Mockery of Democracy: Assaults on Journalists, Activists, and Academics

Recently, the Gujarat Government slapped sedition charges on the Gujarat editor of the Times of India and his team for a series of articles questioning the appointment of O P Mathur as Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad. The paper had shown links of O P Mathur with a mafia don, and his role in suppressing the investigation into the fake encounter of Sohrabuddin.

Next in line for attack from the Saffronazi Modi Government was Prof. Ashish Nandy, a well-known scholar on postcolonial studies: he was accused in a criminal case supposedly for ‘promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth and language.’ The Ahmedabad police admitted a petition filed by an advocate belonging to National Council for Civil Liberties against Prof Nandy’s leader page article in Blame The Middle Class’ (Times of India, 8 January 2008). The same forum had filed a few petitions against Medha Patkar on some frivolous charges, dismissed by the court. The Professor’s crime was to discuss the Gujarat Assembly elections of December 2007; the plight of the Muslims, condemned to a second class citizenry in the post 2002 phase and denied justice and proper compensation; the Gujarat urban middle class’s affinity towards militant religious nationalism of the Sangh Parivar variety.

But unfortunately it is not just in Modi’s Gujarat that the press faces attacks for doing its job. In Congress-NCP ruled Maharashtra, the home of editor of Marathi daily Loksatta Kumar Ketkar was vandalised by an NCP-backed outfit, because he had written a satire piece on the Maharashtra Government’s decision to install a massive statue of Shivaji in the sea (see Inner cover – Ed/)

And CPI(M)-ruled West Bengal has recently witnessed serious assaults on human rights and democracy. The targets were some girl students of Jadavpur University, members of a women’s organization Matangini Mahila Samity, named after a woman martyr of the Quit India movement. Their rented home was under the jurisdiction of Jadavpur PS – the home constituency of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. On 7 June, the police tried to enter the premises to conduct a ‘search’ without a warrant, claiming that the anti-SEZ posters hung out to dry were evidence of “Maoist” presence. Academics and activists alerted the media and the plan to arrest the young women was foiled, despite the fact that DYFI and AIDWA cadres had mobilized in support of the police. After a three-hour impasse the police was forced to leave. West Bengal Home Secretary Ashok Mohan Chakraborty declared on 9 June that “Cops can come to search without papers” – a patently illegal claim. It turned out that the ‘objectionable’ posters and leaflets merely contained slogans against the WB Government’s pro-corporate policies. Two days later, the CM regretted the police action. But the failure to take any action against the police officials proved that ‘regret’ to be hollow.

Another recent target is the Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum), a West Bengal-based civil rights body, whose ‘crime’ was to plan a people’s tribunal as part of the National Project on Preventing Torture in India (NPPTI), on 9-10 June in Kolkata. There were 82 victims of torture by police and the Border Security Force who were to narrate their plight before the panel members of the tribunal. There were over 1100 next of kin of the victims.

Among those who had consented to attend the opening session of the tribunal included Dr. Syeda Hameed, member, Planning Commission , Prof. M. P. Singh, vice chancellor, National University of Juridical Science and former high court judge D. K. Basu.

On 7 June, plain clothed police from the Detective Department, Kolkata Police, visited the office of Masum and produced a letter questioning the legality of the tribunal. The Commissioner of Police, Gautam Mohan Chakraborty, brother of home secretary, when contacted, said a criminal case had been lodged at Taltolla PS against Kirity Roy, state NPPTI director, for organizing the public tribunal. The tribunal was held on schedule and it was learnt on 10 June that a formal complaint was lodged on 9 June. It is the same Detective Department which was involved in terrorizing Rizwanur Rahman for marrying Priyanka Todi. The charges were of a ridiculous order – charging Roy with ‘impersonating a judge’ and the like.

The legacy of Russell-Sartre Tribunal and other numerous public tribunals the world over is alive and Public Tribunals are a powerful democratic mechanism of putting people’s testimonies on record. The move by Buddhadeb Govt.’s police to criminalise such a tribunal simply because it dared to expose police atrocities is on par with the Gujarat police’s move to slap absurd charges on journalists and academics simply because they express criticism or dissent from the state machinery and ruling party.

Liberation Archive