Strangulating Democratic Dissent
Gautam Navlakha (People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi)
S. Seshaiah (Civil Liberties Committee, Andhra Pradesh)
Payal Sarkar (Jadavpur University, West Bengal)
Pramod Ranjan (Forward Press, Delhi)
Date: 1st November
Time: 4 pm to 6 pm
Venue: Conference Hall, 4th Floor
(next to Gandhi Peace Foundation)
219, Deendayal Upadhyay Marg,
Much in negation with the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution, the functioning of the ‘democratic state’ is increasingly witnessing violent assault on people’s rights and the very existence of those who dare to be the dissident voices has been jeopardized. The global profile of India as the world’s largest democracy is sustained through the observance of certain democratic rights incorporated as ‘fundamentals’ into the constitution of the nation. The constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression, to peaceful assembly, to form associations and freedom of movement as some of the fundamental rights. The guarantee of these basic rights also ensures that these freedoms must be exercised by people to demand for the same in case of their aberrations. In such a scenario, the constitutional democracy of India recognizes peaceful protest and other such modes of democratic dissent as a vital means to ensure the guarantee of fundamental rights.
However, the recent chronicle has been replete with instances of mass violation of civil and democratic rights of people across the country. In the state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, there have been three attacks on civil liberties groups within a month through arbitrary and illegal detentions. A one-day convention of the Forum for Alternative Politics in Hyderabad on 21 Sep 2014 was prevented in the most unconstitutional manner. Organizers were detained prior to the event while some passenger trains to Hyderabad were cancelled to stop people from reaching the venue. Then, on the night of September 27, the CLC President, District President, Vice President and General Secretary were put under house arrest to prevent the holding of a meeting on the Operation Green Hunt in Tirupati. The meeting was being convened by 42 organizations. In a repetition of events, on 9 October, civil liberties activists and human rights defenders in Vishakhapatnam were arrested when they were trying to hold a Press Conference to announce a meeting that was proposed to be held protesting Operation Green Hunt. On 8 September in Manipur, human rights activists were arrested without any warrant or memo from a peaceful preparatory meeting for a proposed talk with the government on the Inner Line Permit System in Manipur on 8 September. In another appalling incident in Delhi, on 9 October, Delhi Police raided the offices of Forward Press, an anti-caste magazine, and confiscated copies of its October issue on grounds that it carried objectionable material about Goddess Durga. The police illegally detained four staffers of the magazine and confiscated copies of the magazine from stalls around Delhi without any official order.
Meanwhile, the repression on organized protests of students, youth and women continues unabated. In West Bengal, in the month of September, hundreds of students of Jadavpur University were set upon by armed police within the university premises when they were peacefully demanding university action on a complaint of sexual harassment by a woman student. In early September, the Delhi Police informed activists of AISA, RYA and AIPWA that a charge-sheet has been filed against a few of the leading members for their participation in a protest outside the residence of the then Chief Minister on December 19 2012 against the gang rape of the young physiotherapy student in a moving bus on December 16 rape. Further back on June 6, women activists were manhandled by Delhi Police at Jantar Mantar in Delhi while protesting against the forcible eviction of the four rape survivors from Bhagana in Haryana who had been camping there since June in the pursuit of justice.
These instances of state brutality have been justified as “preventive detention” in the name of law and order measures while actually impeding efforts of democratic opposition. The repression is symptomatic of the anxiety of the state and administration to curb these movements by constricting the physical space they claim. In the light of these developments, it becomes inevitable to reflect upon the existing state of democracy in India and work towards safeguarding the democratic space that respects the fundamental element of criticism and dissent in a democracy.
D. Manjit and Asish Gupta