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'Stifling dissent in UP': Richa Singh's house detention, Goondas Act notice to activist

Counterview Desk 
Seeking an end to house detention of National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) national convenor Richa Singh and withdrawal of notice issued to activist Ramjanam under the Goondas Act, NAPM has said in a statement that the Uttar Pradesh police’s action is “arbitrary”, underlining, “The farmers’ movement cannot be quelled by detaining activists and protestors.”
Asking the Uttar Pradesh government to “stop the draconian clampdown on democratic rights” in the state, NAPM said, these incidents are part of “a broader pattern” of stifling “democratic rights of activists and leaders of farmers’ organisations across Uttar Pradesh and in other states of India”, adding, “It reflects a rising trend to suppress voices of dissent and people’s demands, contravening the Supreme Court’s stand that protest is people’s constitutional right.”

Text:

National Alliance of People’s Movements is deeply agitated at the arbitrary house detention of Richa Singh, founder member of Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, national convenor of NAPM, and a committed activist who has been working with women, workers, dalits and farmers for three decades in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh. The UP police have detained her since the evening of 7th Jan, without an order or appropriate explanation.
In another part of the state, on the same day, an activist-delegation met the Divisional Commissioner, Varanasi and complained that the Police were reportedly calling them, even visiting their homes and harassing them for ‘going to Delhi and supporting the farmers' agitation’! 
The Additional District Magistrate has also issued a notice under Goondas Act to an activist, Ramjanam, who has been directed to appear before the Court on 15th Jan. The delegation also complained of similar harassment of Krupa Verma, Fazl-ur-Rehman Ansari, Lakshmi Prasad by the police.
We see these incidents as targeting voices of dissent and an attempt to suppress the rightful participation in protests by activists and members of the civil society. Such incidents need to be brought to the notice of the media and the public, and the authorities must be held accountable for them. Uttar Pradesh Govt should not be allowed to justify its rampant lawlessness on the arbitrary grounds of ‘law and order’ !

Circumstances of the house detention of Richa

On January 7, Richa Singh was stopped by the police, as she was joining the tractor rally in support of the farmers’ protests, in Sitapur, UP. While she was permitted to join the rally after speaking to the authorities, she was followed by two plainclothes police personnel.
On the evening of the same day, she was placed under house arrest and prevented from accessing medical care in Lucknow. The Sitapur kotwal, the City Magistrate and the CO, visited her house but were unwilling to provide more than ambiguous information regarding the reasons for her detention.

Lack of clarity regarding reasons for detention

In spite of multiple attempts to learn the reason why she has been placed under house arrest, the authorities only indicated that, based on ‘information’ they had received, they suspected she intended to join the farmers’ protests in Delhi. The details of this information have not been shared with her, contravening Richa Singh’s civil rights to be informed of the basis for her house arrest. There also does not seem to be an order for the arrest.
The authorities refused to take into account her repeated attempts to indicate that her intention was to visit a doctor in Lucknow, rather than join the farmers’ protests in Delhi. At the same time, participation in the farmers’ protests in itself could not have constituted grounds for house arrest, by any stretch of imagination.

Targeted state suppression of protest

All these incidents are part of a broader pattern of arbitrary detentions of democratic rights activists and leaders of farmer’s organisations across Uttar Pradesh and in other states of India. It reflects a rising trend to suppress voices of dissent and people’s demands, contravening the Supreme Court’s stand that protest is people’s constitutional right. 
Leaders and activists from various states, as well as members of the civil society, have been placed under house arrest and prevented from showing solidarity with the farmers’ protests from the beginning of the movement, including from holding local protests and joining the movement in Delhi. 
While this often takes place in the name of preventing the spread of the Coronavirus, it is in circumstances such as the present house arrest that the actual intention of the authoritarian State to clamp down on dissenting voices becomes clear.
NAPM demands that:
  1. UP police release Richa Singh from house arrest with immediate effect and allow her access to medical care and freedom of movement.
  2. UP police and government provide adequate explanation and compensation for the unconstitutional curbing of her right to travel and to access medical care over more than 48 hours. 
  3. UP Police must immediately withdraw the notice issued to activist Ramjanam under the Goondas Act. 
  4. That authorities across different states ensure the protection of the civil rights of citizens including the right to protest and make demands of the elected government. 
NAPM stands with all activists including Richa Singh, Ranjamam etc and asks citizens, activists and the media to vocally oppose such interference in the exercise of a citizen’s constitutional rights.
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