An Undemocratic Democracy

The Indian democracy celebrates its diverse, secular and libertarian credentials often but I wonder if they actually hold true in today’s times! Agreed we are secular but we do allow people to lynch others on religious disputes without guilt or shame?

Citizens are allowed freedom of speech and the right to dissent but we also have laws like CSPSA or the AFSPA which become constricting. A friend recently remarked, “What kind of a false world are we living in?” and I think in this very question lies the answer! It is a “false” and hypocrite world which on the surface level seems equitable and just but that does not translate into the ground reality making high ideals like these a mere chimera!

The Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act or the CSPSA was passed in 2005 and its contents have put civil liberty in jeopardy. Under the garb of fighting and tackling the Naxalites in the state, this act actually violates basic human rights and the fundamental rights of the Constitution. It basically espouses severe punishment for “unlawful activities” the meaning of which is not clearly specified, making it so much more dangerous. The meaning and the realm of the law can be conveniently changed to suit the needs of the Government. Any opposition to the Government can be easily quelled with the help of this draconian law. Imprisonment for upto seven years are the stated provisions if caught in any sort of “unlawful practices” which even includes writings, presentations or any such activity which could potentially disrupt the public order. Any organization or individual found abetting any sort of “unlawful” practice can be declared “unlawful” and face imprisonment upto three years. Any contributions made to such an organization would also invite trouble and could lead to a two year imprisonment, even if they were made before the organization was declared illegal! Another danger in this clause is that people who might have been coerced forcefully or threatened to make involuntary contributions too might face charges! Dr. Binayek Sen’s improper detention and later arrest under the CSPSA in May 2007 brought the draconian law to the forefront. Dr. Sen is a noted human rights activist who has worked in tribal areas and extended health care services to the marginalized for many years. He is the recipient of the Johnathan Mann award for Global Health and Human Rights. And how does the state recognise years of selfless service?? By arresting him on charges of being in cahoots with Naxals. The real reason however is that Dr. Sen is the vice president of the Public Union for Civil Liberties or the PUCL and had worked on several fact finding missions into human rights violation by the Salva Judum (a state sponsored armed militia). There has been worldwide protest against the tyrannical nature of his arrest yet even a year after that he still languishes in jail.

Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act is just one such Act in one part of the country. There have been numerous other similar instances whether it is the Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) in the north east or the now repealed POTA or Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). As long as such laws exist we cannot claim to be a truly democratic state.

Niha Masih

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