Understanding PUCL

Post independence rights organisations are products of different contexts and situations. They are naturally very in their aims and objects, character and mode of working. This, in no way, should cause us to view them as superior or inferior. We are only different. Unlike the political parties, rights organisations need not speak against one another. The political parties have to do it because they compete for the same thing: power. Thus, they have to explain to the people why they should be preferred to the others. The rights organisations are not in a competition for votes or public support. They do strive for winning popular support but for the cause they espouse and not for themselves.

The PUCL is a child of the emergency. The emergency was declared in June (25/26) 1975. The PUCL&DR (People's Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights) was founded by JP in October1976. The name itself suggests the wide range of its concern. Its primary aim was not opposing incidents of violations but to work for ending the condition which emboldened the state to suppress the civil liberties and democratic rights of the people with impunity. This approach itself was the result of the shocking experience of the emergency. Prior to the emergency, very strong movements were seen in Gujarat and Bihar. The 1974 Bihar movement was led by JP himself.

A call from him could inspire thousands and thousands to come out braving lathi charge and threat of detention under MISA. In view of this experience of the fearlessness of the people, especially the youth, a spontaneous popular uprising was expected against the emergency; but to the shock of us all nothing happened. There was no stir except by a few thousands who were thrown into the jail. Their detention immobilised them and instilled fear in the general public.

There was a valuable lesson to learn from this experience. It was that if a society has not internalised democratic values, it would not feel outraged enough to stand for their defence if they are suppressed. The second lesson strengthened by the experience of the emergency was that the people holding different to antagonistic views could work together for a common cause. Indira Gandhi had put behind the bars all she considered her enemies. Thus, in jails were together not only the members of the opposition parties, but also Sanghis, Jamate Islami, Anad Margis, students, university and college teachers. They all shared the common goal of fighting for restoration of democracy. The opposition also had only one goal at the 1977 Parliamentary election: to end authoritarianim by throwing Indira Gandhi out of power. The goal could be achieved because all those who shared this goal joined hands disregarding their political and other differences for the restoration of democratic rights and civil liberties. The PUCL constitution adopted at the November 1980 Convention in Delhi clearly bears the stamp of the experience of unity in diversity of the emergency days,as it reflects the realisation that democracy cannot be saved without creating democratic consciousness and a love for democratic way of life in the people. Thus, the first mandate of the PUCL constitution is to bring together all who are committed to the defence and promotion of civil liberties in the country (i.e.India) regardless of their political/ideological commitment. Consequently, the door of the PUCL was kept wide open for all committed to the cause of civil liberties.

Its membership comprised of Gandhians, Sarvodayees, Socialists members of the BJP, Naxals and those who had no political /ideological commitment. But everyone had to join it in his personal capacity. The diversity of the membership helped in several ways. Our message could reach a large number of people of the various organisations through their members in the PUCL. The diversity also prevented partiality to any group or party and branding of the PUCL as pro - anyone. With members holding antagonistic views, there was no question of the PUCL not maintaining equidistance from all. Its reputation as a non-aligned organisation was further protected from its rule that no member of a political party could be its office bearer.

Its aims and objects are based not on incidents but issues i.e, the issues which may create and promote democratic consciousness in the society leading to love for democratic way of life. The incidents also receive attention in pursuance of this larger goal. The first item in its aims and objects is 'to uphold and promote by peaceful means civil liberties and democratic way of life throughout India. 'The other items include the issues which must be addressed to achieve the goal of promoting democratic way of life. It is recognised that where the principle of the inherent dignity of the individual is denied there can be no democracy and civil liberties. Equal inherent dignity of the individual is the very foundation of democracy.Its denial is the haulmark of a feudal system masquerading as a democracy. An independent judiciary and free media are indispensable condition for a genuine democracy. The organisation is committed to work for securing the rule of law because where there is no rule of law, the rule of the jungle i.e. the rule of might is right is bound to prevail. Encouraging freedom of thought and defending right to dissent are core issues for the PUCL. Some of the indispensable conditions for promoting and protecting democratic way of life and civil liberties are freedom of the press and independence of the mass media like the radio and television. An independent judiciary alone can protect democratic right of the people, especially, those who raise the voice of dissent.

India has inherited the colonial laws and a colonial burearucracy, which understandably were unjust and oppressive. The administrative apparatus, which the independent and democratic India inherited, was like a square peg in a round whole. The police and the criminal justice system have been the principal enemies of the democratic rights and civil liberties. The PUCL's aims and objects include their reform. Repressive laws including the preventive detention must be repealed. Inordinate delays, heavy expenses that a common man cannot afford and the various inequities in the justice delivery system must end. The misconduct of the police is a common experience. A few of them have been specifically mentioned. They are 'police excess', 'use of third degree method, 'discrimination on the ground religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. 'Those who have been in prison have found that once one goes to the prison he ceases to be treated as a human being. The people from the mainstream parties detained in course of a movement are not maltreated, but the Naxals have been subjected to inhuman treatment for decades. It might be a little better now, but they continue to be treated as an enemy. But the overwhelming number of inmates in jails remanded to judicial custody ceases to be treated as human beings. Their condition is pathetic The PUCL constitution enshrines prison reform as one of its objectives.

Democratic rights and civil liberties are denied and the people are oppressed not only by the State but also by the society itself. Our constitution mandates fighting against such social evils also. Untouchability, casteism and communalism have been named but only as examples of oppressive evil practices. The constitution also enjoins us to pay special attention to the violations of the civil liberties of the weaker sections of the society and women and children.

To conclude, the organisation was meant to cover a vast area to achieve its objective, but for various reasons it could not be possible. If it had been done, the people would have identified with us and listened to us. The organization's distinctive and distinguishing features would have been recognised, and it would have been difficult for the State to brand us anything other than what we are. However, it is never too late to focus on the aims and objects as enshrined in our constitution and make our contribution greater and more valuable.

Note: The PUCL has to make its membership more diverse as mandated in Art.2. Meanwhile while taking a decision it should be examined from different points of view (whether members representing those points of view are present or not) within the bounds of the PUCL constitution.*

* The framers of the constitution had an apprehension that someday efforts may be made to retain the name of the PUCL while changing its aims and objects and making it a homogenous /crony organisation by changing the criteria of membership. To preempt the danger they made the following provision in its constitution:10. Amendments: The National Council will be entitled by the vote of a majority of its total membership to alter any part of this constitution except the AIMS AND OBJECT OF THE ORGANISATION AND THE CRITERIA OF MEMBERSHIP AS SPECIFIED IN CLAUSE 3 (a) ABOVE” (emphasis added).Prabhakar Sinha, fomer President, PUCL National.
National Council, New Delhi 24.11.2018 & 25.11.2018

APPENDIX
Aims and Objects as Enshrined in the PUCL constitution

We have to accomplish the task of attaining the following Aims and Objects enshrined in our Constitution:

2. Aims and Objects:
The Peòple's Union for Civil Liberties will try to bring together all those who are committed to the defence and promotion of civil liberties in India, irrespective of any differences they may have in regard to political and economic institutions suitable for the country.

The aims and objects of the organisation will be:

(a) To uphold and promote by peaceful means civil liberties and the democratic way of life throughout India;

(b) To secure recognition to the principle of dignity of the individual;

(c) To undertake a constant review of penal laws and the criminal procedure with a view to bringing them in harmony with humane and liberal principles;

(d) To work for the withdrawal and repeal of all repressive laws including preventive detention;

(e) To encourage freedom of thought and defend the right of public dissent;

(f) To ensure the freedom of the press and independence of mass media like radio and television;

(g) To secure the rule of law and independence of the judiciary;

(h) To make legal aid available to the poor;

(i) To make legal assistance available for the defence of civil liberties;

(j) To work for the reform of the judicial system so as to remove inordinate delays, reduce heavy expenses, and eliminate inequities;

(k) To bring about prison reform;

(l) To oppose police excesses and use of third degree method;

(m) To oppose police discrimination on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth;

(n) To combat social evils which encroach on civil liberties, such as untouchability, casteism, and communalism;

(o) To defend in particular the civil liberties of the weaker sections of society and of women and children;

(p) To do all acts and things that may be necessary, helpful, or incidental to the above aims and objects.

 

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Related Bulletin : Jan 2019