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PUCL, June 2007

Repressive state is insecure too

-- By Pushkar Raj, Secretary PUCL, 6 June 2007

On 31 May, representatives of a large number of human rights organizations gathered in response to a call of protest against the atrocities against the human rights activists in chhattisgarh and for the demand of release of Dr. Binayak sen, General secretary of Chattisgarh PUCL.

The venue decided was the Chattisgarh Bhawan, the `embassy’ of the provincial government in the capital, where barely ten days ago the same organizations had staged a peaceful dharna and handed out a memorandum to the resident commissioner.

It was burning cinder afternoon of May and time was one in the day. As people began tickling in they were greeted by a spectacle that they had not bargained for. About two hundred police men in riot gear swarmed the entrance of the main gate of the bhawan populating sizeable part of the road in front of it too. There were barricades, a prominent banner warning against gathering mentioning a section of law that would ensure our place first in lock up and then in jail.

This nearly four platoon police force was being supervised by two police inspectors and a lady Assistant commissioner of police. As some of us were engaged in conversation with the police officers a platoon of lady police from central reserved police force too joined their comrades.

As we were surprised to see all this we asked what was the matter? The police officers told us that last time we had created a lots of (hungama) mayhem. She added that this time too we have intelligence inputs that some naxalites are going to come here and that they might indulge in some (gadbad) disturbance. There was no point in arguing with the men in uniform as they seemed hostage to `intelligence’ inputs and weighed down by load of call of their uniform.

The police had hired a videographer too. Sweating in sun, this lanky, nondescript face videographed each and every person who reached at Chattisgarh bhawan, stayed for five minutes and headed for Jantar Mantar. It was kafseque, disgusting but true in that shining afternoon in the heart of the capital.

The episode leaves us with quite a few uncomfortable questions, theoretical and moral as well as crass.

It is no one’s case that democracy is about electing a government and then rich should relax in their air conditioned glasshouses and poor be huddled in their bare existential slum zones. Democracy is about communication, about spaces, about differing voices to be heard, negotiated and acted upon the collective rational will of the people however small their number may be.

The recent trend of governments at the state level has been disturbing to the extent of sabotaging and mocking at the basic values of respecting the individual rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution. They have sought to manufacture `counter groups’, to drown the voices of the people’s movements, protests and grievances against the commissions and omissions of absolutely unaccountable bureaucracy and partially, once in five years, accountable governments. Be it Kukka Parrey in Jammu and Kashmir, CPM cadre in Nandigram, Modi brigade in Gujarat or the crowning disgraceful glory of Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh, all are aimed at setting hired people against the masses, misleading the media and people within and outside, and bloating the ego of the state personified in their respective political leaderships.

This is the periphery of the Indian state- the provinces, as viewed from the capital’s heavily guarded British bequeathed red stone buildings.

And the centre itself?

Its role seems to be exercising control over various para- military forces and army and obliging with them the states that request for them when the conflict is out of control or the state needs ` dispassionate’ use of naked force. The centre does not negotiate or mediate, it collaborates in repression of the state governments in the name of neutrality, federal structure, as per its convenience.

And there is no space for protest- virtually and literally. All that the Indian state could spare is Jantar Mantar.

Again it is kafseque but stark apparent and true. In world’s largest democracy, populating over one billion people if people were to exercise their civil and democratic rights they should not stray but come to a designated place, Jantar Mantar, a narrow strip of ( ten by forty feet?) curved footpath along a busy road interspersed with kiosks, tea shops and mini restaurants. Message is clear, the capital has no place for protestors, if they persist they should be prepared to be chased, intimidated and silenced by the state force.

The enduring Indian constitution shines with fundamental rights of the citizen, basic structure of our governing scheme. The sane opinion is that greater the use of part III of the constitution by the people that would make the Indian state more vibrant, transparent and resilient. But the present political leadership so below par and shaky that it has sought to put lid on people’s civil rights and liberties. It is insecure and therefore repressive. Or it is other way round?

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014