A well-attended and qualitative discussion on “The Threat to Democracy” was organized by Janhastakshep on the 8th of November, 2022 in the Conference Hall at the Press Club of India. The main speakers who addressed the discussion included Justice Anjana Prakash, retired judge of Patna High Court, senior journalist Saba Naqvi, Sh N D Pancholi of Delhi PUCL and noted human rights lawyer and activist Teesta Setalvad who addressed the meeting through a video message due to her last day inability to come to Delhi in person due to ill-health. National President of the Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), Com Aparna also made significant contribution to the discussion.
This meeting was held in the context of neo-fascism scaling unprecedented heights. The draconian ‘Black Laws’ that were at one time deployed to suppress struggles of the labouring masses – the workers, peasants and people of struggling nationalities are today a routine feature, clawing students, academicians, political and human rights activists, artists, Dalits, Muslims and tribal people. To the contrary rapists, murderers and hate mongers are fully patronised by the state and eulogized. Virtual bowing subjugation to power by the people is the very order of the day.
Addressing the discussion Justice Anjana Prakash emphasized that despite draconian provisions earlier there remained a scope for the judiciary to obstruct n the enforcement of these laws to provide relief to the people; however, the kind of amendments to different laws that have been initiated by the present government severely violate the integrity of the judicial process itself and do not comply to the fundamental constitutional basis s that uphold the rights of the citizens. This has delivered a crippling blow to the courts to provide relief to the victims of these laws, chiefly the UAPA. She also expressed that it is imperative for the courts to question the legal and constitutional premise of the amendments that have been introduced in laws like the UAPA which have virtually cut ouit any scope for courts to grant bail to those booked under UAPA.
Saba Naqvi began her address by reminding the audience of the fact that 8th November marked the 6th anniversary of Modi government’s fatal decision of ‘Demonitisation’ which mercilessly wounded the vast unorganized sector of the economy and striping many of their livelihoods which threw people into the doldrums. With the nefarious corporatization of the media and control over it by corporate houses that are the chief patrons of the present regime the mainstream media today has become a tool of inculcating hate and targeting of the oppressed sections of the society. She cited examples of how the Parliament had been stripped of its backbone by the Modi government to promote legislative measures in consolidating its divisive agenda. On top of that the opposition also has been effectively marginalized. Its bankruptcy owes to its own politics as also the overbearing advantage in terms of resources that the RSS-BJP government has ensured for itself through measures like electoral bonds. All this has chalked the path for further defacing the constitution. The latest Supreme Court judgment upholding 10 percent reservation for the upper caste economically weaker sections manifests its true nature.
Teesta Setalvad in her address titled as – ‘Hate speech is rampant while free speech is criminalized’ brought out the multifarious ways in which hate speech is being spread and condoned in the society, imperiling the interests of the people and the country at large. She emphasized that “subversive attempts are being made to perpetrate hate speech and legitimize hate letting as a means of dehumanizing and invisiblising large sections of Indian population, specifically the Muslims.” She further emphasized that “The widespread and pretty portent and brazen use of hate speech against politically targeted sections not only makes the human conditions prone to discrimination and out right violence, but it also renders the constitutional rights and guarantees enshrined in Articles 14, 15, 16, 19 and 21 of the Constitution hollowed out and shallow.” She asserted that “The radio silence from the top political leadership occupying Constitutional positions in fact gives the stamp of complicity to this hate speech.”
In his address N D Pancholi gave emphasis on galvanising a wide range of people in defence of ‘Democratic Rights’. It is only in fluttering the flag of protest that any remnants of hope will remain to overcome the brutal attack on Peoples’ rights and Democracy in the country. He gave the example of TADA which, even though converted into a law by the Parliament, had to be repealed, facing intensive confrontation from the people.
Com Aparna focused on the attack on the federal structure of the Constitution and the rights of the States by the RSS-BJP government which has intensified problems at the end of the States to be able to take measures for fulfilling the interests of their people.
AN attached resolution was unanimously passed by the gathering. The meeting ended with a vote of thanks to the speakers and the participants.
Perhaps what was not addressed was how to formulate a path of how a civil liberties movement would be constructed .taking into account the exploitative nature of the socio-economic order and the mass struggles. It also needed to address the specific nature of Indian neo-fascism and how all opposition parties were in essence representatives of the autocratic social system and not secular. In the future it is important that leaders of Muslim minorities, dalits, farmers and agricultural labourers address such gatherings.
The meeting proposed a draft ‘Undermining Institutions-A Threat to Democracy,’ projecting the alarming situation prevailing in the country at present wherein a systematic reign of terror is being unleashed upon the people by the government and its organs. The following draft resolutions were proposed.
- The government and its organs must stop suppressing the institutions and respect the democratic rights of the people and the dignity of the institutions. The integrity and independence of the institutions upon whose functioning democracy rests – including media and judiciary must be untouched from threat of all fear and pressures so that they may operate independently for the people of the country.
- The Judiciary, especially the higher judiciary be alerted to protect the Constitution of India, people of India from the draconian laws like UAPA and such other laws and ensure that the same set of standards be applied to all and bail should be the general rule and jail is an exception in case of need.
- All people arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case and the North-East Delhi riots case under the draconian UAPA should be granted bail and that the principle as laid down by the Supreme Court that Bail should be the norm and Jail an exception should be upheld in letter and spirit.
- All Democratic and Human Rights Organizations must in aligning large masses of the intelligentsia in defense of these rights to safeguard peoples’ struggles.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who covers mass movements all around India and close to the civil liberties movement.