Skip to main content

What's the cost of standing up for fundamental rights in India?

By Priya Pillai*
Sunday marked yet another black day for fundamental rights in India. Though these charter of rights are enshrined in our constitution, my experience on Sunday morning at the Delhi airport show that these are not equally accessible to all citizens.Early morning on January 11th 2015, I was to leave for London to address a British Parliamentary panel of the effects a London-based British company has on forest communities and regions in India.
I was stopped at immigration, my baggage was de-planed, the immigration officer claimed that this was being done on the orders of Government of India, and my passport was stamped with the word “offload”.
No further reason was given. On a day that several Heads of State, millions of people representing every possible cross section of society, marched for Freedom of Speech, a very poor precedent was set on the same by the largest democracy in the world.
As a lawyer and activist, this incident has only deepened my conviction to keep fighting for equality and freedom in our country.
I’ve been working in Mahan since 2011. Mahan is one of the oldest and largest sal forests in Asia. The local communities are dependent on the forest for their livelihoods and the forest is also home to several rare and endangered species. A portion of this reserve was earmarked for open cast mining. Not only would this displace the forest community, but also impact the livelihoods of thousands more who depend on forest produce; and impact the wildlife, water and air in the region.
Community members in Mahan formed the Mahan Sangharsh Samiti to protect their forests and rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (FRA) Act, 2006. The block had been allocated to Mahan Coal (a joint venture of Hindalco and Essar). Essar is a British company based out of London. I was invited by a British parliamentary panel to talk about my work with forest communities in Mahan. We have equally engaged with all major parties and relevant politicians and administrators in India on this issue, and continue to do so. 


The act of engaging all relevant stakeholders is part and parcel of my work as a member of Greenpeace and indeed the responsibility of any vibrant civil society in any functional democracy. Is my profession the reason I was singled out? Surely not, since that would be totally unconstitutional. In this case, the British parliamentary panel were stakeholders as much as the Indian political parties and parliamentarians we engage with.
They have the right to be informed of the actions of a British company abroad, and I have the right to supply that information and present the social and environmental impacts of the project – otherwise known as freedom of speech. The act was neither an attack on the Indian Government, nor a violation of the laws of our country. Then why was I debarred from leaving the country? The media has reported that my name was on a “lookout circular”.
A lookout circular is normally issued when a person is wanted in a case but is absconding; or a red corner notice is pending against him or a person is suspect in a criminal case and is feared to flee the country or has restraining orders from a court against him. I am a mother of a 9 year old son and i have spent the last 3 years away from my family with the community in Mahan to save their forest which they call home. Instead of issuing a look out notice they need to visit Mahan and speak to the community themselves.
Is working with forest communities a criminal activity? Is my fighting to protect fundamental rights the reason behind the Government’s action? In that case can we really call ourselves a democracy? Surely these cannot be the reason, since they go against the spirit of our Constitution completely.
I continue to look for the reason of this arbitrary display of power. The government continues its media inquisition and we have not heard directly from them. I have written to the Ministry of External Affairs and the Home Ministry. The totally baseless allegations that social organisations are affecting the GDP of our country also continue unabated with the Government offering no insight on how we managed to achieve this extraordinary feat, far beyond our powers in my opinion. A veil of silence seems to have descended and responsibility continues to be deflected, while ministry officials continue to assert they are oblivious.

I continue to be steadfast in my convictions and will continue my work to support rights, equality and freedom. This is not the first roadblock we have faced, and it won't be the last. We are facing a struggle with forces much larger and much more powerful, and the immense support I have received gives me the resilience to carry on.
---
*Forest Rights Campaigner with Greenpeace India. Courtesy:http://www.greenpeace.org/india/en/Blog/Campaign_blogs/whats-the-cost-of-standing-up-for-fundamental/blog/51850/

Comments

TRENDING

IMA vs Ramdev: Why what's good or bad for goose should be good or bad for gander

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD* Baba Ramdev and his associate Balkrishna faced the wrath of the Supreme Court for their propaganda about their Ayurvedic products and belittling mainstream medicine. Baba Ramdev had to apologize in court. His apology was not accepted and he may face the contempt of court with harsher punishment. The Supreme Court acted on a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

Women innovators on simple, revolutionary alternate solutions for water problems

By Proshakha Maitra, Mansee Bal Bhargava* The detrimental effects of uncontrolled population rise and accelerated change in the global climate have posed tremendous pressure on the water and sanitation. This calls all stakeholders, from both developed and developing nations, to improve their resilience and to instigate sustainability. It is more crucial than ever to optimise the use of the resources we have on hand since the world population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050.

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

Alleged killing of another Bangladesh youth inside Indian territory: NHRC inquiry sought

By Kirity Roy* There was yet another incident of the killing of a Bangladeshi youth by the Border Security Force personnel attached with ‘Barthar’ BOP of ‘G’ Company of 75 BSF Battalion. In last five years several incidents of killings happened under this police station’s jurisdiction and the cases will get the award as “Not Guilty” as usual.

Modi model, Hindutva icon 'justified' alliance with Muslim League before Independence

By Shamsul Islam*  Our PM describes himself as ‘Hindu’ nationalist and member of RSS. He proudly shares the fact that he was groomed to be a political leader by one of the two fathers of the Hindutva politics, MS Golwalkar (the other being VD Savarkar) and given the task of establishing Hindutva polity in India after eradicating secularism.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Crusader for people’s causes, this Hollywood actor entered 'unexplored zones' in US

By Harsh Thakor*  Marlon Brando on April 3rd completes his birth centenary. He perished in 2004, on July 1, aged 80 years. Arguably in Hollywood Brando penetrated sensitivity and versatility at an unparalleled scale and discovered new horizons or explored path breaking zones in acting.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Insider plot to kill Deendayal Upadhyay? What RSS pracharak Balraj Madhok said

By Shamsul Islam*  Balraj Madhok's died on May 2, 2016 ending an era of old guards of Hindutva politics. A senior RSS pracharak till his death was paid handsome tributes by the RSS leaders including PM Modi, himself a senior pracharak, for being a "stalwart leader of Jan Sangh. Balraj Madhok ji's ideological commitment was strong and clarity of thought immense. He was selflessly devoted to the nation and society. I had the good fortune of interacting with Balraj Madhok ji on many occasions". The RSS also issued a formal condolence message signed by the Supremo Mohan Bhagwat on behalf of all swayamsevaks, referring to his contribution of commitment to nation and society. He was a leading RSS pracharak on whom his organization relied for initiating prominent Hindutva projects. But today nobody in the RSS-BJP top hierarchy remembers/talks about Madhok as he was an insider chronicler of the immense degeneration which was spreading as an epidemic in the high echelons of th

India 'neglecting' air, water, vegetation as its world air quality index ranking decelerates

By Dr Gurinder Kaur* The World Air Quality Report 2023 , prepared by a Swiss technology company IQAir, was released on 19 March 2024. According to this report, India is the third most polluted country in the world after Bangladesh and Pakistan, and the capital of India, New Delhi, is the most polluted capital in the world.