Letter to the Editor : Think of Democracy without Freedom of Speech! Why Modi and Shah Fear Young Activists?

Sir,

This has reference to yesterday's post in Church Citizens' Voice of an article by the noted historian-journalist Ramachandra Guha "Think of democracy without freedom of speech! Why Modi and Shah Fear Young Activists?"

In the article several pertinent questions were raised about the hyperactive way of functioning of the current dispensation at the Centre.  They are as follows:
 

  1. Why would the Indian state arrest a 21-year-old woman activist who seeks a cleaner and safer planet?
  2. Should not the country want young people to look beyond their narrow personal interests to the interests of society at large?
  3. Why did our government lock up a young citizen seeking to build a better future for herself and her compatriots?
  4. And why in such a draconian manner, with a police party flown down from Delhi to whisk her away from her home in Bengaluru to the capital?
  5. How could a non-violent campaign to spread awareness about global warming, and tweets in support for farmers' protests, constitute a seditious threat to the mighty, professedly self-reliant, Indian state? 

The author gave six reasons for this behaviour of the government.  The most important reason is that the Modi-Shah regime fears independent thinking in general.  Ideally, the Indian state would like no critical, objective, detailed, scrutiny of its policies and actions to be permitted at all.

In this connection, the report in today's Telegraph is worth noting.  This is reproduced below:

Bangalore: Environment and rights activists from across the country on Friday demanded the immediate release of climate activist Disha Ravi and the dropping of all charges against her and co-accused.

Photo caption: Climate Activist Disha Ravi being produced in a Delhi Court on Friday 19 February 2021.

Addressing the media via the Zoom digital platform, the activists said the 22-year-old Bangalorean's arrest was a warning to the youth to "shut up and stay at home" and to parents to rein their children in.

They urged the Centre to hold an open dialogue with the youth and all those supporting the farmers' agitation, and sought repeal of the sedition law and the anti-terror UAPA.

A Delhi police team had taken Disha from her Bangalore home to Delhi on February 13 and booked her on sedition and other charges for allegedly editing and sharing a social media toolkit on how to express support for the protesting farmers.

Disha is part of the Fridays For Future global initiative started by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

The National Alliance of People's Movements, Coalition for Environmental Justice in India and the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) also demanded the cancellation of the arrest warrants against Disha's co-accused — Mumbai lawyer Nikita Jacob and Beedbased engineer Shantanu Muluk.

Kavita Srivastava of the PUCL said Disha's constitutional rights had been violated.

"She was editing and sharing a document. She was on a Zoom call. Isn't that enabling young people to know more about the farmers' struggle?" she asked.

Srivastava described the sedition law and the UAPA as "tools for the Modi government (to harass critics) whenever it is in trouble".

"Every time they face a challenge, the rest of us become anti-national," she said.

Carnatic singer T.M. Krishna said: "For long we have been told that fringe groups are the ones that target those who express (their views). Then it became very clear that the state itself is the aggressor and targets anyone who asks questions." Krishna termed Disha's arrest a "warning to parents" to keep their children at home. "There are two kinds of attacks. One is frontal, basically saying, `Shut up and stay at  home'. The other is poisoning young minds." Nagraj Adve of Teachers Against Climate Crisis said that youths were scared after Disha's arrest. "I spoke to some young people yesterday. All of them talked about their fear and anxiety," he said.

"Those in the 10th and 11th standard are particularly terrified. I'm really worried about what these arrests will do for climate change in this country." He added: "For years there was no real movement. But over the last two or three years we have seen hundreds of young people making clear demands in the context of the climate crisis in many towns." In response to a question, Abhilasha Singh, former student of Mount Carmel College from where Disha graduated in business administration, said youths had their way of surmounting such challenges.

"If you believe in something and have certain convictions you will push against whatever stands in your way," Singh said.

"That is the only thing we can do now. With the solidarity that we have built along the way, I see this as a fight that we can pull off."

Isaac Gomes

PS:  The great Greek philosopher Socrates who exhorted his students to ask questions to seek knowledge (answers) would have faced the same fate he faced in 399 BC. Only the new charges would have been Sedition!

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