Presumed guilty, until cleared by NDA: India’s new template on dissent

  • KumKum Dasgupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 23, 2016 14:33 IST
What is happening at the central level is providing state governments the confidence and moral support to harass and scare those who dare to question it. The handling of the Jawaharlal Nehru University row is the latest in a long list of how the Centre is cracking down on dissent. (Sushil Kumar/ Hindustan Times)

The Centre’s hard handling of the Jawaharlal Nehru University case, and several other previous cases of dissent involving NGOs and minorities, is providing a template to states and its law enforcement officials on ways to tackle those who question their politics and policies.

Read more: JNU row: Patriots build nation, don’t assault imaginary enemies

Take for example, Chhattisgarh. If the Centre is branding dissenters as ‘anti-nationalists’, Chhattisgarh is painting them as ‘pro-Maoists’ to justify its actions, much of it illegal, against them.

In fact, the state doesn’t even need a central template on how to choke anti-state voices because it has been quite adept at doing the same under the garb of anti-Maoist operations.

But what is happening at the central level is not only emboldening chief minister Raman Singh’s government and other states but also providing them with the confidence and moral support they need to harass and scare those who dare to question its decisions.

Read more: Expressing your opinion shouldn’t be a dangerous act in India

No room for dissent

In the last few weeks, there have been four victims of the techniques that Chhattisgarh has perfected, the latest being the vicious chemical attack on tribal activist and AAP leader Soni Sori by “unknown assailants” in Dantewada district on February 20.

The attack came just a few days after Sori tried to lodge a police complaint against controversial IPS officer and Bastar range Inspector General (IG) of Police SRP Kalluri for alleged intimidation.

This is not the first time Sori has been attacked; in 2011, she was arrested on charges of helping Maoists and was lodged in Dantewada jail. She claimed that she was stripped naked and tortured with electric shocks on the orders of the then police chief.

In the last few weeks, two woman lawyers who helped tribals fight legal battles against the state, and a journalist who raised uncomfortable questions about the state machinery and human rights violation, have been forced to leave Chhattisgarh.

Read more: After journalist, lawyers forcibly evicted in Bastar

In 2010, the state hounded out Himanshu Kumar, a Dantewada-based activist even though he had worked in collaboration with the government to implement schemes for education, healthcare, women empowerment and cleanliness for 22 years.

Kumar fell out with the state after he started providing legal aid to poor tribals accused of helping Maoists.

Read more: In Chhattisgarh, children face Maoist threat for speaking up

And who can forget the Binayak Sen case? In 2010, the public health specialist was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by Raipur Sessions Court for sedition and helping Maoists set up a network to fight the state.

Sen was granted bail in 2011 by the Supreme Court which gave no reason for the order. Sen has filed an appeal before the Chhattisgarh High Court and the case is pending.

If this is the state of affairs in ‘mainland’ India, can we expect any better in the insurgency-hit Northeast? In October last year, five newspaper editors in Nagaland were asked by Assam Rifles to desist from covering the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), which was declared a terror organisation by the Centre on September 28 last year.

The pattern that is emerging is not only alarming but is also undermining the very constitutional values that the country has been proud of.

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