How are legitimate citizens converted into public enemies?


— By Ilina Sen
[ PUCL Bulletin, August 2012, www.pucl.org ]

On June 26, as we remembered the clamping down of the internal Emergency on the people of the sovereign democratic republic of India 38-years ago, why is that our thoughts turn, almost as if drawn by a magnet, to the history of jurisprudence in the city of Allahabad?

The dark history of the Emergency, a time when all civil and constitutional freedoms stood suspended, was triggered by a series of events in the corridors of the Allahabad judicial establishment – a time when the judiciary elected not to oblige the political establishment, and countermanded the irregular election of the politician laying claim to the highest office in the country. Although the entire country underwent a trial by fire after this, the Indian public institutions, especially the judiciary gained hugely in terms of its reputation for independence and fearlessness.

Today, it is another judgement coming out of the judicial corridors at Allahabad that has us mesmerised, and this time for different reasons. The conviction under sections of the IPC and UAPA of Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay and the sentence of life  imprisonment given to them earlier this month has sent shock waves among Indian citizens not because these two were special people in any sense. Many of us did not know them, but their arrests, trial and conviction has once more highlighted the malevolent way in which the internal security laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) are used. More frighteningly, this has demonstrated the close nexus between the prosecuting agencies and the judicial system.  The independence of the judicial process on which we once prided ourselves is nowhere in evidence.

The lengthy judgement convicting and sentencing Seema and her husband on charges of waging war against the State rests on the evidence of 14 witnesses, 12 of whom are police personnel involved in their arrest and its documentation, and two others are officials belonging to the telephone department. There is not a  single public witness, and in a sense this is fair enough because there is nowhere any mention of anything to be witness to. No act of violence or criminality is alleged anywhere, in which they are  supposed to have been involved. The items seized from them and sealed after their arrest have been illegally opened in the police station ‘for inspection’, and they are assumed  to be responsible for certain literature that is critical of state policy only on the grounds that this was found in their house. Nowhere is there any specific act or deed that endangers the state even attributed to them, and their conviction on serious national security charges is entirely on the basis of generalities.  The court’s conclusion can only be explained by the fact that the court refused to assume the innocence of the accused.

The judgment pronounced by the sessions court at Allahabad in the case of Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay is a perfect example of how, in the name of combating terrorism or Maoism, a large number of halftruths, inadmissible evidence, procedural violations and a paranoid piece of legislation can convert legitimate citizens into public enemies. The implied embargo on reading critical literature goes against the spirit of our Constitution.  If judicial pronouncements of this nature are allowed to pass into the realm of acceptability, we are really at the beginning of a second National Emergency, with our rights and spaces suspended. The Indian people will no doubt resist this attempt to curtail their constitutional rights; but this time round, do we have the judiciary with us in our struggle?

Verdict on Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay: A pattern of judicial connivance to arbitrariness of the state in dealing with dissent


COMMITTEE FOR THE RELEASE OF POLITICAL PRISONERS

185/3, FOURTH FLOOR, ZAKIR NAGAR, NEW DELHI-110025

The singer was singing

And they question him

Why do you sing?

He answers them as they seize him

Because I sing

And they have searched him:

In his breast only his heart

In his heart only his people

In his voice only his sorrow

In his sorrow only his prison

And they have searched his prison

To find only themselves in chains

Mahmoud Darwish

                                                                                                                                                 13/06/12

The Verdict on Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay: A set pattern of judicial connivance to blatant arbitrariness of the state in dealing with political dissent

If a police officer can take exception to the possession of a book on Shaheed Bhagat Singh as part of the several books shown in the seizure list of Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay, questioning the motive of the two to read on the life of the great martyr, well that sums up the growing climate of an undeclared emergency being enforced with impunity on any form of political dissent that fundamentally articulate the interests of the vast sections of the masses of the people.

In 2010, when Seema and Vishwa Vijay were arrested from Khuldabad, Allahabad, several PUCL members had opposed their arrest pointing out that they had been framed as they were working extensively against land mafias and anti-people policies of the government. Though the arrests were made by the special task force, the case was later handed over to the anti-terrorism squad of UP so as to primarily deal it as an act of ‘terrorism’ a much abused word by the powers that be. For more than two and a half years the case is being tried in the Court of the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrates in Allahabad. It is not an accident that the judge who had heard the entire proceedings of the case was transferred just before the verdict was supposed to be given. So while sentencing Seema and Vishwa Vijay for life on charges of criminal conspiracy, waging war and under several provisions of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) the Additional District Judge Sunil Kumar Singh, further slapped a fine of about Rs 70,000 on the couple.

As the Organising Secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Uttar Pradesh and editor of the magazine Dastak Seema had consistently reported and gave voice to the growing dissent of the people against the anti-people policies of the government in the form of Ganga Expressway which brought forth the nexus of the politicians, bureaucrats and the land mafia. As we may recall the Ganga Expressway can result in the displacement of thousands of peasantry. It was her initiative to expose the increasing arbitrary arrests, torture and incarceration of Muslim youth in Azamgarh. The magazine Dastak became a vehicle for expressing the voice of the voiceless. And this is precisely what the government would want us to believe as ‘waging war against the state’! And this is why the police officer would find fault with both of them, for ‘waging war’ with the state, for reading Bhagat Singh at a time when the country is growing and growing, but the condition of the people are going from bad to worse!

At a time when the governments at the state and the centre have been spending heavily on the way people perceive the changes that occur before them as part of the strategy of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ to generate a consensus towards a policy of displacement, destruction, destitution and death in the name of development, it becomes inevitable that voices like that of Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay are silenced. Already the state has sensed that there is a mounting public opinion and discontentment among the vast sections of the democratic and freedom people of the country against the continuing incarceration of Seema and Vishwa Vijay. Little wonder that the perception managers have already started planting ‘horror’ stories of ‘mass unrest’ being hatched out under the garb of protesting against the unjust verdict of the sessions court. This is further evidence to show how the state is not leaving any stone unturned towards criminalising any form of dissent against the denial of fundamental rights to the people to express their views without fear or favour.

The verdict against Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay is against the grain of fundamental rights of the people of the subcontinent as it goes a long way in criminally profiling any political dissent or opinion or even spreading that as ‘waging war’ against the state. The state would tell us how we should think and express ourselves. We can be only part of the state in ‘managing’ the perception of the people. We cannot say a word against the growth stories that abound the press—electronic as well as print. As capital is development and development is capital—the presence or absence of it, capital is ready to satiate the perception of development too. You can only consume that perception; you just cannot go against it. Any perception or thinking that goes against the predatory, violent necessities of capital couched in the discourse of development has been termed ‘waging war’, ‘criminal conspiracy’ against the state! The need to stand up against the verdict of Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay is a necessity for the struggle for our fundamental rights, our freedoms, our right to think critically and choose the life that we deem fit in the interests and well being of vast sections of the masses of people. The state and the government of Uttar Pradesh should release Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay Unconditionally!

In Solidarity,

SAR Geelani

Working President

Amit Bhattacharyya

Secretary General

Rona Wilson

Secretary, Public Relations

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