Retired Civil Servants Condemn Govt Attempts to 'Punish, Intimidate' Rights Defenders

"Dissent and freedom of expression are the life-blood of any democracy. We find it intensely worrying that there are crude and ham-handed attempts to intimidate such voices into silence, using the institutions of state authority."

New Delhi: A group of 56 retired civil servants have written an open letter condemning the state’s alleged intimidation of human rights defenders, particularly those who dissent against the government.

The letter begins by talking about the recent Central Bureau of Investigation raids on Lawyers Collective, run by advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover. It then goes on to talk about how people associated with the RSS are labelling credible human rights defenders as “urban Naxals” simply because they disagree with the government. The former civil servants also talk about how artists – including Miyah poets in Assam – are facing a crackdown.

The full text of the statement and list fo signatories is below.


Our group of former civil servants of the All India and Central Services has no affiliation with any political party and is firmly committed to the Constitution of India. We strongly condemn many recent attempts by the ruling establishment to punish and intimidate human rights defenders and dissenters from State policy. Among these recent efforts were the raids conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on 11 July, 2019 in the offices and residence of human rights lawyers and Senior Advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover.

Lawyers Collective and its founding Trustees, Ms. Indira Jaising and Mr. Anand Grover have been at the forefront in furthering women’s rights, gender equality, and environmental issues and have been committed to fighting over decades for the rule of law.

Ms. Indira Jaising, who has also been Additional Solicitor General of India, has been the force behind the passing of a law preventing Domestic Violence against women in India, the recognition of right to shelter of pavement dwellers, the rights of hawkers, and many other social justice issues.

Mr. Anand Grover has done a lifetime of work on access to health and affordable medicines, and led the advocacy and litigation for decriminalization of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. He has also held the prestigious position of UN Special Rapporteur on right to health from August 2008 to July 2014.

Also read | Documenting Anand Grover, Indira Jaising’s Fight for Human Rights Over the Years

Both Ms. Jaising and Mr. Grover have been involved in politically sensitive matters, especially Ms. Jaising in the Sohrabuddin murder case where the current union Home Minister, Amit Shah was an accused.

These raids at their residence and office of Lawyers Collective in Delhi and Mumbai by the CBI were vindictive and we emphatically denounce the abuse of authority in harassing human rights defenders. The matter relating to the alleged violations of financial laws by the Lawyers Collective is presently before the High Court of Bombay. Media reports indicate that the Bombay High Court had ordered, in January 2017, the de-freezing of the domestic and non-FCRA bank accounts of Lawyers Collective, observing also that Foreign Contributions Regulations Act (FCRA) “does not provide for a government to stifle the very functioning of individuals or associations”. The Government, instead of following an ongoing legal process, has chosen to launch a fresh attack on them in an attempt to silence them.

The raids we have mentioned above are sadly not isolated incidents. In the past couple of months, we have seen similar attacks on those who dissent with the policies of the present establishment.

A little-known wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose proximity to the ruling establishment is no secret, is certifying some of India’s most credible leaders of social movements such as Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh as ‘urban Naxals’. These are respected persons who have given their life’s efforts in working for the common man.

Indeed, in the “urban Naxal” case that arose out of Bhima-Koregaon, ten respected and brave human rights activists have been charged, and several of them have spent over a year in prison without even getting either bail or copies of the so-called incriminating letters which form the basis of the case. Is liberty not a fundamental value in our democracy?

Also read | Bhima Koregaon Case: Of 230 Required Copies of Evidence, Only 4 Made in 2 Months

Most recently, the Assam administration has registered grave criminal charges against 10 senior and young Muslim Bengali-speaking poets for writing protest poetry! In the tradition of protest Black, Dalit and Queer poetry, these poets have created a new genre of poetry which they call Miya poetry, in which they lament and protest about the suffering of their people as a result of the NRC process. They now are charged with inciting hatred under sections which could keep them in jail for many years of their lives.

We strongly condemn the attacks on these human rights defenders, dissenters and poets. Dissent and freedom of expression are the life-blood of any democracy. We find it intensely worrying that there are crude and ham-handed attempts to intimidate such voices into silence, using the institutions of state authority. This appears an attempt to govern by fear and intimidation, the reverse of the India which Rabindranath Tagore dreamed of ‘where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high’. We stand in solidarity with all who follow the voices of their conscience, in their own ways speaking truth to power; and demand that they be protected and the spaces for their dissent defended robustly.

  1. S.P. Ambrose IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI
  2. Vappala Balachandran, IPS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
  3. Gopalan Balagopal, IAS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
  4. Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Coal, GoI
  5. Sharad Behar, IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
  6. Madhu Bhaduri, IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Portugal
  7. Meeran C. Borwankar, IPS (Retd.) Former DGP, Bureau of Police Research and Development, GoI
  8. Ravi Budhiraja, IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, GoI
  9. Sundar Burra, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
  10. Kalyani Chaudhuri, IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
  11. Anna Dani, IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
  12. Vibha Puri Das, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI
  13. P.R. Dasgupta, IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI
  14. Pradeep K. Deb, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Deptt. Of Sports, GoI
  15. Nitin Desai, IES (Retd.) Former Secretary and Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, GoI
  16. Keshav Desiraju, IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI
  17. M.G. Devasahayam, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
  18. Sushil Dubey, IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Sweden
  19. K.P. Fabian, IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Italy
  20. Gourisankar Ghosh, IAS (Retd.) Former Mission Director, National Drinking Water Mission, GoI
  21. S.K. Guha, IAS (Retd.) Former Joint Secretary, Department of Women & Child Development, GoI
  22. Meena Gupta, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI
  23. Ravi Vira Gupta, IAS (Retd.) Former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India
  24. Wajahat Habibullah, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI and Chief Information Commissioner
  25. Sajjad Hassan, IAS (Retd.) Former Commissioner (Planning), Govt. of Manipur
  26. Kamal Jaswal, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
  27. Subodh Lal, IPoS (Retd.) Former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Communications, GoI
  28. Harsh Mander, IAS (Retd.) Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
  29. Aditi Mehta, IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
  30. Sonalini Mirchandani, IFS (Resigned) GoI
  31. Deb Mukharji, IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal
  32. Nagalswamy, IA&AS (Retd.) Former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu & Kerala
  33. P.G.J. Nampoothiri, IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Gujarat
  34. Amitabha Pande, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
  35. Niranjan Pant, IA&AS (Retd.) Former Deputy Comptroller & Auditor General of India
  36. P.R. Parthasarathy, IPS (Retd.) Former Director, Anti-Corruption Bureau, Govt. of Maharashtra
  37. Jayant Prasad, IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Nepal
  38. T.R. Raghunandan, IAS (Retd.) Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, GoI
  39. V.P. Raja, IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission
  40. C. Babu Rajeev, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI
  41. Julio Ribeiro, IPS (Retd.) Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador to Romania
  42. Deepak Sanan, IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
  43. Deepak Sandhu, Indian Information Service (Retd.) Former Chief Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission
  44. N.C. Saxena, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI
  45. Ardhendu Sen, IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
  46. Abhijit Sengupta, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI
  47. Aftab Seth, IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Japan
  48. Ashok Kumar Sharma, IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Finland and Estonia
  49. Navrekha Sharma, IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Indonesia
  50. Pravesh Sharma, IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
  51. Raju Sharma, IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
  52. Rashmi Shukla Sharma, IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
  53. Thanksy Thekkekera, IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Minorities Development, Govt. of Maharashtra
  54. P.S.S. Thomas, IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission
  55. Geetha Thoopal, IRAS (Retd.) Former General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata
  56. Hindal Tyabji, IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir