New Delhi: Opposition leaders on Wednesday expressed solidarity with human rights activists and lawyers who have been arrested in the Elgar Parishad case and charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and demanded that the stringent law be repealed.
They also urged the public to break their silence on the government’s efforts to “chip away the rights of the people”.
The National Investigation Agency’s latest arrest in the case was that of 83-year-old tribal rights activist Stan Swamy on October 8. Activists and political leaders have been condemning Swamy’s arrest, saying that despite him being a patient of Parkinson’s disease and suffering from other health problems, he is now in jail during a pandemic.
Speaking at a press conference organised by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren claimed that the government was trying to silence the voices of marginalised communities. In a video message, he alleged that under the present government, unity, integrity and democratic structures were under attack.
“The NDA government sitting in the Centre today – it is silencing the voices of those speaking for the Adivasis, Dalits and other marginalised groups, the non-BJP ruled states are being harassed, the various constitutional mechanisms of our country are being weakened today by different groups and organisations for its own political benefit under a hidden agenda,” he claimed.
“It is forcing us to ponder about where the country is headed. It crossed all limits today when someone like Stan Swamy was arrested. He is someone who has been working in Jharkhand for years, in the remote faraway villages, wandering in the jungles, just so that the Adivasis, Dalits and minority populations here could be reached. This is extremely disappointing. Stan Swamy is also suffering from many diseases,” Soren said.
The opposition of all kinds should have no trouble coming together, in these times, to counter the Centre’s clearly targeted and anti-people stance. “The way Stan Swamy has been arrested today, it could happen to any of us tomorrow – or it could even escalate further to people being killed,” Soren said.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury as well as the DMK’s Kanimozhi urged civil society groups and the public to break their silence over the “government’s attacks on the rights of the people”.
“Today we have to make a decision as political parties, as the whole society whether to accept what is happening in silence or say this is enough and fight them together. If we accept this, then in a few years we will not see a democratic India that we know. Every law that this government has passed has chipped away the rights of the people. It’s time to break the silence,” Kanimozhi said in the video conference.
Yechury added that the entire UAPA law needs to be repealed, as it is prone “gross misuse”. He said that UAPA, sedition law and National Security Act need to be seen together as part of the “larger plan of the BJP and RSS” to pave the way for a “fascistic, intolerant and authoritarian Hindutva nation”. The Centre, he alleged, is using central agencies to undermine the Constitution, while shielding the real perpetrators of violence.
A total of 16 people have been arrested under the UAPA in the case, which include three cultural activists of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) – Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Ghogre and Jyoti Jagtap – as well as rights activists, writers, lawyers, and academics Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Shoma Sen, Hany Baby, lawyers, Sudha Bharadwaj, Surendra Gadling, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson and Arun Ferreira.
“The UAPA has been grossly misused, like POTA, this law has to be removed from our statute book. However, this is not the issue of just one law. All these draconian laws are being used to silence all dissent against the government. These arrests are not isolated cases; these are part of an agenda to establish a rabidly theocratic Hindutva Rashtriya which was their plan from the beginning. This cannot be accepted. We must break this silence. For evil to succeed, the good only requires to be silent. People need to restore the secular democracy,” Yechury alleged.
Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said Swamy deserves “respect and support”, not jail term. Tharoor said he was convinced that “no Jesuit will indulge in any violence or entice anyone towards violence”. “This must stop. I appeal to the government to be fair and at least grant him bail we stand in solidarity with Stan Swamy,” he said.
D. Raja of the CPI reminded people of the Bhima Koregaon violence on January 1, 2018 and how thousands of Dalits were not only attacked but also booked under false cases. “The central government is ruthless government and does not believe in the Constitution and democracy, and is opposed to B.R. Ambedkar’s vision and values,” he said.
An activist from the Kabir Kala Manch, a cultural organisation, also spoke at the event. Three KKM members are currently in jail in the case, and the NIA has claimed that the group is affiliated to banned Maoist organisations. The KKM, Rupali Jadhav said, has always raised its voice against anti-people policies. She said that her colleagues who have been arrested were being coerced by the NIA to give false evidence under the threat of arrest. They were being asked to implicate others who had already been arrested. They refused to do so, and chose to face arrest, Jadhav said.
The PUCL has put forth three demands for the Central government:
- Immediate release of octogenarians Stan Swamy and Varavara Rao imprisoned in the Bhima Koregaon case and 95% disabled Prof. Saibaba kept in Anda cell in Nagpur Central Prison, on humanitarian grounds to enable them to take appropriate treatment and care in a facility of his choice.
- Dropping charges against all the 16 accused in the BK case, setting them free and closure of Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case.
- Repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
(With PTI inputs)