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Mainstream, VOL LX No 28, New Delhi, July 2, 2022

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, July 2, 2022

Saturday 2 July 2022

Letter to the readers, Mainstream, July 2, 2022

If you are critic of the Government in India led by Prime Minister Modi, sooner or later the state machine (or ruling party-friendly infrastructure) will go after you, this has pretty much become a set pattern for all to see. On June 25, 2022 when many of India’s human rights groups were marking the anniversary of the infamous declaration of Emergency in 1975, we saw the arrest of Teesta Setalvad one of India’s pioneering human rights activists. It was through the long and sustained efforts of Teesta and Citizens for Justice and Peace the NGO that she set up, that a legal battle for justice for victims of the Gujarat riots of 2002 in 68 court cases led to 120 convictions. That the police go after someone who has consistently approached the courts for justice and to challenge wrongdoing is shocking and it clearly sends ‘a message’ to citizens of India. The arrest of Teesta Setalvad has drawn widespread criticism from leading human rights international organisations. Several UN special rapporteurs have also expressed concern and sought her release. The world continues to transact business with the large Indian market, though the country’s reputation as a democratic power is weakening by the day. Leaders of influential G7 countries meeting in Germany had invited Prime Minister Modi to be part of their consultations where India signed up to ‘2022 Resilient Democracies Statement’ [1] which commits signatories to uphold “freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors” and to protect free speech. The statement is high sounding and good for our external image but our signature will be taken with a pinch of salt. These days we often hear top Indian diplomats deflect criticism on human rights issues at international fora; as expected, they reacted sharply at comments from UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the matter related to the arrest of Teesta Setalvad saying that “The remarks by OHCHR are completely unwarranted and constitute an interference in India’s independent judicial system.” India has been ranking low on world indices of freedom and democracy in recent years. It has already fallen to 150 out of 180 nations in the World Press Freedom Index in 2022. The other big news of last week was the arrest of Journalist Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of the popular fact-checking website Alt News, who was detained on June 27, 2022 after being accused of hurting religious sentiments for his tweet of 2018. The tweet that led to Zubair’s arrest carried a photo of a hotel sign repainted from “Honeymoon Hotel” to “Hanuman Hotel.” The photo was a screenshot from a 1983 Bombay comedy film. The police action in this matter sounds pretty ridiculous but we should note that Zubair is seen as a thorn in the flesh of the leading lights of the Hindutva right-wing since he has constantly tracked and highlighted very other hate speech made by them.

Teesta and Zubair join the list of dozens of other whistleblowers & activists who have been targeted and incarcerated. History will remember the vital contributions of these people in defending democratic spaces and demanding accountability from the powers that be.

July 2, 2022 - HK

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