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Dissent And Perish

Dissent And Perish

‘Police is misusing the judicial system and taking it for a ride,’ observed the Delhi High Court recently while hearing a case related to the riots that shook North-East Delhi in the wake of the anti-CAA protests. In a similar case, a trial court too had come down heavily on the police stating its charge-sheet was “bereft of material” as it had failed to show the link between the accused and certain organisations. This is just a tip of the ice-berg of what is happening across India where anyone who dares to express disagreement with the present regime risks going to jail on trumped up charges under the most stringent sections of law, making bail difficult and trial a prolonged process.

The infamous ‘midnight’ knock is back on the doors of rights activists, poets, academicians, students and all those who speak up against the regime. The government and the police have found an easy way to stifle uncomfortable voice and suppress those who raise unpalatable questions: Blame them “Maoists” or “anti-nationals” and put them in jail. This trend picked up momentum in the last few years, especially after the attack on Dalits in Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra. The incident put the government in an uneasy situation as some of the individuals allied with Hindutva forces were accused of inciting violence. Ironically, the axe fell on several rights activists and they were put behind bars. This includes 80 -year-old poet Varavara Rao who is not being given bail even after contracting Covid in the prison. The latest to fall victim to the brutal crackdown is Delhi University professor Hany Babu who has been taken into custody. There are many more well-respected people who were arrested by National Investigating Agency and dumped into jails on the charge of conspiring with Maoists.

The anti-CAA protests saw an avalanche of arrests and the victims are human rights activists, NGO workers, doctors, and students. Their fault: They dared to speak against the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register. The visuals of the police and alleged members of saffron brigade barging into university campuses and assaulting students are outrageous. On the other hand, those reportedly instigated people to go on the rampage are roaming freely under the nose of law-enforcing agencies.    

We are witnessing an atmosphere more dreadful than the Emergency era of 1975-77. We are in a situation where dissent has become anathema for the rulers. Those at the helm of affairs now -- at whose instance the rule of law is made to stand on its head -- were victims of the highhandedness of Indira Gandhi’s emergency. Those who raised a war-cry against her are now at the forefront of trampling upon democratic norms and charging people with sedition. They give scant regard for Supreme Court’s verdicts cautioning authorities against using sedition charges against citizens.     

But the worst part is that there is no move from the Opposition parties or other organizations for a united move to call the government’s bluff unlike what we saw during the emergency days. A major section of the media is kowtowing to the dictates of the powers-that-be. This has produced a chilling effect on free speech in the country. This is not the freedom our founders fought for nor is this the rule of law that the Constitution prescribes.

(Published on 03rd August 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 32)