29, Nov 2017 | Aruna Roy
“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. George Orwell
Citizens for Justice and Peace, is a platform created by people concerned with public ethics. It has worked as a very effective space to advocate for justice in consonance with basic constitutional guarantees. It has helped those who have been discriminated against by a discriminating society, government and the state.
The CJP also resonates with, and co-ordinates the normal human reaction to resist and protest against injustice . There are many who want to support victims of violence, but don’t quite know how. Many of us react to injustice viscerally and cannot be silenced. It is difficult to understand either the logic or morality that can justify silence when faced with bestial, inhuman or unjust practices. Violence has to be countered with peaceful and lawful resistance. The rule of law has to be strengthened and space made for non-violent protest expanded and sheltered.
Born in independent India or just before, many of us grew up with two realities. One was that we never faced an alien government with its prejudices of race and inequalities of a colony. But on the other hand, we could not forget that independence came with partition and the assassination of Gandhi. We worked hard to frame a constitution to protect the nation from the carnage born of prejudice and hatred, of differing identities and consequent intolerance. The makers of modern India made huge efforts to provide a legal framework that would prevent any kind of discrimination; in a country divided by caste, religion, language, race, gender and other sub identities.
Suppressed by public outrage and constitutional guarantees, the silent propaganda of communal India periodically surfaced, with violence that erupted from intolerance in social groupings. The politics of hate in its many manifested forms need constant political vigilance. The veneer of tolerance cracks under pressure and provocation, as it did in 1984, with the assassination of Indira Gandhi, and the resultant mindless genocide. The 2002 carnage shook India. The first big shock had come even earlier with the dismantling of Babri Masjid in 1991. Many in India did not believe that the destruction of history and historical monuments was possible in a “civilized” country like India, unlike the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas for instance. More rude shocks about the nature of the Indian psyche were in store.
The guilt and dismay became worse for those who were unable to do something constructive to counter the illogic and hate in targeting a community. I was privileged to be a part of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal (CCT) set up to investigate into the shocking carnage on citizens in Gujarat in 2003. The setting up of this committee was in itself an act of courage. Its 3-volume report, Crimes Against Humanity, Gujarat 2002 was published in November 21-22, 2002. The Tribunal heard huge numbers of people, the process was rigorous, recording oral testimonies and scrutinising written evidences and documents. The fact that Justice Krishna Iyer was the Chair, Justices Sawant and Suresh members, gave the Tribunal not only legal expertise but established its integrity. The presence of K.G.Kannabiran helped bring in the historical understanding of state violence . The meticulous report of the Tribunal became the basis for the CJP intervention for legal action in the courts.
That report drafted by the CJP should have got the attention of the UPA 1 and been acted upon. The only persistent legal work following the evidence that came to light during the tribunal, was done in the courts by Teesta Setalwad and Mihir Desai who managed to petition the courts for justice for the victims .
Fear is an obstacle we are obliged to contest and overcome. The twin bogies of terror and jingoistic nationalism have forced a part of India’s argumentative population into silence. The restriction of democratic space and places of protest has limited the space for voicing dissent, protest and difference. In a noise polluted country, the NGT finds political protest the only offender, shutting of the only space for public interaction in Delhi – the Jantar Mantar. In a country that boasts of its electoral/ polling history the government has not raised a whisper to protect the interests of its people right to freedom of expression. These various manifestations of a “peoples parliament” through demonstrations, songs and theatre at jantar mantar, should have been a matter of satisfaction for a democracy that boasts of uts political structure. We have a government deafeningly silent and smug in having the NGT work towards its ends and stifle dissent.
The right to expression defines democracy and all constitutional rights. Let us celebrate the courage of friends in CJP to tell the truth; and who have neither been daunted by fear or helplessness. It has been an eventful journey and one that history will acknowledge. This is today’s revolution.