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Recalling Emergency: Now, as then, any voice of protest or dissent is termed as anti-national and perilous

By Gautam Thaker*
Human Rights and liberties are a privilege of citizens, a distinct part of human life. Those are their birthrights and cannot be construed as if they have been conferred by the Constitution of the country. And yet governments often indulge in swooping upon such rights.
Relying on their power and authority, they use and misuse the police force. There have been many such incidents ever since India gained its independence in 1947. Be it 1975 or 2018, ruling regimes have endangered civil liberties and human rights.
Forty three years have passed ever since June 25, 1975, when Emergency was clamped down on the country. Yet its memories cannot be erased even today. At that time, under the leadership of Jay Prakash Narayan, people energetically fought against Emergency. Mistakes committed by Indira Gandhi and unrealistic economic policy adopted by her ultimately resulted into intolerable shortage of articles and inflation.
In 1970s, the government strangulated our economy by imposing various kinds of checks and controls. This benefitted black-marketers and corrupt people. The ruling party – Congress – chocked the people by clamping Emergency, resorting to large scale arrests. The condition of common man worsened due to rising inflation and unemployment. The law and order situation reached a point of collapse. Constant attacks were waged on judiciary.
Farmers, workers’ unions and civic society organizations had no freedom of expression. On the pretext of and in the name of Emergency, leaders like Jay Prakash Narayan, Morarji Desai and Atal Behari Vajpayee were arrested and detained. Freedom of speech and personal liberty of leaders battling for civil liberties and human rights were snatched away, and a strategy was hedged to impose autocratic and authoritarian rule by chocking the voice of dissent. Amendments in laws and the Constitution, and the misuse of MISA, were effected to cow down political opponents, as also others.
Somewhat similar symptoms are prevailing today. An undeclared Emergency has been imposed. The ideology of autocratic rule and fascist forces has begun to establish its hold. Efforts for establishing autocratic rule have been made by violating personal freedom of the individual and speech. Arbitrary, anti-people and autocratic approach of the government is distressing pro-democracy citizens. Freedom of speech, writing and expression are being infringed upon. It appears as though atmosphere of fear and terror has raised its head again. On the economic front, vacuum has emerged on account of demonetization and imposition of Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Systematic efforts are being made to harass activists struggling to defend, preserve and promote human rights. Activists working for human rights by risking their lives are being branded as guilty of treason. Systematic attacks are being made by the police on whistleblowers, peaceful demonstrators and human rights activists. Any voice of protest or dissent is termed as anti-national and perilous.
There is a complete neglect of the plight of the poor people, farmers, have-nots and all those classes which battle for their legitimate rights. Attempts by activists to voice problems facing different classes of society are being mercilessly crushed. A stalwart colleague and senior advocate Girishbhai Patel has rightly said, “Modi’s model is of joblessness, ruthlessness, voiceless and futureless.”
The freedom of our future generation needs to be guarded by defending democracy, adopting a prudent approach, bring together educated and farsighted citizens. They should shake off their differences and unite, irrespective of party affiliations. There is a need for an all-out effort by democratically-minded citizens to unite to forestall any kind of dictatorship. There is a strong need for non-partisan and concerned citizens to take up the task of keeping at bay Emergency by educating illiterate masses, awakening and uniting them.
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*National president, Indian Radical Humanist Association, General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Gujarat

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