Saturday, 25 June, 2022
HomePlugged InFrom Hindu to Swarajya, arrest of human rights activists on everyone's mind

From Hindu to Swarajya, arrest of human rights activists on everyone’s mind

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The discourse surrounding the arrests of five human rights activists this week has, unsurprisingly, been deeply polarised. All debate and reason has been articulated keeping in mind the buzzword for today, #UrbanNaxals. The hashtag is no longer reserved for armed insurgents, but seems to have become synonymous with ‘activist’, or the fight for Dalit and minority rights. For police, reading “books on Mao and Marx” is enough cause for suspicion, according to a report by The Indian Express. In any case, Supreme Court Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, disapproving of the police action and approving of dissent, noted, “Safety valve in our democracy”. The court said the five activists will serve out their arrest warrant at home till 6 September, when the case is up for another hearing.

Swarajya doesn’t bat an eyelid before writing about “Why It Is Hypocritical For Congress To Support ‘Urban Naxals’”. Same with self-avowed BJP-RSS sympathisers like Vivek Agnihotri, who popularised the term ‘Urban Naxal’ on Twitter in the context of the arrests, and Madhu Purnima Kishwar, who took the opportunity to express her disappointment in PM Modi for not taking “stricter” action.

Twitter responded with a counter #MetooUrbanNaxal, led by Alt News founder Pratik Sinha.

Apart from reporting the Supreme Court’s judgment to keep the activists under house arrest, smaller platforms like Feminism In India have written about how the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, under which the activists have been booked, has historically been misused and “grants the state machinery the right to quell any suspected uprising or dissent and allows detaining of the accused individuals involved in ‘acts of terrorism’ for six months without any adequate evidence”.

The Hindu reports that NCP leader Sharad Pawar is suspicious of the crackdown because it could “be a way of diverting attention from” the illegal activities of  the Sanatan Sanstha, a Hindutva organisation whose members have been linked to the murders of journalist Gauri Lankesh and rationalist Narendra Dabholkar.

The BJP stalled a parliamentary report that claimed demonetisation led to a 1 per cent drop in the country’s GDP, a day before the RBI estimated that 99 per cent of the notes affected by the exercise were back with banks.

Though hot off the press, coverage on RBI’s latest report hasn’t got the same kind of traction as the activists’ arrest, though it has sparked a fresh bout of outrage among members of the opposition.

PM Modi, who announced demonetisation on 8 November 2016 and heavily relied on Twitter to endorse it, was quiet about the report on social media. What did make it to his Twitter feed was a steady stream of congratulatory messages to all the Indian Asiad winners of the day. But Modi ‘s online presence has also always been strategic. His silence, which is now all too familiar, is no less.

With the BJP’s narrative on demonetisation constantly shifting, the silence about the report is unlikely to remain so stoic, especially since Modi is likely to be held accountable for a policy that led to the deaths of over 100 people.

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Point of View

Arrest of human rights activists has created a storm across the country. But there is glimmer of hope too: The way the Supreme Court intervened. Editorials of different papers slammed the crackdown, alleging the government was stifling dissent. The Hindu argued in its editorial that nobody should be above the law, but the burden of proof was now on Maharashtra police.

Many parties have demanded the return of ballot papers. Journalist Saubhik Chakrabarti writes in a column in The Times of India, “The debate is dangerous because it seeks to delegitimise elections in the world’s largest democracy. It’s useless because arguments that EVMs are faulty have less substance to them…”

Prime Time

The RBI’s report Wednesday made a severe dent in the PM’s defence of demonetisation.

A policy that was hailed as a masterstroke and PM Modi’s biggest anti-corruption weapon seems to have fallen through the roof. But how did the national media report the issue?

India Today TV’s star-studded newsroom was embroiled in debates and angles in the Bhima-Koregaon arrests. However, consulting editor Rajdeep Sardesai focused on the demonetisation report as well, while speaking exclusively to former finance minister and Congress leader P. Chidambaram, who termed the exercise “a total failure”.

Expectedly, Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami went after the ‘lobby of urban Naxals’ supporting the arrested activists. Framing the debate in a ‘nationalist vs Maoist’ binary, the channel bashed the political parties supporting the accused human rights activists.

Times Now Newshour focused on the RBI report and its political repercussions for about 30 minutes. The channel’s leading personalities, editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar and managing editor Navika Kumar, however, centred their shows on the ‘Maoist crackdown’ and the debate between Arun Jaitley and Rahul Gandhi over the Rafale deal, respectively.

Lead stories on both NDTV and CNN News 18 were about the Bhima-Koregaon crackdown.

One can only wonder if the arrests were a mere coincidence or a timely intervention. For now, it seems that the crackdown has overshadowed the RBI’s findings on demonetisation.

(With inputs from Rajgopal Singh)

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  1. 1. When one reads about how the Supreme Court has intervened to stay arrests of left-leaning activists, question that one can ask is this: how many ordinary citizens can approach the Supreme Court for justice? Obviously, we must have in place a robust system of checks and balances so that the mighty State does not misuse its powers to arrest citizens on basis of just suspicion. 2. All of us have freedom to oppose and we must use that freedom without fear. It is necessary to underscore fact that such a right to speak and engage in lawful activities is a very essence of a democratic society like ours. Further, even if an individual’s’ or views of political groups are contrary to those of the ruling party or government in power, they should never be suppressed. 3. But of late the NDA government in the Centre and many BJP-led state governments in States are accused, and many times for right reasons, of suppression of dissent. This is not at all a healthy state of affairs. Therefore, we citizens must protest against suppression by the powerful State as without a right to express a dissenting view democracy has little meaning. 4. In case of the left-leaning activists, whom the police wished to put behind bar for alleged involvement in anti-State activities, it is clear that Maharashtra State police failed to submit proof of anti-State activities. Then the obvious question is this: are the activists being harassed for their political views which are anti-BJP? 5. Incidental observation: many of these left-leaning activists believe that existing laws are anti-poor. But this scenario has remained unchanged irrespective of government, Congress or non-Congress, in power. Can it be then said that these activists wish to now overlook the fact that earlier governments too suppressed voice of the poor?

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