No Zen for a Sikkimese state of mind

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The proposed Sikkim Prevention and Control of Disturbance of Public Order Bill will only protect private interests

Doma T Bhutia
Human Rights Lawyer

Illustration: Anand Naorem

THE ROYAL Chogyal dynasty was replaced and the principality of Sikkim annexed in 1975 by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi to bring ‘democracy’ to the region. I am told the Sikkimese people became Indians overnight with a promise to give them all basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution of India. Further privileges are provided under Article 371 clause (f ) of the Constitution so that the people can express their opinion and view without any fear.

It seems that the people can only dream of democracy and cannot realise it. In the state of Sikkim, the feudal system continues till today. People live in fear and under repression in a very subtle form, while the outside world sees a peace-loving people, simple and happy. The ground reality is that the suicide rate is very high in the state as almost every day, one or two persons commit suicide. Any party that comes to power acts tyrannically and behaves arrogantly, as if it is doing a great favour to the people.

Further, the state is a source and a destination for human trafficking. Drug users are criminalised in the state — they are absolutely debarred from earning their livelihood once convicted under another draconian law called the Sikkim Anti- Drugs Act (SADA), 2006. When the recovering drug user network group of youth pleaded before the government to make an amendment to SADA, a harsher penalty was introduced in the said Bill and the fine imposed increased to Rs 1 lakh.

It is also clearly laid down in Article 358 of the Constitution that the rights provided under Article 19 of the Constitution can ‘only’ be suspended in emergency situations, in case the security of India or any part of the territory there of is threatened by external aggression. Such a situation has not arisen at all in the state. By proposing the Sikkim Prevention and Control of Disturbance of Public Order Bill, 2011, the government is trying to intimidate or threaten people into subjugation. As we can see, unfair labour practices have led to strikes by labourers for payment of wages, protesting discrimination and asking for better compensation in the event of death of the sole bread-winner. Such a Bill will satisfy the private companies and serve the ulterior motives of the government.

The government is trying to intimidate and threaten people into subjugation with such a Bill

In the era of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation, we witness the government monopolising power on the pretext of maintaining public order. Badly drafted, the Bill vaguely defines ‘public order’ thus: “Whoever by any act or omission or by words either spoken or written or by signs or by visible representation or otherwise creates or attempts to breach or disturb general current of public life is said to commit disturbance of public order.”

There are a number of burning issues in the state like displacement, bad roads, water shortage for irrigation, drinking and cultivation due to construction of mega hydel projects, etc. Farmers are now starting to protest land grab by the government on the pretext of public purpose. Additionally, there are health rights issues like absence of clean drinking water and sanitation, maternal mortality, and poor nutrition. Not to forget lack of quality education, rising HIV/AIDS, plight of commercial sex workers who are neglected in the name of so-called sustainable development and promotion of tourism.

There’s worse. Progressive laws that provide protection to workers like the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, have not been notified for fear of strikes and bandhs, which are part of people’s rights to express resentment against exploitation. Nor is there proper state legislation to protect workers or provide them any safety net. The government talks of bringing development on the pretext of generating employment. But what kind of employment?

The Bill is ultra vires and can be challenged in a court of law once it becomes an Act.

Doma T Bhutia is a Human Rights Lawyer.
[email protected]

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