he (Harsh) didn’t need his certificate, questioning if Bajrang Dal had a right to threaten him to stop speaking his mind, Rakesh retorted: “They (right wingers) can ask that such a person should not be allowed as he could disturb the communal harmony. If he has the democratic right to protest, I too have a democratic right to question Harsh Mander. I am questioning him…let there be a probe in the foreign-funding for Harsh Mander’s NGO and its functioning.”

“Harsh Mander is attacking entire RSS. I am RSS. My integrity is under threat. And you are saying don’t launch personal attack,” he retorted when Nidhi asked him to refrain from personal attacks.

When allowed to speak, Harsh politely but firmly responded to Rakesh, saying that: “I am passionately opposed to the ideology of RSS. (Their) ideology is against the idea of India and what the Constitution stands for…equal rights of minorities. I am opposed to the RSS’s idea of Hindu Rashtra. I have a right to do so.”

While Rakesh earlier shouted that Harsh Mander doesn’t deserve to be called a human rights activist, he brazenly told Kavita that she was talking like a police inspector and not as a human rights activist.

Kavita had pointed out that Home Minister’s statement that Gaurakshaks had done a good job in Rajasthan was indeed encouraging cow vigilantism. “The police and the Rajasthan government have been ensuring that the guilty get away,” she said and lamented that the police were registering criminal cases against victims of cow vigilantism.

Pertinently, Karwan-e-Mohabbat or the caravan of love—an initiative of peace activists under which they set out on a month-long journey across India, to counter a growing wave of intolerance—is the target of right wing radical organisations. The journey—during which activists have been visiting the family members of victims of lynching—is scheduled to conclude at Porbandar on October 2.

“A number of independent individuals, organisations and social movements collaborated to take out through many parts of the country a Karwan-e-Mohabbat, as a journey of atonement, solidarity, healing, conscience and justice with people living with hate violence. This was an entirely crowd funded Karwan, and the funds for this were received by Aman Biradari Trust, which does not have an FCRA.

On September 15, 2017, the Karwan was scheduled to stop at Behror at the site at which Pehlu Khan had been lynched, to pay tribute to his memory by placing a few flowers there. But a day before this, the Hindu Jagran Manch, Bajrang Dal and VHP announced that they would not allow the Karwan to pay this tribute. The Karwan responded by announcing that it would press ahead with its proposed tribute despite all opposition. In a television debate on September 14, 2017, in NDTV’s Left, Right and Centre anchored by Nidhi Razdan, I joined by phone from the Karwan bus. Mr Rakesh Sinha of the RSS during the debate made angry personalised attacks against me. He also said that I was against the RSS. I replied that I am indeed against the ideology of the RSS, because its belief in a Hindu rashtra contravenes the Indian constitution. During this same debate, Mr Sinha said, in a barely veiled threat, that the funding of ‘my’ organisations would be investigated. The next morning, despite stone-throwing mobs, I did finally prevail in placing flowers at the site of Pehlu Khan’s lynching.

Four days later, an organisation of which I am the director and one of the founders, the Centre for Equity Studies, received by email a notice under Section 143 (2) of the Income Tax Act for a Full Scrutiny of the income tax returns of the Centre for Equity Studies for the assessment year 2016-17. This has been followed by another notice dated September 20, 2017, by which they have retrospectively and suo moto rectified their earlier assessment order that our returns are in order. Both these order are attached.

The Income Tax Department may claim that this is just a routine notice. But the timing of the notice shortly after the public threat for getting the funding of ‘my’ organisations investigated, and the fact that less than 1 per cent of returns are scrutinised, suggest that this could well be an act of state vengeance and intimidation.

I would also like to point out that the Centre for Equity Studies had nothing whatsoever to do with the Karwan-e-Mohabbat. It brings out the annual India Exclusion Report, and works with homeless persons and other vulnerable groups.

We are happy to subject ourselves to any scrutiny, and will fully cooperate with the investigation, as we believe in public accountability. But I would like to state categorically that no amount of state intimidation of the organisations that I am associated with, would succeed to silencing my public dissent with policies and ideologies that I believe are detrimental to India’s constitutional values.”

Prabhakar Sinha of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL):

“Anybody who raises his voice against Modi receives Income Tax Department’s notice , or has his premises raided by the ED or the CBI or some other  government agency , but Modi is not questioned about living beyond his means , or about the milliom-rupee(Rs 10 lakhs)coat and the other expensive gifts he took from businessmen and the lies he told  about his passing B.A. and M.A. examinations or  the the sources  of the astronomical amount he spent on his 2014 election campaign because all the investigating agencies are under him .

The Investigating Agencies are the Watchdogs maintained on taxes paid by the people to protect their interest and not dogs to maul political opponents of the masters of the day.

A  Prime Minister is a public servant .He is guilty of corruption if he receives expensive gifts from businessmen or others .Modi, like us, is expected to declare  the gifts he receives  and and pay gift tax on them if the gift is not graft. Modi has been donning most expensive clothes and  is reported to be spending  uninmaginably high  amounts on food and soft drinks and mineral water etc. which he cannot  afford on his salary.Had our Investigating Agencies been  free to play their legitimate role , Modi , too, would have been under investigation like Donald Trump and the political opponents he has been trying to silence by setting  the Investigating agencies onto them.”