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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 25, New Delhi, June 5, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, June 5, 2021

Friday 4 June 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, June 5, 2021

India has had all the trappings of a democratic state since its independence in 1947 and from the time of its adoption of the republican constitution was adopted on January 26 1950. So democratic rights were guaranteed and there was a desire and an effort to set limits against excesses and to allow the courts independence, and permit considerable freedom of the press, freedom of association, etc. A lot of it remained on paper but there was considerable democratic space. India was a freer place in the third world and in comparison to China most of all. We all know of the sudden suspension of democratic rights in India during the emergency days of 1975-77, but other than that despite major shortcomings, the system continued to work quite well in mainland; For reasons of state ‘problems were perceived’ in the peripheries, borderlands, and hinterland — so a state of exception has prevailed in Kashmir, in the states of the Northeast with special security laws. Credit goes to human rights groups who despite odds have continued to take up the question of constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights and their violations. But. today, taking up the question of legally guaranteed democratic rights in India has become a risky business.

Criticism or dissenting views are not understood as an exercise of democratic rights in India and most of all by the police and security agencies. The situation has hugely worsened in the years after the Narendra Modi regime started its journey in May 2014. But, it must be remembered that in the prior period that is referred to as the Congress-led UPA years there was repeated and reckless use of the colonial-era sedition law to target critics, and intellectuals e.g. Arundhati Roy, Dr Binayak Sen, and several thousand people who opposed the nuclear plant in Kudankulam, in the Tamil Nadu state.

And in the Modi years, this practice of using the sedition law against critics has simply skyrocketed – according to the National Crime Records Bureau, between 2016 and 2019, the number of cases filed under Section 124-A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code has increased by 160%.

The ridiculous and arbitrary grounds on which people have been charged with sedition in India include complaints on shortcomings, corruption of the government, of power cuts, people who simply wrote letters or posts on social media directed at the Prime Minister criticising mob lynching, Student critics from JNU and other universities, those who protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act, or those who were active in the Shaheen-bagh public protests in Delhi, or support of farmers protests, protests on human rights violations and crimes against Dalits, or about rights of mistreatment of migrant workers, people who complained of lack of oxygen in hospitals, some comedians who are known to do satire who were simply accused of satire that they didn’t even perform and journalists who tweeted on the death of a protester on independence day … etc.

Such blatant wrongdoing via the state apparatus and its routinisation all over India is deeply disturbing. Here the Police seem to have orders from politicians to go after their critics, playing by rules is set aside and harassment is the focus. The huge consequence of this is that over-reach by police has become an established norm by now.

The Supreme Court of India was sitting in judgment over two separate cases of sedition. One involving the prominent TV journalist Vinod Dua against whom a BJP leader had filed a sedition case over his talk show broadcast on YouTube in 2020. The second was a case in which the Andhra Pradesh government had booked two Telugu language news channels along with a parliamentarian under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.

The Supreme court clearly ruled that citizens have the right to say or write whatever they like about the government so long as they does not incite people to violence against the government

In a very welcome development the Supreme Court of India has decided it will (i) examine the constitutionality of the sedition provision; (ii) define its limits. This is good news for India’s democracy

We wish to remind our readers to remember the events of Tiananmen Square in China on June 4, 1989. Here a very large student carnival of protests had been taking place at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, prompted in part by major winds of openness and glasnost that were blowing in the former Soviet Union led by Mikhail Gorbachev. Unfortunately, the Chinese government responded to calls for democratisation at Tiananmen with a brutal military repression killing thousands. Since then the very news on what happened at Tiananmen Square in China has been highly controlled and every attempt is made to erase that memory. Till recently there used to be mass remembrance events every year in Hong Kong but now these have been banned since 2020.

Tributes:

Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju the prominent architect, teacher, and socially committed to habitat design that reflected environmental concerns and representation of the poor. Ashish Ganju passed away on May 5, 2021

Dr Nabila Sadiq, professor at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi, passed away from COVID-19 complications on May 17

Josep Almudéver, a French member of the International Brigades that fought on the Republican side during Spanish civil war in the 1930s, died on May 23, 2021 at the age of 101.

Mythili Sivaraman, a much-respected member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a trade unionist and women’s rights activist died of Covid-19 on May 30, 2021. She used to occasionally contribute articles to Mainstream.

We pay our tributes to the above figures

June 5, 2021 – The Editors

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