-- By Kuldip Nayar
Two recent incidents, not connected with each other, are disturbing because
they relate to individual liberty. Both reflect an attitude of scant respect
to the other rule of law. The attack on an American missionary in Kerala
and the illegal detention of a journalist from Kashmir show a type of
vindictiveness that is alien to our culture. By any criterion, they violate
Take the case of the American missionary, Joseph Cooper. He is a known
evangelist. But the propagation of one's faith is not banned, conversion
through force and fraud is. Some extremist Hindus injured him grievously.
The State Chief Minister, A.K. Antony, said such incidents had happened
before. This may be a statement of fact but it brings no credit to the
State which tops the country's literacy pyramid and which is supposed
to look after the safety of its people. For reasons best known to Antony,
he did not want to identify the attackers. He should have called a spade
a spade because this is one way of exposing such forces.
The RSS has been active in Kerala for a long time. Till recently, the
communists were the RSS' main targets. At many places, the two have clashed
and dozens have died at each other's hands. But since the communists proved
to be more than a match for the RSS, it seems to have switched to targeting
the Christians. The RSS chief, K.S. Sudarshan's innuendo against the Jesuits
is only a few days old. Some fanatics seem to believe that killing a missionary
here or demolishing a church there will create fear among the Christians
and make them stop their normal activity. Incidents are taking place in
Bihar and Orissa and in Madhya Pradesh and Kerala.
Top RSS men, working
in the Ranchi tribal belt, have been shifted to Madhya Pradesh. The organisation's
latest strategy is to have anti-conversion legislation in all the States
where the BJP is ruling and to make conversion a poll issue in States
where it is not in power. Already, BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh, where elections
are only a few weeks away, has announced that the party would bring in
the anti-conversion law if it is returned to power. The plan is to play
the Hindu card even though the population of Muslims and Christians in
the State is negligible.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has done well in taking Suo
Motu notice of the attack on the missionary. The Antony Government, unlike
the Narendra Modi Government in Gujarat, will not hide facts. When the
NHRC asked Ahmedabad about the communal riots, the report sent was inadequate
and misleading. It could do so because the Home Ministry was at its back.
Kerala is different. The Government may be circumspect about naming the
organisation behind the incident of political reasons but there is no
reason to believe it will not cooperate with the NHRC.
It is a pity that the NHRC chairman, Justice J.C. Verma, has retired before
the report has come from the State. His has been a commendable tenure.
One felt unhappy over his equivocal definition of Hinduism in one Judgement.
This has come in handy to the Hindutva forces. However, he has allayed
doubts about his leanings by his stand on Gujarat. His finest hour was
when he forced the Modi Government to submit a report on the carnage in
the State. Indeed, Justice Verma has spoken eloquently on behalf of a
permanent underclass in our society, the minorities whose rights are impinged
upon every day.
It seems as if the job that the Commission has done first under Justice
Venkatachaliah and now under Justice Verma has upset the BJP. It was never
in favour of a Human Rights Commission. When it was part of the Janata
Government (1977-79), it wanted a different type of commission. This may
will be the reason why the Justice Ahmadi committee's recommendation to
give more powers to the commission has remained unimplemented. The committee's
proposal was that the armed forces, outside the ambit of the NHRC, should
be redefined so that the exemption given is applicable only to the three
services, not to the BSF, CRPF and such other formations.
The Government has
not yet accepted an other recommendation that the Commission be given
power to grant interim relief to the sufferer. Official bias against the
Commission is clear from the long time taken to fill vacancies. Two vacancies
in the five members NHRC have been there for months. Probably, the Government
feels it is one way to punish the Commission for the alacrity it shows
in coming to the rescue of the aggrieved.
The case of Iftikhar Geelani, a journalist from Kashmir, is a shameful
example of violation of constitutional rights an Indian citizen enjoys.
His fault is that he is married to the daughter of Syed Shah Geelani,
a Hurriyat leader. Not many like Mr. Geelani's father-in-law's open support
for Kashmir's integration with Pakistan. But should sins of a father-in-law
visit on the son-in-law? We seem to have at the Centre a Government, which
knows no bounds of law. Mr. Geelani would have been still behind the bars
had the Director General of Military Intelligence (DGMI) not given him
a clean chit and told the court that the documents found in Mr. Geelani's
possession were not "incriminatory". The attitude of the Home
Ministry was vindictive.
Even after the Army's
clearance the Ministry stuck to its line of "punishing" the
son-in-law. It rejected even the evidence tendered by the DGMI. Public
exposure of the Home Ministry's stand evidently made it withdraw the case
against Mr. Geelani. His statement after coming out of jail will touch
every honest Indian's heart. He described how he was physically manhandled
in jail and how, in spite of everything that was happening, he had never
lost faith in the Judiciary. He was sure that justice would triumph.
When POTA came into force, some people expressed fears about its possible
misuse. Mr. Geelani's case shows how biased rulers can misuse POTA for
their political ends. Authoritarian ways finished Indira Gandhi. The BJP
leaders should have learnt a lesson. But Mr. Geelani's case proves that
they have not. It was brought further contempt to the system and those
running it. It looks as if human rights activists are going to be targeted
more than before. They should be prepared for this.
Where is Sevagram? This was the question many asked me in Delhi when I
told them about a meeting of voluntary workers at Sevagram. Even at Nagpur,
which is near Sevagram, it was the same query. Once when my car driver
lost his way, quite near the place, it was difficult to find a person
who could tell us the exact location of Sevagram.
Sevagram had been the hub of political activities only five decades ago.
This is the place where Mahatma Gandhi spent most of his years and from
where he launched several satyaagrahas. Certain things he did are still
done the same way here. There is a prayer meeting every evening at six
at the very spot where Mahatma Gandhi used to hold it. Alas, the number
of people at the meeting has been reduced to a number, which can be counted
on one's fingers.
I was in Sevagram when some Gandhians and human rights activists met to
discuss the brutalisation of society at the hands of fanatics on the one
hand and the economic reformists on the other. Nearly 50 people were there.
The 90-year old Gandhian, Siddharaj Dhadhha, Kisen Patnaik, Amar Nath
Bhai, and the leading lights from among human rights activists such as
Medha Patkar and B.D. Sharma were present. They resolved to develop a
new paradigm of alternative development with equality, justice and democratic
planning. The emphasis was on a struggle against casteism and communalism
and adherence to social equity and secularism. I wondered how many takers
would be there in today's India