Modi 2.0 Regime’s Assaults on Lawyers, Journalists, Intellectuals

THE Modi.2 Government has not waited even a month to begin an all-out assault on democracy and dissent.

A journalist, Prashant Kanojia, was picked up from his home in Noida by plainclothes UP policemen, and jailed for a tweet sharing a video which allegedly ‘defamed’ the UP Chief Minister. The head of television news channel Nation Live, Ishita Singh, and its editor, Anuj Shukla were also arrested for broadcasting the video. The Supreme Court granted Kanojia interim bail, commenting that "A citizen’s right to liberty has been infringed upon.” But the sheer arbitrariness and highhandedness of the arrest for a tweet shows the BJP’s intention to mount surveillance on social media and intimidate journalists and dissenting voices.    

Meanwhile, public intellectual and Mumbai-based anti-fascist campaigner Prof. Ram Puniyani has received death threats. Puniyani, a former professor at IIT Bombay, is receiving these threats for his popular YouTube videos educating viewers about the nature of Hindutva fascism. Given the murders of rationalists and anti-communal intellectuals like Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare in Maharashtra, and Prof MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh in Karnataka, such threats to Puniyani are ominous and disturbing.

And of course, there is the shocking attempt to gag and punish the Lawyers Collective, with a CBI case alleging FCRA violations (ironic, given that the Modi regime has facilitated and legitimised secret foreign and corporate funding to political parties through Electoral Bonds and is the biggest beneficiary of the Bonds). Lawyers Collective founders, advocates Anand Grover and Indira Jaising, have been at the forefront of human rights and civil liberties activism in India for decades before the Modi regime came into being - and have continued to courageously challenge the Modi regime and defend the Indian Constitution under Modi.   

As Pamela Philipose observed in Wire, “First they come for the human rights activists, and then they come for the defenders of human rights activists….This move to crush Lawyers Collective, when taken together with the arrest of the human rights defenders implicated in the Bhima Koregoan case, seems powered by a drive to wipe out human rights activism in the country.”

Indira Jaising has, for decades, defended the rights of workers, trade union activists and women. She pursued the progressive changes in rape laws in 1983, represented Mary Roy in her successful struggle to assert Christian women’s right to inheritance, represented Githa Hariharan in asserting mothers’ rights to be the natural legal guardians of their children, represented Rupan Deol Bajaj in the struggle against sexual harassment by KPS Gill, helped formulate the Domestic Violence Act, and represented Muslim women’s groups against Instant Triple Talaq in the Supreme Court. She has consistently spoken up for women lawyers, law students and judges facing sexual harassment in the judiciary, and has successfully fought to introduce creches in the Supreme Court. During Emergency, she provided free legal aid to striking railway workers.

Just a week before the CBI’s FIR against Lawyers Collective, Ms Jaising got bail from the Gauwhati high court for Kargil war veteran Sanaullah who had been declared a “foreign national” by Assam’s foreigner tribunal.

She also represented Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of Gandhiji, in a petition in the Supreme Court demanding action to stop the communal lynchings  of Muslims. She strongly made the point in the SC that the lynchings in India bore resemblance to the racist lynchings of African American people in the US.

Anand Grover has also fought many landmark cases - most notably a variety of cases relating to the right of patients’ access to lifesaving drugs, and the cases against Section 377.

A report in Wire noted that Grover “was able to successfully get access to a life-saving TB drug, bedaquiline, for a young Indian woman with drug-resistant TB. The woman died soon after winning the case, but it caused the Indian government to roll back their procedure of giving the drug only in five big cities and begin larger distribution. A watershed case which Grover won was the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Novartis case in 2013. The Swiss pharmaceutical giant wanted a patent for its life-saving cancer drug Glivec. The Indian Supreme Court dismissed it. This case was vital as it strengthened Indian patent law which allows India to continue to supply cheap generic drugs to countries around the world, saving millions of lives.”

By seeking to gag the Lawyers Collective, the Modi Government is actually declaring war against this impressive range of activism in defence of India’s Constitution.  

Every day, we can expect a fresh assault by the Modi regime on dissent, democracy and the defenders of our Constitution - and we must brace up to fight back with all determination.

Liberation Archive