The task of forging solidarities to fight against repression by the State must begin with a spirited defence of civil liberties
THE PEOPLE’S Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) may be banned in Chhattisgarh soon. Flogging the old and almost dead horse of the organisation supplying arms to Maoists, the state’s Home Minister Nanki Ram Kanwar has been threatening to invoke the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act against it. Is this simply the bluster of a frustrated minister whose government couldn’t keep a good doctor in jail despite its best efforts? Will the banning of PUCL be an act of sweet revenge for the Raman Singh government or will it be the final push against the voices of opposition that rose in defiance to the state’s genocide against its own people in the form of Salwa Judum?
Given the state government’s record — the tearing down of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) houses and huts, the hounding of Himanshu Kumar, the arrest of VCA activists Kopa Kunjam and Sukhnath Oyame, and of course the sedition case against Binayak Sen being cases in point — there is all likelihood of the ban being pushed through sooner than later. There are reports that the Special Intelligence Branch of the Police (SIB) has already begun the process of collecting detailed reports on the various activities of the organisation from all the 18 districts of the state, along with suggestions to impose a ban.
Such actions throw up a very important question. Why do our governments fear these activists? When democracy is reduced to five-yearly rituals — and Parliament and state Assemblies are the only legitimate arena of politics — dissent can only be criminal. Or at best, decorative. PUCLs can be the pretty props of Indian democracy. Their purpose is largely ornamental, adding to themela and mélange of the biggest democracy of the world. Till they begin to hold up a mirror to the grisliness of the Indian State. Hollowed out of all real meaning, democracy is a bare shell, bereft of justice and security of life and livelihood.
A few days ago, shadow PM Pranab Mukherjee thundered that Parliament cannot be held to ransom by a motley group of activists (no, of course not, corporates alone enjoy that prerogative). The business of oiling and running the cogs and wheels of democracy falls on political parties alone — and even then only on those political parties which have a representation in Parliament. State apologists are drawing our attention to the progressive legislations enacted by Parliament, among them the Right to Information (RTI) and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). However, each of these was the result of sustained grassroots campaigns, and the implementation of NREGS, for instance, still depends in large measure on the activism of a range of movements, including the movemental Left, rather than the one with parliamentary presence. Remember Kameshwar Yadav, Lalit Mehta and, more recently, Niyamat Ansari who were killed for combating corruption in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
Where democracy is a five-yearly ritual, dissent can only be criminal. Or, at best, decorative
The proposed Communal Violence Bill is not the product of a parliamentary conscience but of the meticulous documentation, reportage and rehabilitation work undertaken by a range of democratic rights organisations in the aftermath of the hideous massacres in Delhi in 1984, Gujarat in 2002 and Kandhamal in 2008. In fact, the task of retrieving a modicum of democracy has now fallen on civil rights groups such as the PUCL. The State calls the civil society vigilante, forgetting the armed militias and special police officers it has spawned — not just in Chhattisgarh, but in the Northeast too. Indeed, as we see a surge of movements across the country against land acquisition, against skewed development models of big dams and SEZs, repression will become more innovative too. It is our task now to forge broad and deep solidarities across movements to resist this. It must begin with a spirited defence of PUCL.
The State calls the civil society vigilante, forgetting the armed militias and special police officers it has spawned — not just in Chhattisgarh, but in the Northeast too. Indeed, as we see a surge of movements across the country against land acquisition, against skewed development models of big dams and SEZs, repression will become more innovative too. It is our task now to forge broad and deep solidarities across movements to resist this. It must begin with a spirited defence of PUCL.
Manisha Sethi is an activist, Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association