• Jaitley Wants to Bar Citizens from Speaking about Civil Liberties

    "As a former ward-mate of Jaitley – Ward No 14 of Tihar Jail – I have to remind Jaitley that the right to free speech is a constitutional right."

    Prabir Purkayastha

    June 27, 2017

     

    A Protest during Emergency


    In an open letter on the BJP website, Jaitley makes a strange argument: only those who protested against the Emergency have a right to speak about civil liberties in the country today. At one stroke, entire generations born after the Emergency — the bulk of our country's population today – has been told to hold its tongue. As a former ward-mate of Jaitley – Ward No 14 of Tihar Jail – I have to remind Jaitley that the right to free speech, therefore the right to criticise the government of the day, is a constitutional right. It cannot be taken away for her or him not protesting about the Emergency 43 years ago; or being born too late for such protests. Nor can we, just because Mrs. Gandhi took our liberties away during the 19-month Emergency, claim a permanent monopoly over it.

    Just for the record, it was during a 3-day strike against the Emergency in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that I was virtually kidnapped from the campus by plain clothes policemen. My crime? DP Tripathi, the then President of the students union, I and a few other students had stopped Maneka Gandhi – the then crown princess of Emergency and now Jaitley's cabinet colleague — from attending her classes. Yes, it was the same JNU, now in the cross-hairs of the current NDA government, that was a major locus of resistance during the Emergency. It was the same JNU that, during the Emergency, saw a number of students being denied admissions for their political record. The present government has done one better. It has decided that instead of selective denial of admission to students, they will drastically chop admissions to JNU by 80% to its research programs. And teach the faculty a lesson for its “anti-national” academics, and the students for their resistance to the Hindutva ideology.

    For Jaitley, there is no loss of civil liberties as long as the members of parliament are not arrested and press freedom is officially not taken away. That TV channels are being raided, that journalists in Chattisgarh are in jail, that police officers are forming mob brigades to attack lawyers and civil liberty activists, all count for nothing. Does anyone doubt the chilling effect on free speech of these events? Is it an accident that the major task 24-hour news channels today is not telling truth to power, but “exposing” the opposition? Or stings against an anti-nuclear energy activists, hounding their old parents and young children?

    Far more horrendous is the blanket attack on minorities, promoted by the Hindutva votaries, and supported by the state in various ways. A 15-year old is beaten, stabbed and killed in a train compartment in the capital region, his 17-year brother seriously injured – soon after Sadhvi Saraswati exhorted people to kill beef-eaters. No senior government official or minister can take time out from their yoga to even visit the family. The police are describing this heinous murder as a clash over train seats. A clash? Between 15 and 17-year old young boys and a knife-wielding mob of 10-15 people? Accusing these young boys of being beef eaters?

    Why has no senior Minister or the Prime Minister spoken about such attacks? It needed a huge campaign of returning awards in 2015 by the literary community for Modi to express “sorrow”, not condemnation, on Akhlaq's murder. Now we have had Pehlu Khan and Junaid being lynched, one after another. The attacks on Muslims are growing every day. Not only physical attacks, but attacks on their livelihood, their choice of food, dress. Attacks on Dalits, as we saw in Una and in Saharanpur.

    Yes, we have press freedom in the sense that we can write what we want, even if most papers won't publish it. We have the right to speak, but not on television, even if news channels debates are about the “key issue of the day” – should we declare war on Pakistan in the morning or in the evening? This apparently, is only what India wants to know.

    Yes, we have formal freedoms. But what about the undeclared loss of these freedoms, the disappearing of criticism from public spaces, the attack on minorities, the Dalits, the tribal population; the loss of their lands, their livelihoods, their way of life? Jaitley cannot “censor” people for speaking up about these losses just because they did not protest 43 years back.
     


     

    Prabir Purkayastha is a science activist and one of the founding members of Delhi Science Forum

    Published here with the permission of Newsclick.

    Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.