A vengeful and duplicitous BJP Government in Maharashtra moved the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court quashed the remand order and therefore the arrest of Gautam Navalakha. At the same time, the champions of Hindutva, Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, against whom demonstrable evidence exists for their role in inciting the attack against Dalits at Bhim-Koregaon, continue to roam free and the FIRs against them have been closed.
In the petition filed by Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik and others before the Supreme Court, against the simultaneous arrest of 5 human rights defenders on 28 August in different parts of the country, the court granted relief by extending the house arrest while specific legal remedy maybe sought. Insofar as the Supreme Court, in a 2-1 majority verdict, left the question of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence open, leaving both the union and state governments the right to use the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA) against those who disagree with it or oppose it, the robustly argued dissenting view of Justice D. Y. Chandrachud is a reminder that the defence of democracy cannot be left to the courts alone and involves people’s struggle.
Following the victory of the Left Unity candidates in the just concluded JNU Students’ Union election, the Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman charged them with identifying themselves with those who are ‘waging a war against India’ making it very clear that the BJP-RSS and its multiple fronts alone represents ‘national’ interest.
UAPA-NSA being used to Silence Dissent:
- June 2017: Chandrashekhar Ravan, Sonu and Shiv Kumar of the Bhim Army, were booked under the National Security Act 1980 (NSA) for their alleged role in the 5 May 2017 alleged caste clash in Saharanpur between Dalits and the Thakurs and have only been granted bail after 14 months of incarceration.
- July 2017: P. Ramesh Chander, B. Durga Prasad, Dhansari Samiah and Badri, were arrested under UAPA in Telegana.
- December 2017: Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti, a registered trade union in Jharkhand, was banned and its leaders arrested.
- January 2018: Shankar Gunde, Ravi Marapalle, Saidulu Singaponga, Babu Shankar and Satyanarayan Karrela, all contract workers of Reliance Energy in Mumbai and members of the Mumbai Electricity Employees’ Union, were arrested under UAPA.
- February 2018: Bandari Illiah was also arrested in Telengana under the UAPA.
- June 2018: Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut were arrested for their alleged involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence and later charged with ‘planning the murder of the Prime Minister’.
- July 2018: Avnunoori Narayanswami was re-arrested in Telengana under the UAPA, after having arrested and released in 2017. In addition he was charged under the Preventive Detention Act 1950.
- August 2018: Thirumurugan Gandhi, who has been campaigning against land acquisition for Chennai – Salem green corridor project and the police firing in Thoothukudi, was arrested under UAPA from Bengaluru airport.
- September 2018: Ashiq, Ismail, Salavuddin, Jafar Sadiq Ali, and Shamsuddin were arrested in Coimbatore under the UAPA allegedly for their involvement in a conspiracy to kill some leaders of two right wing organisations Hindu Makkal Katchi and Hindu Munnani.
- 28 August 2018: The Maharashtra government sought to arrest Sudha Bhardwaj from Faridabad, Gautam Navlakha from Delhi, Varavara Rao from Hyderabad, and Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves from Mumbai, who were all subsequently placed under house arrest by an order of the Supreme Court for their alleged links to the Bhima Koregaon violence and for seeking to ‘overthrow the government’.
Many of these activists have been arrested previously under the UAPA, have spent years in jail and have been acquitted. The National Crime Records Bureau data that has just become available shows that only a minute number of those arrested under these provisions are ever charged. An overwhelming number of UAPA detenues are acquitted after years of incarceration. This is robust evidence that government merely uses UAPA as a means to victimise democratic dissenters.
In the meantime BJP government is allowing BJP-RSS promoted vigilantes and others to roam free.
These are only some of the innumerable cases of arrest under the UAPA, the NSA, and other such draconian laws across the country. The arrested are those who resist and those who defend them. Defending the rights of workers, dalits, muslims is viewed by the BJP government, both at the centre and in the states, as a direct opposition to their policies of sectionalism, sectarianism and communalism and to protect the interest of capital. Anything that does not fit into the BJP-RSS scheme of things has become ‘anti-national’.
Acche Din for Corporations and Vigilantes
The BJP government has in the last four years systematically tried to dismantle the existing laws that protect the rights of working people, small and marginal farmers, of dalits and adivasis, of religious minorities and of women in order to take away even their legal right to defend themselves. The BJP government has failed to create jobs, has deepened the agrarian crisis and pushed the economy into an unsustainable situation. As it has become clear that ‘Acche din’ is as elusive as the ‘India Shining’ slogan of 2004 of the BJP, there is a growing people’s resistance. The BJP has no response to this resistance. Hence the BJP government is misusing its executive power to create false cases, based on fabricated evidence, against well recognised lawyers, trade unionists, writers, poets and journalists to distract us all from the failures of the government. To instil this fear in every citizen the government has unleashed the UAPA, the NSA wherever it sees any sign of dissent. The arrests under these draconian laws is not just to punish those arrested, it is as much an effort of the BJP government to create an atmosphere of fear.
Our constitution allows citizens the right to free speech and therefore the right to dissent. The right to dissent with government policy and actions has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Our country has adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and India has also ratified the International Covenant of Political Rights (ICPR). These together bind government to not just allowing the right to dissent but also bar it from using unlawful arrests to put down protests. The ICPR and, in the case of trade unions and trade unionists being falsely charged, along with the Conventions of the International Labour Organisations, the actions of the BJP government amount to a violation of Freedom of Association.
It is not a crime to defend the spirit of our own constitution. It is not a crime to resist exploitation of workers, of our natural resources, an attack on our civil and democratic rights. It is also not a crime to defend those who resist this exploitation and attack against our constitutional rights. Opposition of a government and its policies is not an ‘anti-national’ act – making policies that takes away the right of people to live a secure life with affordable food, healthcare, education and livelihood is ‘anti-national’. The BJP is preparing for the next general election. So must we. We must reclaim our rights, our democratic space and importantly our right to dissent and defend those unfairly charged.
Let us unite against this Attack on our Right to Dissent.
We demand the withdrawal of fabricated charges against those arrested under the UAPA and the NSA and the release of all those arrested under them.
We demand the repeal the UAPA, the NSA, and other draconian laws that are used to suppress democratic rights and criminalise democratic dissent.
We will join together to resist this attack on our democratic rights and our right to democratic dissent.
Rajiv Dimri Amarjeet Kaur Aparna N Vasudevan
General Secretary General Secretary President President
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22 October 2018