PEACE in association with INSAF, PCSDS, HRDA and many more organisations/ networks are organizing a national convention on human rights defenders called “Reclaiming Rights, Asserting Freedoms”. The convention is proposed to be held on March 22-23, 2017, at Rajendra Bhavan, New Delhi. Text of the concept note it has circulated to activists across India:
Thousands of activists and human rights defenders are struggling to survive the suspension of constitutional rights and rule of law that defines the political climate in India today. This undeclared emergency is being enforced not only by the governments at the centre and in the States, but by an aggressive army of “proud Indians” who have bought into a distorted, monochromatic and ahistorical idea of the nation.
In this supposedly patriotic world-view, India is seen as the most glorious civilisation imaginable, reaching unprecedented heights of progress under a leader who can do no wrong. Anyone who refuses to swallow this idea and uncritically support each new prescription for economic, political and social “vikaas” is anti-national by definition. Anyone who questions the wisdom of the rulers and their diktats is a dangerous threat to the nation, and a legitimate target for violence unleashed by the state as well as by vigilante gangs of “patriots” who operate with the encouragement and blessing of the state.
These so-called “offences against the nation” cover a wide range of acts. Challenging government policies; using instruments such as the RTI Act or the SC/ST Atrocities Act; challenging misuse of power by caste, class or political elites; mobilising to resist forcible eviction or land acquisition; publicly protesting violations of rights and freedoms; investigating police violence such as rape, sexual assault, torture, encounters and custodial deaths; seeking justice for state-sponsored violence; following one’s own choices and inclinations in personal spaces such as bedrooms and kitchens, or even failing to stand for the national anthem – all these have become risky and life-threatening acts in India today.
A toxic political climate has been created and normalised, in which the Constitution itself is no longer sacrosanct. Democratic rights and freedoms guaranteed to every citizen by the Constitution – right to equality and dignity, right to dissent, right to equal treatment before the law, freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of movement – are now identified as the greatest threats to democracy. Those who insist on demanding, claiming, upholding and protecting these rights and freedoms are identified as dangerous and seditious enemies of the state, to be silenced and suppressed by any means.
No effort is spared in the mission of silencing and suppressing these defenders of rights and freedoms, whether social activists, journalists and writers, lawyers, leaders of movements, researchers and academics, whistleblowers, NGOs and professional associations. They are targeted with murderous attacks, hounded and slandered. Rape, sexual assault and sexual violence are the patriotic prescriptions for women activists. Draconian laws for “maintenance of order” and “public security” are invoked to arrest and incarcerate human rights defenders as “terrorists”, “Maoist sympathisers” or simply “traitors”.
They are subjected to torture and sexual violence in jail. Their families are threatened and attacked by goon squads. False cases and concocted charges are foisted on them, and they face torture and mistreatment in prison. Their families are ostracised and often reduced to penury. Lawyers are prevented from fighting their cases. Trolls pursue and attack them online and on social media. Their attackers both in and out of uniform are protected by their political affiliations and flaunt their impunity.
Democratic institutions are being systematically undermined and destroyed. Universities are being re-conceptualised as indoctrination centres where unpatriotic tendencies of rationality, independent thinking and critical questioning are discouraged. Obedient robots are given charge of cultural and academic institutions, where they are busily erasing the boundaries between myth and history, science and superstition, justice and appeasement. Parliament, the courts and human rights institutions are treated with open contempt by the rulers and are increasingly reduced to mute bystanders and helpless witnesses to the attempted murder of democracy.
But resistance is alive. Despite the concerted campaign to silence and suppress them, thousands of human rights defenders, students, activists and concerned citizens continue to stand their ground and are fighting to assert, protect and claim the rights and freedoms granted by the Constitution.
- Let us come together to affirm and celebrate our solidarity, commitment and collective strength, and chart the way forward.
- We will not remain isolated!
- We will not remain silent!
- We will not allow this situation to continue!