We, the persons listed below, a group of retired civil servants belonging to different All India and Central Services who have worked in the Government of India (GoI), State Governments and a wide range of governmental and other institutions would urge all Constitutional institutions in India, the media and the general public to reflect upon the deeply disquieting trends visible in the public sphere and in our polity today. These developments are causing deep anguish to us as they question some of the fundamental Constitutional principles and legal safeguards we have long taken for granted. Some of these are mentioned below:
1. The discrimination against Scheduled Caste students and an attempt to clamp down upon Ambedkar study groups as found in IIT, Chennai, and in the University of Hyderabad. The tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula has highlighted the unwarranted interference of the GoI in the University of Hyderabad and its targeting a group of students, who did not subscribe to a narrow concept of nationalism.
2. There is a systematic attempt to silence dissent using the outmoded law of sedition against young idealists like Kanhaiya Kumar and his colleagues, who have given India a wake-up call to address poverty and all forms of exploitation.
3. Law and order agencies like the Delhi police used doctored videos in a blatantly partisan manner against JNU students while an MLA and certain lawyers – who were widely caught on camera beating up Kanhaiya and journalists – were treated with kid gloves. Even the team of senior lawyers nominated by the Supreme Court to monitor the situation reported the atmosphere of threat and intimidation.
4. The atmosphere of intolerance is growing what with the murder of the rationalists and the regular threats of violence against minorities and all who do not accept a very narrow version of ‘nationalism’. Such a concept of nationalism is itself grounded in a biased view of history. This intolerance is a direct attack upon the freedom of speech and expression and is anathema to the pluralism of the Indian Constitution.
5. A Minister in the Central Government, a ruling party MP and local leaders have recently issued terrifying threats against Muslims but the GoI does not find anything objectionable in the Minister’s statements. Other minorities have also expressed their sense of insecurity.
What is listed above is only illustrative. We feel that all told, there is a clear and present danger to the values of the freedom of speech, thought and expression as also the pluralism and the secularism that are basic to the Indian Constitution. We add our voice to the multitude of dissents already expressed and call upon all right- thinking people to register their protest at the current goings-on.
At the same time, we would like to point out that we do not condone similar transgressions by other groups – particularly on the extreme left – which try in like manner to silence opposing views by vicious attacks on social media and/or violence.
We urge a return to the civilised and civilisational discourse of the Constitution of India and a renewed public commitment to the freedom of speech, thought and expression.
1. Niranjan Pant, IA&AS (R), former Deputy Comptroller & Auditor General, GoI
2. EAS Sarma, IAS (R), former Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, GoI
3. Ruchira Mukerjee, Indian P&T Accounts & Finance Service (R), former Adviser (Finance), Telecom Commission, Department of Telecom , GoI
4. Kalyani Chaudhuri, IAS (R), former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. Of West Bengal
5. Keshav Desiraju, IAS (R), former Secretary, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, GoI
6. Amitabha Pande, IAS (R), former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
7. Ardhendu Sen, IAS (R), former Chief Secretary, Govt. Of West Bengal
8. Pranab Mukhopadhyaya, IAS (R), former Director, Institute of Port Management, GoI
9. Surjit Das, IAS (R), former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttarakhand
10. Anup Mukerji, IAS (R), former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Bihar
11. Vibha Puri Das, IAS (R), former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI
12. SS Rizvi, IAS (R),former Joint Secretary to the GoI
13. Sundar Burra, IAS (R), former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
14. Harish Chandra, IAS (R), former Prinicipal Adviser in the rank of Secretary, Government of India (GoI)
15. Kamal Jaswal, IAS (R), former Secretary, Ministry of Information Technology, GoI
16. Meena Gupta, IAS (R), former Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, GoI
17. Hirak Ghosh, IAS (R), former Principal Secretary, Govt. Of West Bengal