Statement by Civil Society groups and concerned citizens Source – SACW
Under the garb of anti-Maoist operations and close on the heels of the Home Ministry directive, the Central and State Governments are now unleashing a witch-hunt on rights’ activists and civil society groups in India. Added to this, the fishing expedition of Gujarat police has now reached Delhi. After having arrested 13 trade unionists, forest rights activists and ordinary workers of Gujarat against the omnibus FIR number 1-37/2010 Police station Kamrej, Surat range, dated 26th of February, u/s 120 (B), 121(A), 124(A), 153 A& B of the IPC, and sec 38, 39 and 40 of the UAPA, 2004, Shakeel is the new catch, the 14th person arrested in this FIR on 17th April, 2010.
Abdul Shakeel Basha, for the last six years had been working with homeless and street children with organisations like Aman Biradari (2004 to 2008) and since 2009 with Haq (World Faith) & Shahari Adhikar Abhiyan.
His work with Aman Biradari also took him to Gujarat several times as the work related to justice to the victims of the 2002 Gujarat genocide was carried out through the ‘Nyaya Grah’ project of Aman Biradari.
Other than him, the Gujarat government has recently incarcerated 13 trade unionists, forest rights activists, and ordinary workers – all demanding that the Constitutional rights of the people be restored – and all under a single omnibus FIR (number 1-37/2010) filed in the Kamrej Police station, Surat range, dated 26th of February, under serious charges of sedition, waging war against State, conspiracy, being members of and supporting a banned organisation.
The West Bengal government has similarly prosecuted members of a Fact Finding Team; trade union leaders and human rights activists have been quietly arrested in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and many other States.
The charges are such that all those arrested can be imprisoned for up to 3 years without bail. On the 35th anniversary of the notorious proclamation by the Indira Gandhi government, it is appropriate to ask, “Is a new, but unannounced, Emergency creeping silently across the nation?”
Is the judiciary also complicit in this assault on democracy? The trend is such that courts are not questioning these framed up cases and trials that go on endlessly. Not only are charge sheets bulky with a large number of witnesses, but when the prosecution’s case appears to be weak, the police file even more charge sheets.
In this it is evident that the Gujarat police is following the precedents set by their Andhra brethren in uniform. Thus the only remand paper available in the case of Avinash Kulkarni, a pioneer in implementing the Forests Rights Act in the Dangs area of Gujarat, and who was arrested through a long chain of suspects in Orissa, is one in which he stands accused of “instigating tribals to start violent agitation through CPI (ML) Janshakti Party”.
It should be noted that not only is CPI (ML) Janshakti an overground party which has been fighting elections for the last seventeen years, but that every Indian has the Constitutional right to follow the politics of his or her choice. But even when applications have been filed with the National Human Rights Commission in such cases, the police have pre-empted the Commission by filing charge sheets in court.
What is even more revealing (and distressing) is the behaviour of the media. The story of Basha’s arrest was published by most of the newspapers on June 19 based on information provided by the police.
The PTI story and several others seemed to just gobble up the police version, without any independent enquiries about the person, his involvements or activities. These not just reflect badly on the independence of the media, but also talk a lot about the lack of basic journalistic integrity & ethics.
Earlier, during the month of April, 2010 Delhi police arrested four persons on charges of being associated with CPI Maoists – Sunil Mandiwal, Ajay Singh, Gopal Mishra, and his wife Anu Mishra. Sunil Mandiwal was an Assistant Lecturer in the Hindi Department of Delhi University, while Gopal Mishra was working for a trade union in Shahdara but was alleged to be a “commander” of the CPI Maoist.
All the newspapers, which published the news of the arrests of these persons, provided detailed accounts of the charges against them and the police versions of the “criminal” activities they were allegedly involved in as members of the CPI Maoist.
But none cared to follow the basic tenets of journalism in carrying the version of the accused or the arrested persons. When Mandiwal was subsequently released as the police could not find any evidence against him, the newspapers did not bother to talk to him and report what he had to say about his arrest and the “investigation” that the police carried out.
On April 11, media analyst Partho Ray read in The Sunday Times of India, a special article by its investigative reporter which carried details of how the Maoists raised huge amounts of money, nearly Rs 1,500 crore, through extortion, selling drugs, ransom, and robbery. On the same day he read the same article in a Bengali newspaper Ekdin that also claimed that it was written by its staff correspondent.
The article also appeared on April 11 in Asian Age under the name of a well known correspondent. And it further appeared in “Central Chronicle”, an internet news portal from Madhya Pradesh, but this time it was attributed to agencies.
Such a rare instance of cooperation between newspapers raised the interesting question of who did the “investigation”. The cat was let out of the bag by the Mumbai Mirror when it published the same news report on the same day but attributed it to Intelligence Agencies.
We all know that Operation “Green Hunt” is on. According to the Home Ministry a 70,000 strong force is being raised to smash the Maoists. The United “Progressive” Alliance government has sanctioned Rs 14,000 crore for buying arms for this new counter insurgency force.
The votaries of Neo-conservatism who are in power have clearly declared that they believe in “economic growth” at the cost of all those people who oppose the massive plans of industrialisation in the central Indian forests, or the acquisition of immense tracts in the plains for Special Economic Zones, or the conversion of middling Indian towns into “world class” cities, or the channelling of snow-fed rivers of the north into tunnels to meet the hunger for “power”.
It is within this context where capitalist development considers the working people to be redundant, and the defenders of human rights as impediments to progress, that we need to view the arrest and prosecution of activists like Shakeel Basha.
It is also within this context that we stand by such individuals to reclaim the democratic space, to restore the Republic to the People, and to challenge the neo-Goebbelsian trend in which the media has become the embedded hand-maiden of those who ruthlessly use power against the people. We declare that we shall not let this neo-Emergency pass.
And finally, we need to ask ourselves especially when we are on the eve of emergency day, 26th June, thirty five years later, whether we are going to surrender our Constitutional rights of dissenting and holding and expressing views, to the police state that India is becoming.
Endorsed by : Haq, ANHAD, Aman Biradari, Peace, Insaf, Delhi Solidarity Group, National Alliance of People’s Movements – NAPM Delhi, National Forum of Forest People & Forest Workers, (NFFPFW) Hazard Centre, South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR), Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), Shahri Adhikar Manch, The Other Media, Saheli, IGSSS, Update Collective, Campaign for Judicial Accountability & Reforms, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and other concerned groups and individuals.