Activists, academicians and politicians came together to speak out against arrests in the Bhima Koregaon case at a press conference organised by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
A total of 12 speakers spoke through the Zoom meet which was attended by Shashi Tharoor of Indian National Congress, Sitaram Yechury of CPI(M), D Raja from CPI, Supriya Sule of NCP, K Kanimozhi of DMK and Hemant Soren the Chief Minister of Jharkhand.
Speakers also included activist Dayamani Barla, academician Jean Dreze, legal practitioner Mihir Desai, Rupali Jadhav of Kabir Kala Manch, Joseph Marianus Kujur of XISS Jharkhand and Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas.
Starting the press conference, Suresh V of PUCL said that the press conference had been called in the background of the arrest of 83 year-old Stan Swamy, to condemn the illegal arrest of all the sixteen who have been arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case, to demand their release and to also create a citizens’ platform involving political parties, social movements, trade unions, and others against the draconian UAPA.
“For the last six years we have seen a brazen abuse of the criminal laws of the country,” said Suresh.
“The Bhima Koregaon case has become a model to be followed in Delhi. It has also become a model as is now happening in the Hathras case where anybody raising any questions; not remotely asking questions about the government, but asking questions of accountability are being blamed as being people who are being egged by people from the outside and as working against the state.”
UAPA’s draconian provisions is its bail law by which it becomes impossible for anyone to get bail. In an answer given by the Home Minister in the parliament is very revealing that there has been a steady increase in the number of people arrested every year from 999 arrested under UAPA in 2016 to 1554 in 2017 and 1431 in 2018. The conviction rate is less than 25%,” he added.
“In almost 43% of the cases, charge sheets have taken more than a year or more than two years to be filed. The imprisonment itself is the punishment that is given to them even though in most of the cases they are acquitted at the end,” he said. “Anyone who believes draconian laws have no place in constitutional democracies should come forward and come together against the law,” he said.
“If you are a Muslim, you say you are a Jihadi. If you are a Christian you say you are into conversion. Some letter is produced saying he is a Maoist. Now Maoist and conversion are contradiction in terms,” said Mihir Desai referring to Stan Swamy’s arrest and the evidence cited by NIA.
“I personally feel that all of them will be acquitted but the process itself is the punishment,” he said about those arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case. “UAPA, till it is on the law books, will always lead to these kinds of situations. I think the demand has to be made that UAPA has to be repealed, lock stock and barrel. There is no dilution here which will help.”
Speaking about Stan Swamy, Hemant Soren, Chief Minister of Jharkhand said it is very sad that Stan who had worked with the underprivileged in Jharkhand for decades was arrested at his advanced age. Calling for opposition unity, he said, “When a dictatorship is in full display, there shouldn’t be any hesitation on the part of opposition parties to come together. Today it is Stan Swamy. Tomorrow it will be you and me.”
Speaking from Jharkhand, Fr Dr Marianus Kajur of XISS, Jharkhand asked, “How is it that a man who has been working in Jharkhand for 60 odd years with no one raising their finger on his integrity and nationalism suddenly became anti-national now? Stan is being arrested for being the face of tribal assertion,” he said. “We stand with Stan and the others.”
“It is at a very important point in politics of the country that this meet is being held,” said K Kanimozhi of DMK. “We have been seeing that voices of dissent and protests are being silenced. This has been going on for a few years. It is the silence of society which has allowed the government and authorities to go on with what they are doing.
I think this is a point where the political parties as well as civil society organisations and people of this country have to make a very important decision. Whether we remain silent and let this process continue? Are we going to say enough, stand up and fight against this?” she asked.
“If silence is going to be the answer, I think in a few years’ time we will not see what we have come to understand what India is and there will not be any respect for democracy and the democratic fabric of this country. If we have to save that and regain what we have lost, I think this is the time to stand up together, keep aside all our differences, come together and fight these draconian laws,” she concluded.
“There is no doubt that UAPA has been grossly misused and continues to be grossly misused,” said Sitaram Yechury of CPI(M).
“There is no question therefore that UAPA in this form cannot continue to exist. I would appeal to all the political parties here, and the civil society movements that do not see these only as an isolated single law issue. You have the UAPA, the NSA, the sedition act; sedition act, which my party has been opposing from day one, that it is anachronistic, it is part of the British Rule, part of the crown that had to be protected and that it should be removed from the statute books. This government has appointed another committee to strengthen who all can be covered under the sedition act. The pointed issue in all these acts is that any dissent of the government is not tolerable for the present government. And therefore, anybody who expressed dissent is anti-national.”
“It is not a question of amending the law any more. Like the POTA, this must go from the statute books. And whatever the other measures needed to tackle terrorism and anti-national activities can be considered but not these kinds of laws which can be grossly misused.”
“We can’t look at Stan’s arrest separately. It is an attempt to silence those speaking against the government,” said activist Dayamani Barla.
“It not an issue of misuse of UAPA but the use of UAPA to target activists,” said D Raja of CPI. “We should demand release of all accused,” he said.
“I stand with Stan Swamy as do millions in India,” said Shashi Tharoor extending support to calls for Stan’s release.
“We are soft targets. We are people’s artists. We are not any one political side,” said Rupali Jadhav of Kabir Kala Manch whose artists were arrested by NIA and who had organised the Elgar Parishad meeting. “They searched our homes two years back and found nothing. And then NIA when it has to file chargesheet, all of a sudden our people become accused,” she alleged.
“We are living under an unannounced emergency,” said Supriya Sule of NCP. “We must raise our voices now,” she said.
Jean Dreze speaking at the meeting raised the point that this as not only the issue of a few intellectuals being arrested. “There are thousands of people hailing from poor backgrounds who end up spending years in jails with no evidence against them,” he said.
Asked if a JP-like movement could be expected with all opposition parties coming together to oppose the government, Sitaram Yechury said, “We are trying. The realisation is happening all around. I personally would want it to happen a lost faster.
This is not an isolated issue of misusing a law. This is part of a larger agenda. And the larger agenda is to pave the way for the establishment of a theocratic rabidly intolerant fascist Hindutva rashtra which has been their objective for the last one century or so,” he said.