HRDA-India: Support to Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand
By: Henri Tiphagne, Honorary National Working Secretary, Human Rights Defenders Alert – India
The Human Rights Defenders Alerts – India [HRDA], is shocked to hear about the denial of anticipatory bail to renowned human rights activists Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand by the Gujarat High Court on February 12, 2015.
The Gujarat High Court in this particular case of an allegation of misuse of funds further commented that ‘The facts of this case reflect the sorry state of affairs of the NGOs’. “How can one seek materialistic pleasure and happiness at the expense of the poor and needy persons. How can one even use five paise which is meant for the poor and the needy. The facts of this case reflect the sorry state of affairs of the NGOs…The donations are made with lot of trust and hope that ultimately the money would reach the poor and the needy. However, here is a case where, in the name of the poor, needy and unfortunate riot-affected victims, lakhs of rupees was received and embezzled,” said the court, adding that it was “shocking and disturbing”. The HRDA strongly condemns the comments of the Judge of the Gujarat High Court as they are completely uncalled for, based without any substantive evidence and seriously impinge on the right of all NGOs and civil society groups. These comments are even before the investigation in the FIR is complete totally damaging to a human rights defender of international repute. The Supreme Court of India stayed the arrest of the activists and agreed to hear the anticipatory bail plea the next day on February 19, 2015. HRDA appreciates this speedy intervention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.
This particular case in question is with regard to a trust that was formed in 2007 to build a memorial for the victims in Gulberg Society during the 2002 Gujarat Riots. The Court has also failed to appreciate that ‘Memoralization’ is a human rights engagement that no one but Teesta and her colleagues had attempted to keep the memory of the Gujarat carnage alive in the minds of our Indian society so that the sanctity of our secular fabric is protected from further such attempts. Due to an increase in the land prices, the trust couldn’t afford the said plan and with the due consent of the grant donors utilized the funds for legal aid for the riot victims and petitions challenging the role of the State. An embezzlement case was filed in January 2014 and the Gujarat High Court was moved for an anticipatory bail. For more than a year, the anticipatory bail matter has been pending in court. It is also important to take note of the fact that the Supreme Court has found itself been repeatedly asked to intervene in cases related to the Gujarat Riots. HRDA is alarmed by the speed in which a petition for anticipatory bail has been handled by the Gujarat High Court – for more than one year!!
This particular matter however is not directly related to the Gujarat Riots, both Teesta and Javed for now over 11 years have been working for justice for the victims and survivors of Gujarat Riots. Their role has been instrumental in obtaining life sentences for former Gujarat State Minister Maya Kodnani, Bajrang Dal Leader Babu Bajrangi and more than a hundred others. This particular denial of anticipatory bail also comes in the light of several senior police officers accused in a series of cases relating to Gujarat Riots being granted bail by the courts and reinstated back in senior positions in the state police.
This is not the first time that Human Rights Defenders working for justice and truth with regard to Gujarat Riots have been targeted. Teesta herself has been targeted in several other false criminal cases for which she had to seek anticipatory bail from the Supreme Court. It is clearly a part of repeated attempts to discredit human rights defenders and attacks on them.
HRDA strongly condemns the ongoing attacks on human rights defenders in the state of Gujarat and this particular case of attack on Teesta, her husband Javed and their colleagues by the State. These repeated attempts by the state of Gujarat to push the activists on defensive line have constantly failed over 11 years. The response of the State is in contrary to the assurances of states in the UN Declaration of HRDs and in fact it emphasizes all the work that Teesta, Javed and their colleagues have been carrying on patiently and silently. HRDA also humbly requests the judiciary to be sensitive to the NGOs and civil society groups and refrain from passing generic statements having serious implication for people and their reputations, constantly working for human rights and development.
HRDA demands that the NHRC which is to organize a national workshop for Human Rights Defenders in New Delhi on the 19th February and to which it has also invited Teesta Setalvad to participate, will in effect ensure that it [the NHRC] intervenes before the Supreme Court of India in the anticipatory bail petition under Sec 12(b) of the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993, because this is a matter which impinges on the human rights of human rights defenders. It is at times like this that an institutional protector of HRDs, like the NHRC has to take ‘extra-ordinary’ measures for extra-ordinary human rights defenders like Teesta.
HRDA reminds the higher Courts of this country that HRDs across the globe are now armed with a mandate from the U N Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1998 which mandates them to: individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels. [Art 1]. HRDs also have the right to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. [Art 9[C]. It is this engagement that Teesta and her colleagues have been engaging in Gujarat since 2002.
(Human Rights Defenders Alert – India is a national network for the protection and promotion of human rights defenders in the country. It is a platform to extend solidarity and assistance to Human Rights Defenders in trouble / at risk.)
Indian Democracy and the Current Political Dispensation
(Text of the Dr Asghar Ali Engineer Memorial Lecture at Idcol Auditorium, Bhubaneswar)
By Dr. Ram Puniyani
I begin this lecture paying tribute to my very dear friend, Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, with whom I had the rare privilege of working with for close to two decades. Dr. Engineer was a unique scholar-activist, totally committed to the dream and vision of a humane society that honours the values of diversity and where human rights for all are the defining point.
In this regard, he may have been among the first persons who realized the dangers of divisive communal politics. It was he who set the trend seeking the causal factors behind communal violence, doing his own meticulous investigation after such riots. He contributed massively to reforms that took place in the Bohra community, on the issues of secularism and finally, in the interpretation of Islam. We need to learn a lot from him in order to strive for a society that values peace, amity and compassion.
Where are we standing today? What are the major threats to Indian democracy, today, even more menacing with the coming of the Modi Government?
The factors contributing to his victory have been several. The unstinted support given to him by India’s corporate; the fanatical zeal of the RSS and its lakhs of volunteers; the role of a corporate controlled media; the false projection of the ‘Gujarat model of development’; and the polarization of society along religious lines.
The promise of Achhe Din
– Good Times – has vanished into thin air. Despite the steep fall in the prices of crude oil in the world, the overall ‘cost of living’ continues to going up. The promise that all the black money stacked abroad will be brought back within six months or so and that we would be surprised to see 15 lakh deposited in our accounts, has been forgotten. The pattern of (good?) governance is only visible in the centralization of power around one person, Modi. Gradually the cabinet system of governance is giving way to one man’s autocratic ways, with secretaries of Government departments reporting directly to the PM.
On the domestic front obstacles are being created with the funding of NGOs, Greenpeace being the major victim. The welfare schemes begun by the previous Government have come under the chopping block. The corporate world that richly funded Modi’s campaign, smiles all the way to their coffers, given the ‘no holds barred’ permissions for reckless industrialization that bypass all environmental, social and economic controls. There has been a great amount of pomp and show on display, and around this much hype created around the persona of the new prime minister.
The losers in all of this have been the weaker sections of society. The ‘labour reforms’ brought in by this government will do away with whatever little protective clauses are there for them. The land acquisition by industrialists is being made easy at the cost of those who own the lands. The other social welfare schemes needed for the poor, the right to food and health are under the threat of being done away with too.
The intimidation of religious minorities has been stepped up. One central minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti was emboldened enough to call all non-Hindus as haramzade
, illegitimate. Another saffron robed BJP leader went on to glorify Nathuram Godse for his ‘patriotism’ while also advising Hindu women to produce more children. Godse, the murderer of Mahatma Gandhi has now been glorified by Hindutva elements, emboldened as they have been by the current government. Christmas Day was declared as ‘Good Governance Day’ in a move to undermine this festival. Demands are made that the Gita, the Hindu holy book be made the ‘national book’ of India. Attacks on churches and mosques have been taking place at regular intervals. The statements that we are Hindus and this is a Hindu Rashtra have become more and more assertive.
Through all this Narendra Modi maintains a studious silence, being as all this is, an integral part of the agenda of the BJP and its parent organization, the RSS. Their basic goal is to take the country towards the narrow concept of Hindu nationalism, a sectarian nationalism not different from either Muslim extremism or Christian fundamentalism.
In this context, it helps to recall that the streams of ‘religious nationalism’ in India came up as a reaction to the rise of Indian nationalism, when the feudal lords and kings came together to form the United India Patriotic Association (UIPA) in 1888, later joined by elites from the middle class and the upper castes. From the UIPA, on one side emerged the Muslim League and on the other, the Hindu Mahasabha, both positing a religious nationalism.
Taking up the goal of a Hindu nation formulated by the Hindu Mahasabha’s Savarkar, the RSS was formed in 1925 and began indoctrinating in the ideology that India was a ‘Hindu’ nation, where Christians and Muslims were foreigners. This was in sharp contrast to the inclusive notions of nationalism articulated by other leaders from Mahatma Gandhi to Bhagat Singh to Dr. Ambedkar.
What must be remembered is that the communal organizations kept themselves aloof from the freedom movement and chose instead to spread hatred, bringing communal violence to the fore. Such violence only increased in intensity and we collectively suffered a massive tragedy in the form of partitioning the country that saw suffering of severe proportion on sides, mass migration and unprecedented violence.
It helps to keep in mind that the colonial British policy of ‘divide and rule’ was ably assisted by communal organizations on both sides of the fence. It was an RSS-indoctrinated pracharak
, a preacher, Nathuram Godse who murdered Mahatma Gandhi – the first major attack of Hindu nationalism on a broader Indian nationalism.
While the RSS on the one hand ignored the freedom movement, on the other hand it its swayamsevaks in the narrow ideology of Hindu nationalism, and it was these volunteers, in turn, who infiltrated the police, bureaucracy and other components of state machinery. They also spawned subordinate organizations – the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and Bajrang Dal; women relatives of RSS supporters formed the Rashtra Sevika Samiti under the guidance of RSS.
And right through this, the RSS harped on issues of ‘identity’ – like the one related to ‘cow protection’; intimidating religious minorities with the ‘Indianization of Muslims’ campaign, hinting Muslims were not Indian.
By the time the 80s broke, the Hindutva battalion’s word of mouth propaganda, aided by sections of the media and the re-writing of history in our school books, led to ‘social common sense’ with Muslims presented in negative light. This presence was enhanced along even narrower lines when they shamelessly demolished the Babri Masjid, rolling the Rath Yatra of Advani and leaving violence in its wake.
This only ensured the violence would intensify. The so-called ‘identity’ was now projected as the only
. This deepened the polarization along religious lines, leading to the massive violence in Mumbai, Surat, and Bhopal in 1992-93, culminating in the now infamous Gujarat violence in 2002.
It was not only Muslims being targeted. From the late 80s, the other minority community, Christians, were also brought into the vortex of communal violence, projected as indulging in ‘conversions’. This divisive violence in Adivasi areas led to the brutal killing of Pastor Graham Staines along with his two innocent sons in 1999, and later to the horrific killings in Kandhamal in 2008.
All this is nothing more than what was articulated by the major RSS ideologue, M.S. Golwalkar, who claimed that India was a Hindu Rashtra from times immemorial, that religious minorities should live at the mercy of majority or be totally denied their rights as citizens.
The year 2015 marks is the second time that BJP is in the seat of power. When it ruled in 1998, with a coalition NDA, the BJP as a party did not have simple majority, so its agenda was low key. It was not quite though. It communalized the school text books, ‘saffronized’ education, and gave importance to faith based subjects like Astrology and Paurohitya
, the training of Hindu priests. It also tested the waters to change the Constitution and formed the ‘Constitution Review Committee’.
With the BJP now having a simple majority, their agenda unfolds in an uninhibited manner. They have wrought changes in all national bodies, people with their communal mindset now occupying positions of importance. One Prof. K. Sudarshan Rao, head of the Indian Council of Historical Research, while a nonentity among professional historians, holds that the caste system was beneficial and presents the complex mythology of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the two great epics, as lived history. Sanskrit is being promoted despite the fact that it was never a language of masses.
While the promotion of a scientific temper is the guiding principle of our Constitution, this government now promotes an orthodox, obscurantist ideology as being central to the arena of science. We are now told that ancient India had all the technology in aviation science and plastic surgery – all intended to show primacy over current developments in science and technology. India has contributed much by way of the works of Charat, Sushrut and Aryabhata but to claim ancient Indian science more advanced is merely to assert ‘we are the best’, a path in tune with the retrograde direction of the Hindutva brigade.
A democracy has to ensure that the values of liberty, equality and fraternity are paramount. With the Modi Government’s Hindutva agenda, they have now attempted to tamper with the Constitution by removing the words ‘Secularism’ and ‘Socialism’. The total bypassing of the concerns of the minorities and those is a grave danger to the very values which were at the core of India’s freedom movement. We are now at that crucial juncture of history where the very existence of the Indian Constitution is at stake.
We need to wake up in right earnest and face this threat. What is required is a multi pronged movement based on the rights and concerns of Dalits, women, workers, Adivasis and minorities in particular. We need to form alliances and platforms to coordinate our campaigns for the defence of our democratic rights. All those standing for democracy and secularism need to come together in solidarity. We have to hold hands and march together to protect our democracy. We need to work towards isolation of communal forces by pushing for alliance of non communal political formations. Sectarian politics, Hindu Nationalism, is akin to that of fascist and fundamentalist regimes, having some features of one and some features of the other.
In such a dispensation, the democratic space stands to lose. Symptoms of this are visible in the banning of some books and introduction of others, like penned by RSS ideologue Dinanath Batra.
It is therefore more important than ever before that the space in the social, print and TV media be reclaimed. We must resolve to work seriously to promote diversity, pluralism and those liberal values which go with our human and democratic values.
(Dr. Ram Puniyani is a Professor in Biomedical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Powai. He is concerned with issues related to social problems, particularly the ones related to preservation of democratic and secular ethos in our life. Puniyani has been spreading the message of peace and amity through lectures, publications, workshops and meetings and by travelling extensively to different parts of the country disseminating messages of secularism, pluralism and communal harmony. His lectures focus on the need for national integration and communal harmony.)
Issues of HRDs and suggested measures to NHRC
By Akhand, CSFHR
‘National Workshop on Human Rights Defenders' organized by the National Human Rights Commission concluded in New Delhi on 19 February. The workshop emphasized on the need to develop an effective and conducive environment by the Government, recognizing the efforts of Human Rights Defenders in protection and promotion of Human Rights.
Apart from taking stock of the implementation of several recommendations given by the Commission to the Governments following its 'National Seminar on Human Rights Defenders' in 2009, the Workshop came out with several other suggestions to strengthen the mechanism wherein the Human Rights Defenders are given protection and their work is valued.
The NHRC invited me to the workshop as a speaker and it was a great opportunity for me to present a set of recommendations in the workshop. Prior to that, a small consultation with many Human Rights Defenders was held at CSNR office to discuss the major recommendations from Odisha to be put before the commission.
Some of the recommendations presented by me before the NHRC:
Human Rights Defenders:
In recent days, many RTI( Right to Information) activists have been harassed and even murdered for seeking information to promote transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authority in India. In Odisha, Identity proof for RTI applicant is made mandatory while seeking information whereas the same is not required in any other state. As a result, many RTI applicants’ identity is leaked out and they are being targeted, abused, attacked and even killed. NHRC may ask the state Government to withdraw such a provision. It will be good if the Information Commission set up focal point/special cell for dealing with case of RTI activist in risks.
It is a positive development that the Central Government has legislated the Whistle blowers Protection Act, which will definitely help RTI activists, HRDs and others. Now, it is necessary that governments to come out with corresponding Rules, operational guidelines and mechanisms and ensure implementation of the same. NHRC may recommend the Union/State Governments to take necessary actions in this regard.
Journalists are also being targeted by the police authority. False and fabricated cases have been registered against the Journalist who exposed corruption in the system and nexus between mafias and police. One recent case from Odisha is arrest of rural reporter Sushant Padhan. He was arrested on 22 January in a fabricated case and when he got released on bail on 12th February, Police arrested him again from the Jail Campus. Now again he got bail on 16th February.
NHRC must immediately take steps to ask the state/UT to make it public as to what measures they have taken in compliance with the request of Secretary General, NHRC ‘to take appropriate steps to ensure conducive working environment for the HRDs within their jurisdiction’. Due measures should be taken so that immediate security can be provided to HRDs in case of security threats. The United National Declaration on HRDs is rectified by the Indian Government. There is a need to have an Act and necessary mechanisms at place in our given context on the basis of this declaration. UPR recommendation on HRD should be worked out immediately for the interest of HRDs.
Right to form association and peaceful assembly is grossly violated. Under FCRA 2010, organizing peaceful demonstrations (rally) or protest etc. are taken as ‘political natured’ activities. The organizations working with a human rights cause are under constant surveillance. NHRC may recommend to Government to repeal the provision in the act. Registration of Income tax exemption (12 A) is being intentionally denied to the Organizations on flimsy grounds. Leaking of ‘intelligence bureau’ report on ‘suspicious NGOs’ has made a number of human rights NGOs cornered and demonized in the media. All these actions of the Government severely affect the fund-raising activities of the Organizations. NHRC may take these issues seriously and act promptly to protect the rights of Organization HRDs.
Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) is being misused against HRDs throughout the country. Human rights activism is being deliberately targeted. We have a numbers of such instances in Odisha. It should be reviewed and appropriately amended for the interest of HRDs working peacefully and democratically for the promotion of Human rights works in the country.
Designated Human Rights Courts are not functional in the state. So, our suggestion to NHRC is kindly ask all state Government about the status and function of Human Rights Courts in their concerned states. It may, please, ask to set up special human rights court. There is a strong feeling that the Courts are not for poor and marginalized people. While it is expected that Legal Aid Service Authorities to come in aid of these sections of people, but, unfortunately we find these bodies either at national, state or district are not functioning as it should be. The NHRC may conduct a study on the issue of justice delivery to poor and marginalized people.
Police system in the country is one of the most important mechanisms for justice delivery, protection of human rights and HRDs. But many a times, police is found to be violators of rights of the HRDs. So I do suggest setting up a special cell at least in office of Director General of Police of the every state to address the issue of HRDs. Independent probe should be ordered if any police case is filled against HRDs. Because it is now a practice that Police can easily frame a defender in any case and send him to jail. Present practice of filing of FIR in police station is a dark area, needs immediate intervention by the NHRC. Nobody knows what may happen in case she/he visits a police station to file a FIR. There should be robust, transparent and an accountable system for FIR filing and it should accessible to any common man.
There are many rights institutions, where political biased appointment is there in case of posting Chairpersons, members and other officials. It violates the basic principles of Human Rights. So this system should be improved.
Many times NHRC transfers ‘cases’ to State Human Rights Commission. There is a need on the part of the NHRC to consider if the referred Body has adequate carrying capacity or not, if the ‘complaint’ will get fair treatment or not. Otherwise, it will be an injustice to the ‘complainant’.
There must be certain defined criteria/list of topics about which cases should handled by the NHRC and which can be transferred to State Commissions. As there is a focal point for HRD in NHRC and HRDs are vulnerable to local political dynamics, we do suggest not transferring case relating to risk to HRDs. There has to be strong and positive coordination among NHRC, SHRC and other human rights institutions. If necessary, the government must come out with a legal provision having clear defining relationship among various institutions entrusted with same responsibilities.
NHRC may set up a toll free number at its office to deal with HRD cases. NHRC may broaden the jurisdiction of the focal point for HRDs so to respond to every concern expressed by the HRDs to the Commission/Focal point. As there is focal point for HRDs in apex rights Commission i.e. NHRC, all the state human rights institutions must have a focal point/HRD cell/Helpline to address their risks and cases.
The NHRC has acknowledged and accepted eleven recommendations from my presentation:
- NHRC to take step to ask the state/UT to make it public as to what measures they have taken in compliance with the request of Secretary General, NHRC ‘to take appropriate steps to ensure conducive working environment for the HRDs within their jurisdiction’.
- Due measures should be taken so that immediate security can be provided to HRDs in case of security threats.
- Designated Human Rights Courts are not functional in the state. So, NHRC may ask all state Government about the status and function of Human Rights Courts in their concerned states. It will ask to set up special human rights court.
- NHRC may conduct a study on the issue of justice delivery to poor and marginalized people through Legal Aid Service Authorities.
- NHRC may recommend to Government to repeal the repressive provision in revised FCRA 2010.
- NHRC may suggest setting up a special cell at least in office of Director General of Police of the every state to address the issue of HRDs.
- As there is focal point for HRDs in apex rights Commission i.e. NHRC, all the state human rights institutions must have a focal point/HRD cell/Helpline to address their risks and cases.
- There must be certain defined criteria/list of topics about which cases should handled by the NHRC and which can be transferred to State Commissions. As there is a focal point for HRD in NHRC and HRDs are vulnerable to local political dynamics, NHRC may not transfer case relating to risk to HRDs.
- NHRC may set up a toll free number at its office to deal with HRD cases.
- Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations on HRDs should be worked out immediately for the interest of HRDs.
- This type of Workshop for HRD must be organized every year by the NHRC and by the SHRC in their concerned states.
It is expected that the NHRC will work and take positive steps on our suggested recommendations in future.