“Dissent is the safety valve of a democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst,” said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, of a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India. It was on Wednesday that the bench issued notice to the Maharashtra government and directed that five human right activists and lawyers arrested by the Pune police be placed under house arrest until the matter is heard next on September 6. There have been a series of similar incidents, targeting people who voice their dissent against the government, or who work for the improvement of unprivileged and marginalised sections of society, right from the year 2014 onwards.
Author and historian Ramachandra Guha on Tuesday, speaking to NDTV, lashed out at the government over the countrywide raids and arrest of activists, calling it a “brutal, authoritarian, oppressive, arbitrary, illegal act” by the Pune police. But a question arises: Why is this government so frightened by those human right activists who work for the upliftment of marginalised sections of society? The only possible reason is that these activists are a hurdle for this government which doesn’t want tribal communities to have the right to decide on whether they want to keep their land or not. If these activists did not serve as a helping hand for the unprivileged, the government will easily take up tribal land and give it to the businessman.
The whole Pune incident revolves around the Bhima-Koreagaon issue. In June, five people—Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, and Shoma Sen—were arrested for allegedly making “provocative” speeches at an event in the Bhima-Koregaon village in January, which, the police said, triggered violence. The raids last month were also justified with same reason by the police. The five who have been arrested this time are journalist Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Arun Fereira, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves. The common thread among all of them is a zeal to work for the marginalised.
The action by the Pune police has brought in massive controversy, with many describing it as “absolutely chilling“, a “virtual declaration of emergency” and an attempt to “muzzle the voice of dissent“, reports NDTV.
Sudha Bharadwaj, who was arrested from Faridabad, is a US-born human rights lawyer and activist. A member of the Chhattisgarh State Legal Services Authority, she has worked in Chhattisgarh for almost three decades, as an advocate for the civil and human rights of Dalits, farmers, labourers and tribal people. After becoming a lawyer in 2000, she began practising in the Chhattisgarh High Court, and is the general secretary of the Chhattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
Gautam Navlakha was arrested from his residence in Delhi. Mr. Navlakha has written extensively about alleged human rights violations in the state. In 2011, he was detained at the Srinagar Airport and ordered to return to Delhi as the state government felt his presence could disturb peace and order in the Valley.
Activist, writer, and poet Varavara Rao was arrested from his home in Hyderabad. He was one of the founders of Viplava Rachayitala Sangahm (Revolutionary Writers’ Association) that supports and propagates Naxalite ideology. The 78-year-old was arrested and released in 10 different cases between 1974 and 1986 for his revolutionary writings, including the 1986 Ramnagar conspiracy case in in which he was acquitted in 2003 after 17 years.
A Mumbai-based human rights activist and lawyer, Arun Ferreira was picked up from his home in Thane, near Mumbai. When he was previously arrested in 2007, h alleged that he was tortured in custody and detailed his experience in his book, “Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir”.
Vernon Gonsalves, a civil rights activist, was arrested in Mumbai. . He was convicted in June 2013 under various sections of Unlawful Activities (Preventions) Act and Arms Act. He had already served six years in prison for terror charges, so he was released immediately.
The most striking thing which has happened over the years especially after 2014 is that government is always trying to suppress the voice of dissent. The rising environment of questions, ideology against the ideology of the government and a culture of debate and dissent is what we are lacking over the years. The government is trying to cut the wings of any rising voices against them which is most dangerous for the growth of a progressive society and a democracy.
Two years have passed since a sedition case was lodged against Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students, namely Kanhaiya Kumar (the then JNUSU President), Umar Khalid, and Anirban Bhattacharya (and a few others) over an event in which “anti-national” slogans were allegedly raised. The Delhi Police’s Special Cell is yet to file a charge sheet. This is evidence of the irresponsibility of the police and the administration. They were simply targeted because they questioned the government. Since then, they have been seen as a hurdle in the path of the government’s own propaganda. Likewise, it has been over two years now since JNU student Najeeb Ahmed went missing and we have no information.
The Prime Minister boasts of 65% of the population being youth of 25 to 35 years of age. But this reckless behaviour of the police and government shows their irresponsible attitude towards their own youth!
Last year, one of India’s most prestigious Central universities, Banaras Hindu University, saw the outrage of the student body when a group of women on campus protested against the university administration in the case of an alleged incident of sexual assault. They had also complained against the police officials for mismanagement. Our Prime Minister did not give a statement against this horrific incident. Interestingly, he was in Varanasi at that time.
Do you still feel Beti Bachao Beti Padhao is successful? No, it can never be until we as individuals cannot respect people of all genders of our society, equally. The most alarming thing that has happened over the years is that we have learnt to tolerate whatever odds come in our paths. The one who revolt are termed as ‘Anti-National’, ‘Maoist’, and what not. The media is censored. Unbiased journalists are facing a tough time in the country. Only if you are on the government’s side, you are safe.
If after reading this article, you are still feel we live in a safe democratic nation, and calling it an undeclared Emergency is non-sense, then welcome to a New India, a country ruled by authoritarians, a country of no civil liberties, of a culture of dissent lost, while ideas of Ambedkar, Gandhi, ideas of an Egalitarian India, are now only dreams to cherish.