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Why is PM office silent on recent saffron attacks on dissenting views?, Ask 120 prominent citizens

Ela Bhatt, one of the signatories
By Our Representative
In an open statement, 120-odd prominent intellectuals have taken strong exception to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for remaining “silent on this blatant attack on curbing citizens’ free speech and expression” by the saffron brigade and its supporters. Blaming the state machinery for taking advantage of “the draconian Section 66A of the Information and Technology (IT) Act, 2000,” they have particularly opposes “criminal punishment” of up to three years for merely sending messages which can cause “annoyance” or “inconvenience” or “danger” or “insult”, and gives unfettered discretion to enforcement agencies to enforce it.
What makes the statement significant is, it has been signed by a wide variety of persons who have till now refused to be party to what they would consider “political” overtones. One such noticeable signatory is Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) founder Ela R Bhatt, a Magsaysay Award winning social activist. Others include right to information activist Aruna Roy, journlast Ashish Kothari, academic Jean Dreze, actor Nandita Das, environmentalist Vrinda Grover, historian Romila Thapar, anti-dam activist Shripadh Dharmadhikari, artist Vivan Sundaram, and campaigner against 2002 communal riots Teesta Setalvad.
Giving instances of attack, the statement says, “Last month, a widely respected and well know Kannada writer, U.R. Ananthamurthy was sent a one-way ticket to Karachi as well as threatened with phones calls asking him ‘when he was going to leave’ for saying ‘I would not like to live in a country ruled by Modi’.”
“In another incident, a youth, Syed Vaqas, along with four friends from Bhatkal, Karnataka were arrested for sending a message (when the election results were announced) caricaturing the BJP government’s election slogan “aab ki bar antimsanskar (modi sarkar).” A third incident is about a 31-year-old naval engineer from Goa, Devu Chodankar, for his alleged inflammatory comments against Narendra Modi on social media”, the statement says.
“More recently, in Bihar members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) disrupted a People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) seminar, to discuss the detention of Professor GN Saibaba of Delhi University (arrested for alleged Maoist links) and its implications for human rights. Or take the case of the two girls from Palghar, Maharashtra who were arrested for criticizing the shutdown of Mumbai for Shiv Sena’s chief Bal Thakeray’s funeral in 2012, even though the Constitution of India guarantees plurality of diverse political opinion”, it adds.
Pointing out that all these incidents signify “acts of political expression that were reinterpreted as not conforming to mainstream positions”, and “in the two recent cases in Karnataka and Goa, the representatives of police in in Goa and Bangalore have stated in the newspapers that these cases do not warrant arrests”, the statement regrets, despite all this, the PMO remained “silent.”
“No democracy can claim to be one, unless freedom of speech and expression are guaranteed by statute and where the state machinery works to ensure compliance not only in the behavior of government, but of its citizens. The curbing of expression with threat and through terror, increasingly more menacing, should be condemned and stopped, if our country is to become a mature democracy”, the statement reads.
Saying the trend is worrying, the statement underlines, “In the last fortnight there has been a resurgence of attacks to curb the right to free speech and expression of Indian citizens who did not share the euphoria, hope and enthusiasm associated with recent election results. It is important to note that such attempts to curtail the right to free speech and expression of writers, academics, activists and ordinary citizens have been recurring incidents over the past two decades, irrespective of the political party in power.”
Condemning “the use of social policing, boycott and other means of state coercion to silence citizens, legitimized through regressive legislations such as the IT Act”, the statement demands, section 66A of the IT Act should be deleted, urging the “Prime Minister, and the Government of India and all State Governments to respect the right of citizens' to express their thoughts and views, guaranteed by the Constitution of India, without fear of retribution.”

Comments

Rajendra Barve said…
Dear Madam

I appreciate your knowledge and your contribution for India. Before getting diverted to all those small incidents which you have listed down in your blog, kindly let us get all kashmiri pandits to their home land i e Kashmir. If we all can do so then this minor incident can be answered any time

Rajendra Barve

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