Draconian Laws, Impunity and the Looming Threats of Arrest
For over a year now, we have witnessed a political and legal battle over the right to dissent. It began with the right of dalits, bahujans, adivasis, Muslims, women and thousands from marginalised communities across the country to congregate at Koregaon on the banks of Bhima River near Pune to commemorate a battle fought two centuries ago. This, commemorated as an annual event, is a symbolic assertion of the historically oppressed Mahars against the dominant caste order of the Peshwas. This assertion by the most marginalised communities seemed to rankle the establishment.
Hindutva organisations in Maharashtra did everything in their power to disturb the programme, from covert threats to open violence. With BJP-RSS backed leaders Shambaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote at the forefront, the people of Maharashtra witnessed the impunity enjoyed by the Hindu-right as they ran riot in the face of dalit assertion. Despite clear incriminating evidence, the perpetrators of violence continue to enjoy the protection of the police, the Chief Minister as well as the Prime Minister. Meanwhile, a host of people from union workers to lawyers to poets and professors find themselves behind bars on spurious charges of waging war against the state and, in a bizarre turn, accused in a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister. Notably, these concocted evidences are ‘leaked’ to the media while they have never been presented in court. The Pune police, at the behest of their political bosses, are using the same questionable and motivated evidence and to target scholar Prof. Anand Teltumbde who faces imminent threat of arrest. Now, Advocate Surendra Gadling and Varavara Rao, who have been in Pune jail for the last several months, have been taken to Gadchiroli to be implicated in more cases. This is an effort to concoct a labyrinth of legal cases to keep the arrested in jail indefinitely.
Using Sedition to Silence Dissent
If one looks at what ties all those arrested or those who face the threat of arrest, it is not the Bhima-Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan organised by the Elgaar Parishad on 31st December 2017. But two things; firstly, all of them, as lawyers, as activists or as leaders of grassroots movements, worked for rights of the most marginalised communities in the country, and, secondly, they are critical of the BJP government and the RSS. The mutually enriching relationship between Hindutva groups under the ever widening umbrella of the RSS, the BJP government and the top administrators of police and law enforcement is clear. This nexus is used to curb any form of dissent by the most marginalised while any actions by leaders of Hindutva enjoy near-absolute impunity. This has starkly played out in other contexts as well. In Thoothukudi anti-Sterlite protests the lives of thirteen protestors were calculated only by the loss of profit to industry. Just days ago, workers of Daikin AC plant in Neemrana were lathi-charged and assaulted by the police, had their homes raided, and finally many were picked up on fabricated charges. The extraordinary use of ‘encounter-killings’ in Uttar Pradesh as an acclaimed method to bypass the due process of law, empower a trigger-happy police force and galvanise the lynch-mob mentality of the dominant castes in the name of the cow is no longer hidden from the public eye.
Stifling Voices of Protest Using Draconian Laws
A pattern of targeting a small group of individuals to silence large networks of marginalised communities and workers asserting themselves is taking root across the country under the current regime. This can be seen in Jharkhand where twenty prominent voices from civil society who spoke in solidarity with the Pathalgarhi movement were charged with sedition. This came in the wake of a trade union Mazdoor Sanghatan Samiti (MSS) being banned outright in complete violation of the right to freedom of association while its leaders were arrested on fabricated charges. And, more recently, in Assam where Hiren Gohain, Akhil Gogoi and Manjit Mahanta were charged with sedition for opposing the divisive and anti-people Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. Meanwhile, arrests of activists from across the country have compounded and continued unabated under the auspices of draconian laws ranging from UAPA, NSA, sedition law and other such state laws that ostensibly uphold “national integrity”. This approach of targeting anyone who speaks up and demands accountability with threats of arrest is meant to scare people into silence. By invoking sections under draconian laws like UAPA, simply being charged is read as an indictment. Under this law, bail is nearly impossible, and, despite extraordinarily low conviction rates, people are forced to spend years in jail. The message is clear – this law is used to silence voices of dissent. It is clear that one need not have committed a crime because the inordinately long periods of incarceration is meant as punishment. It is crucial to note that while the government trips over itself trying to build a case against workers, professors, activists, lawyers and poets, the Finance Minister finds it in his interest to warn the CBI against legal overreach and adventurism while pursuing a case against top banking and tech-industry bosses of ICICI and Videocon. The hypocrisy of claiming to uphold the rule of law is visible wherein the government employs the law to beat its opponents and shield its friends. This bare-faced duplicity of the BJP government should not be lost on us.
With general elections round the corner, efforts to polarise the country over questions of national security, stoking the flames of hate and naturalising bigotry will only rise and, with it, the efforts to justify the repression of democratic rights of people in the name of “law and order”. In such a time, our struggle to uphold our fundamental rights and liberties and resist this onslaught on democratic principles unites us. Campaign Against State Repression has come together to recognise this moment as one where each of us faces the threat of arrest for upholding our democratic rights, fuelled by endless media trial befitting the worst of corporate media, and alarming complaisance of the judiciary to those in power. We stand united and affirm that we will fight these forms of state repression wherever they arise.
- Immediately arrest and punish the real culprits of Bhima-Koregaon violence, including Shambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, and members of Hindutva groups that led the violence.
- Drop all charges against Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Shoma Sen, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut, GN Saibaba, Hem Mishra, Prashant Rahi, Vijay Tirkey, Mahesh Tirkey, Pandu Narote, workers of Reliance Energy, comrade Madhu and all such political prisoners without further delay.
- Immediately drop all charges against Prof. Anand Teltumbde, Father Stan Swamy, Hiren Gohain, Akhil Gogoi, Manjit Mahanta and others facing imminent threat of arrest.
- Repeal all anti-people, draconian laws like UAPA, NSA, sedition, PSA and PDA immediately.
Campaign Against State Repression: AISA, AISF, APCR, BASO, Bhim Army, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, BSCEM, CDRO, CEM, CRPP, Disha, DISSC, DSU, IAPL, IMK, Karnataka Janashakti, KYS, LSI, Mazdoor Adhikar Sanghatan, Mazdoor Patrika, Mehnatkash Mahila Sanghatan, Morcha Patrika, NAPM, NBS, NCHRO, Nowruz, NTUI, PDSU, People’s Watch, Rihai Manch, Samajwadi Janparishad, Satyashodhak Sangh, United Against Hate, WSS