Open Statement By Concerned Citizens To Protect Our Constitutional And Democratic Rights

cropped-hille-le-copyTO FREE SPEECH AND EXPRESSION

I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

~Voltaire

No democracy can claim to be one, unless freedom of speech and expression are guaranteed by statute and where the state machinery works to ensure compliance not only in the behavior of government, but of its citizens. The curbing of expression with threat and through terror, increasingly more menacing, should be condemned and stopped, if our country is to become a mature democracy. Indeed, the expression of varied and differing opinions strengthen the political discourse and empowers people to make informed choices.

In the last fortnight there has been a resurgence of attacks to curb the right to free speech and expression of Indian citizens who did not share the euphoria, hope and enthusiasm associated with recent election results.

It is important to note that such attempts to curtail the right to free speech and expression of writers, academics, activists and ordinary citizens have been recurring incidents over the past two decades, irrespective of the political party in power. Last month, a widely respected and well known Kannada writer, U.R.Ananthamurthy was sent a one-way ticket to Karachi as well as threatened with phones calls asking him “when he was going to leave” for saying “ I would not like to live in a country ruled by Modi.” In another incident, a youth, Syed Vaqas, along with four friends from Bhatkal, Karnataka were arrested for sending a message (when the election results were announced) caricaturing the BJP government’s election slogan “aab ki bar antimsanskar (modisarkar).” A third incident is about a 31-year-old naval engineer from Goa, Devu Chodankar, for his alleged inflammatory comments against Mr. Narendra Modi on social media. More recently, in Bihar members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) disrupted a People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) seminar, to discuss the detention of Professor G.N. Saibaba of Delhi University (arrested for alleged Maoist links) and its implications for human rights. Or take the case of the two girls from Palghar, Maharashtra who were arrested for criticizing the shutdown of Mumbai for Shiv Sena’s chief Bal Thakeray’s funeral in 2012, even though the Constitution of India guarantees plurality of diverse political opinion. All these incidents signify acts of political expression that were reinterpreted as not conforming to mainstream positions.

In the two recent cases in Karnataka and Goa, the representatives of police in Goa and Bangalore have stated in the newspapers that these cases do not warrant arrests; but the PMO has remained silent on this blatant attack on curbing citizens’ free speech and expression.

As concerned citizens of a free and democratic India we protest against the continuing intolerant legislative attempts at criminalizing dissenting opinion and those in certain sections of society that take law into their hands to disrupt peaceful discussions and dialogue. In particular, we oppose the use of the draconic Section 66A of the IT Act. The IT Act has been worded deliberately to give unbridled powers to the State to clamp down on free speech. Section 66A prescribes criminal punishment of up to 3 years for merely sending messages which can cause ‘annoyance’ or ‘inconvenience’ or ‘danger’ or ‘insult,’ and gives unfettered discretion to enforcement agencies to enforce it. The recent incidents signify abuse under this provision that gives freedom to those in power to violate the fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution.

We believe that voicing of dissent, expression of concern, constructive criticism and adversarial dialogue are an integral part of deliberative democracy. The ongoing attempts to quell political dissent or dialogue among citizens through draconian laws for ulterior motives poses a grave danger to Indian democracy.

We the undersigned demand that the Government of India and all State Governments respect and protect all constitutional rights to free speech and expression, and personal liberty as guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a), and Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

We fully support the right of all citizens to freely express their views, dissenting or otherwise.

We demand the concerned authorities follow due process and drop the exaggerated criminal charges against all these individuals.

We strongly condemn the use of social policing, boycott and other means of state coercion to silence citizens, legitimized through regressive legislations such as the IT Act. We demand that section 66A of the IT Act should be deleted.

We urge the Prime Minister, and the Government of India and all State Governments to respect the right of citizens’ to express their thoughts and views, guaranteed by the Constitution of India, without fear of retribution.

 

Signatories:

Achin Vanaik 

Achyut Das

Afroz Alam Sahil

Amar Kanwar

Amba Kak

Amit Bhaduri

Amit Sharma

Amita Baviskar

Ammu Joseph

Anand Pathwardhan

Anant Bhatnagar

Ania Loomba

Aruna Rodrigues

Aruna Roy

Arvind Ojha

Ashish Kothari

Ashish Sen

Ashok Khandelwal

Ashok Rao

Babloo Loitongbam

Bhanwar Meghwanshi

Bharat Dogra

Bhaskar Prabhu

Bhupendra Yadav

Bina Sarkar Ellias

Biraj Patnaik

Cynthia Stephen

Darryl D’Monte

Deep Joshi

Deepta Chopra

Devasahayam M G

Dilip Simeon

Dinesh Mohan

Dipa Sinha

DL Tripathi

Dr. A Gopalakrishnan

Dr. Anand Teltumbde

Dr. Anandlakshmy

Dr. Divya Singhal

Dr. R. Padmini

Dr. Shaikh Ghulam Rasool

Dunu Roy

EAS Sarma

Ela Bhatt

Gautam Shonti

Geeta Kapur

Harsh Mander

Harsh Sethi

Henri Tiphagne

Indira Chandrasekhar

Jagdeep Chhokar

Jarius Banaji

Jasveen Jairath

Jayadev U. K.

Jayati Ghosh

Jean Drèze

Jyotsna Jha

Kalyani Menon-Sen

Kavita Srivastava

Komal Srivastava

Koninika Ray

Krishan Takhar

Lakshmi Krishnamurty

Lal Singh

Lalita Ramdas

Lawrence Liang

M. Hasan

M.K Raina

Madan Gopal Singh

Madhu Prasad

Madhuri Krishnaswamy

Mallika Sarabhai

Mamta Jaitley

Manisha Sethi

Manoj Mitta

Megha Kumar

Meher Engineer

Mrinal Pande

Nachiket Udupa

Nandini Sundar

Nandita Das

Neena Rao

Neeta Haridkar

Nikhil Dey

Nisha Sidhu

Nishat Hussein

Nityanand J

P L Mimroth

Pamela Philipose

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

Parthiv Shah

Praavita Kashyap

Prabhat Patnaik

Prabhu Ghate

Pradip Prabhu

Praful Bidwai

Prafulla Samantra

Prakash Burra

Prashant Bhushan

Prashanto Sen

Prem Krishan Sharma

Radha Kant Saxena

Rajendra Prasad

Rajni Bakshi

Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu

Rakesh Sharma

Ram Rahman

Ramaswamy R. Iyer

Ramesh Nandwana

Ranesh Ray

Rani Sarma

Ranjana Ray

Rashid Hussein

Ravi Kiran Jain

Renuka Mishra

Renuka Pamecha

Revathi Narayanan

Reyhana Datta

Rohit Prajapati

Romila Thapar

S.G. Vasudev

Sachin Jain

Saikat Ghosh

Satish

Satish Deshpande

Satya Sivaraman

Sejal Dand

Shabnam Hashmi

Shankar Singh

Shanta Sinha

Shiraz Balsara

Shomi Das

Shripadh Dharmadhikari

Siddhartha Basu

Siddhartha Sharma

Sister Geeta

Sister Mariola

Smita Gupta

Soumya Datta

Suchi Pande

Sudha Bharadwaj

Sumi Krishna

Sunanda Bhat

Swati Narayan

Tarun Bharatiya

Teesta Setalvad

TM Krishna

Utsa Patnaik

V Suresh

Vandana Mahajan

Vasanth Kannabiran

Vipul Mudgal

Vivan Sundaram

Vrinda Gover

Yamuna Soma

Zoya Hasan

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