Foundational Declaration of PUCL and a Message by Jayprakash Narayan

Oct 17, 1976

(New Delhi, 17th October 1976)

A Movement to be called the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights was inaugurated by Acharya Kripalani at a Convention held at the Constitution Club, Vitthalbhai Patel House (1st Floor), Rafi Marg, New Delhi on 17th October 1976.

The convention was held in the evening at the end of the two-day National Seminar on Constitutional amendments convened by the Convention are published  Chagla Committee for the Review of the Constitution.

For the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights, a National Coordinating Committee has been formed with Jayaprakash Narayan as President, V.M. Tarkunde, as Working President and Mr. Krishan Kant, M.P., as Convener. The National Coordinating Committee will form State and Regional Committees for developing the movement. All the Committees will function on the basis of consensus. The Movement shall not be used for projecting the policies of ideology of any political party.

After V.M. Tarkunde read a message received from Jayaprakash Narayan, Krishan Kant welcomed the delegates and Acharya J.B. Kripalani delivered his Presidential address. Acharya Kripalani observed among other things that every Constitution has to establish a balance between the State and the individual and that when the balance is tilted in favour of the State and against the individual, as in India at present, a movement for the defence of civil liberties and fundamental freedoms becomes necessary.

The meeting was then addressed by the famous Hindi poet Bhawani Prasad Mishra, the celebrated Gujarati writer and Ex.-Vice Chancellor Umashankar Joshi, George Verghese, Dr. Usha Mehta and the Sarvodaya leader Vasant Nargolkar. Finally S.M. Joshi moved a Declaration for the adoption of the Convention. The Declaration was unanimously adopted.

The message received from Jayaprakash Narayan and the Declaration adopted by the Convention are published below:

Jayaprakash Narayan’s Message

I had consented to come and inaugurate the founding session of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights. But sudden illness makes it impossible for me to go to Delhi. I regret my inability very much.

The Union is coming up at a time when the Civil enshrined in the Constitution, are completely denied to the people. The proposed omnibus amendments to the Consti- tution are destroying the very basic structure of our democratic Constitution. On this back- ground, the most important activity is to organise, agitate for restoration of Civil Liberties and to create among the people of India, irrespective of caste and creed, democratic awareness and capacity to defend the liberties, when they are attacked.

I am sure, the Union you are forming will help in restarting democratic processes in the country, which have been blocked at present. I wish the Convention all success.

Jaslok Hospital,
Bombay, 13th oct 1976
S/d- J.P. Narayan


This Convention on Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights is meeting at a time when all civil liberties and democratic rights of the people have been virtually abolished by resorting to an unwarranted declaration of emergency and are sought to be abrogated permanently.

It recalls that during the entire struggle against the alien British rule one of the main planks on which the people were rallied was the denial and suppression of civil liberties and democratic rights by the British Government.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the national movement had consistently struggled for the freedom of Press and expression and valiantly fought against the Vernacular Press Act. Many newspapers had defied the Act and expressed their opinions freely and fearlessly and paid heavy penalties.

Immediately after the First World War, the British Government passed the obnoxious Act known as the Rowlatt Act which authorised the Government to detain persons without trial. Gandhiji called for a countrywide protest against the Act on April 6, 1919 which evoked response and mass meetings were held throughout the country. Thousands of men and women who had gathered in the Jalianwala Bagh in the City of Amritsar a week later were brutally fired upon by General Dyer and indescribable atrocities were committed on them. The force of public opinion was such that the British Government made no use of the Act and allowed it to lapse.

It was in the session of the Congress in Amritsar held in the same year that the demand for civil liberties which should be inviolable by any Government was made.

Subsequently the national movement fought both from the floor of the Legislative Assembly and outside against all attempts to impose repressive legislations and for civil liberties democratic rights. The elected members of the Central Legislative Assembly unanimously demanded the repeal of all repressive laws, including Section 124-A of the I.P.C. (Sedition), Sec. 151 of the I.P.C. which made preaching of class hatred a penal offence, the Criminal Law Amendment Act which made peaceful picketing a punishable offence, Sec. 107 and 108 of the Criminal Procedure Code which authorised demanding of security on the grounds of the apprehension of making speeches spreading sedition or incitements to class hatred and in default detention in jails for one year, Section 144 of the Cr.P.C. which empowered the banning of public meetings and demonstrations, etc. The Modi Amendment to the Industrial Amendment Act which made political strikes by the workers a penal offence was opposed tooth and nail by the nationalist members of the Central Legislative Assembly.

The Nehru Committee of which Pandit Motilal Nehru was the President and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the Secretary demanded a constitution in which fundamental rights would be declared inalienable rights of the people.

The Karachi Session of the Congress in 1931, formulated the famous Karachi charter which proclaimed that in free India fundamental democratic rights including freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly, of peaceful demonstrations, the Right to strike, the Right to life and liberty, without any threat of detention without trial, right to work, etc. would be inviolable and guaranteed to the citizens of free India.

This Convention also recalls that the late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in his Presidential address to the Lucknow Session of the Congress in 1936 declared that “a Government which depends on and resorts to detention without trial does not deserve to exist for a single minute.”

During his presidency, and under his inspira- tion, Civil Liberties D Unions were formed at the All India and Provincial and local levels, embracing a wider spectrum of the people, in order to mobilise wider public opinion for civil liberties. Later, after independence also civil liberties’ unions functioned all over the country. These unions played a notable role in the struggle for civil liberties..

This Convention notes with concern that despite all these traditions built up during the struggle. for independence, many of these obnoxious laws, which were called “lawless laws” by Gandhiji, continue after Independence. A Preventive Detention Act, authorising detention without trial, has continued to disfigure the Statute Book in Free India, except for a brief spell of one year.

Civil liberties and democratic rights have been continuously eroded during the last many years. The right to move courts for infringement of whatever Fundamental Democratic rights have been guaranteed in the Constitution has been suspended for nearly 15 years since 1962 by a wholly unwarranted continuation of the state of Emergency proclaimed since the India-China war in 1962.

Since the proclamation of Internal Emergency on 26 June, 1975 all civil liberties and democratic rights have been completely abrogated….

This Convention declares that this grave threat most urgently and insistently demands that all those who cherish the noble values and democratic rights and civil liberties for which the people of India fought for a century and faced immense sacrifices and untold sufferings to come forward and rouse the people to the grave danger facing them and build up a massive and irresistible public opinion for the restoration and widening of civil liberties and democratic rights.

With this noble objective this Convention decides to form the People’s Union for Civil Liberties consisting of prominent individuals from all walks of life, who cherish democratic rights and civil liberties, irrespective of their political and ideological affiliations. Shri Jaya Prakash Narayan will be the President, Shri Tarkunde Working President, and Shri Krishna Kant the Convener of the Union and it shall have a Co-ordination Committee of prominent individuals from all walks of life.

This Movement will have no other objective and shall not be used as a forum for projecting the policies and ideology of any political party.

It will strive its utmost to mobilise the widest public opinion through peaceful and legitimate means for the realisation of these noble aims and objectives. In order to make this possible, it shall function on the basis of consensus.

It will strive to set up similar committees at State and other levels and co-ordinate their activities.

The Convention appeals to the entire people of India to realise the grave peril facing them and raise their voices for the restoration and broaden- ing of democratic rights and civil liberties through peaceful and legitimate means. It calls upon them to overcome all obstacles and make the demand so very massive and powerful that it would become irresistible and would lead to the successful fruition of these noble aims, objectives and values.