Human Rights Watch has published a scathing report titled "India: Stop Treating Critics As Criminals" (Click to read) on the the ways, it posits India handles dissent. When I objected to it on Twitter, Ms. Meenakshi Ganguly from HRW told me that this refers to the colonial laws and not to the current political dispensation and also is not particular about India but such reports are prepared for other countries (particularly colonial countries as she would say). I asked her that by the definition of colonial it would also include US and Pakistan and asked her links to report on these two countries, which is awaited.
For some reason, there has been a tendency to broad-brush India as such of late. I saw particularly scathing, and largely unsubstantiated articles in newspapers like Guardian when Indian PM Narendra Modi was to travel to the UK. They would innocently appear when Modi was to interact with the west in International papers, and when there was an election in Indian media. Modi was asked in London about 2002 riots, which sad though it was, looking at deaths on either side of the divide unlike 1984, wasn't blatantly state supported. Still, what made the question to the visiting head of nation conspiratorial was the fact that a fortnight prior to Modi's visit, Chinese premier had visited UK and no one asked any question on human rights to him. It is just coincidental that Modi is to travel to US and address the US Congress soon (7th of June, if I am not wrong).
I try to look at the article purely on merit, which I intend to do as a common Indian. Journalists who have a hegemony over the space of mass communication, have conceded now that news is subjective and are generally garrulous with their customer, the reader or news watchers, when objective reports are sought, and subjective interpretation is asked to be justified.
The article begins with a generalized statement "The Indian authorities routinely use vaguely worded, overly broad laws as political tool to silence and harass critics." The Article quotes, don't smile with disdain, its own report. This is one interesting trend I observe in articles being put out in public domain. Quoting yourself as a proof of authenticity of your position. I have read one Sunday editorial by eminent historian, Ramchandra Guha, where he substantiated his position by quoting a paragraph from a book. Written by Ramchandra Guha. I don't know how many have read Nietzsche, but one gets a feeling he somehow saw intellectuals of today when he wrote, When they give themselves out as wise, then do their petty sayings and truths chill me: in their wisdom there is often an odour as if it came from the swamp; and verily, I have even heard the frog croak in it!
Coming back to this article, the premise if built at the beginning of the article. It does not deduce, it posits in the beginning and builds up to it. Ms. Meenakshi Ganguly writes then "India's abusive laws are the hallmark of repressive society, not a vibrant democracy." Thus she makes another assertion. India is not a vibrant democracy. It is somehow of small minds, with lesser intellect who contends that India is a vibrant democracy. I wonder, if she has seen a group of intellectuals and opposition parties shouting at the top of their lungs calling names to democratically elected head of state names and attributing shameful motives to appointment of ministers on national television in Indian channels. The laws we have truly are overly broad, unlike the concise, scathing provisions of Patriot Act of the US. US Patriot act happily covers terror attacks on mass transport (like Mumbai Local). It is hard to imagine an overgrown child of a film actor, settled for holding weapons to bring mass destruction in Mumbai, walking out and even being invited to an even of intellectual deliberation in US as he was in India. Probably such laws allow the US, the land of the free, where John Dayals of the country to complaining there own country, to details people endlessly and has resulted in highest number of the prisoners in the world. But then Patriot Act is Anti-terrorism act, equivalence to which was in POTA, which was repealed in India.
Let us look at Sedition act and treason for now. A quick search on Google tells us, as per historical data, the highest number of people charged under treason was from the US, around eleven with India having one person convicted for treason Ayyub Thakur. The article strangely also cites the case of Supreme Court upholding the charges of defamation law as a hindrance to Freedom of Expression. I beg to differ there. I would rather say this is actually supportive of the person wrongly charged of being anti-national. Although wrongly will be the key here. The article quotes the case of Kanhaiya Kumar, mentioning that the government acted on complaints of rival student faction. I do not know if such factual error could be on account of subjective or objective reporting of news. It ignores the fact that action against Kanhaiya was initiated on formal police compliant by a Member of Parliament.
The article subsequently laments that the Home minister of the country warned that those who challenged India's sovereignty and integrity will not be tolerated. I am not sure if the human rights body wanted the Home minister of a nation to make statement to the contrary, something like those who challenge the sovereignty and integrity of the nation shall be rewarded. The purpose of the state is to create a collective concept which should be able to defend the weakest who cannot defend themselves. A state which cannot defend itself cannot do its job. Citizens need the state to assure them that the state which collect taxes and obeisance from them is capable of providing not only food and basic necessity of life, but also security and a stable framework. A state which cannot guard its own sovereignty and is too willing to define and re-define its existence to satisfy a handful of people is not very assuring and is a ready ground for civil strife. In the situation of Civil Strife, I do not know which side Human Rights watch would stand.
She writes that the Supreme court overturned the decision to hold those charged with treason in prison and interim bail was granted. The way the matter was handled and interim decision was given actually stands testimony to a free state, not a repressive one. She misses to see that Judiciary which bailed out Kanhaiya and comrades was a wing of state, not a body external to democracy of India. The fact that not only Judiciary, rather a whole spectrum of people from media and thinking elite came forward to defend Kanhaiya and Leftist comrades, who called for breaking the nation with the power of gun (okay, two of the videos were doctored, four weren't as per government forensic lab), without any clampdown of the state evidences that the gloomy picture painted in the beginning of the article is incorrect. Scores of pages were written, unsparing editorials flooded the newspapers. The truth is that the outrage on leftist, arsonist students getting beaten up without any serious injury was more than the horrifying murder of poor young man in Kerala. The government of the day is unabashedly right, but still could not move the media to move the opinion for the killed boy in kerala also proves that the demonic stature that the article tends to put the Indian government into and Indian people into, is grossly incorrect, if not devious.
I respect her right to see India the way she looks at it. What is disturbing is the article in which she quotes her own study, will be quoted by vested interests. Those are the political parties who will gleefully accept this broad-brushing of India, their own nation as a hostile nation, without detailing and substantiation, because they look the nation equated with the government in power and take glee in the national pride going down. The article ends with simplistic solutions.
- Repeal or amend laws that criminalize peaceful expressions. - There are no such laws. Most laws come into force when public security and peace is impacted. Calling people to war against nation is not peaceful expression, calling for vulcanization of India is not peaceful expression. To my mind, no law exists in India preventing freedom of expression. If your view is not to respect the law of the land, you can't be left free to express it. It is juvenile approach. You can't indulge in shoplifting since you hate capitalist who runs the showroom and call it your freedom of expression.
- Withdraw investigation against those facing persecution for right to freedom of expression. - Since there is no such law, I suppose there is no such legal action. Unless we are talking about a man who is rotting in the jail in UP for expressing his view, something similar to what media anchor called 'alternative reading'. I am sure HRW is not talking about that man, also not about the people in prison on Malegaon attack without chargesheets.
- Train the police- Police reform is very important and on this one point I totally agree. This will take away a big grudge from elite people who have spent their youth well protected in rich environments of metro cities, exploiting the state and use this leverage to use the young people are cannon fodder.
Here is my banal response to a banal article.