Published: 31st August 2018
Why State-sponsored suppression of free speech should scare every one of us
Despite the Chief Justice's observation that there needs to be a place for dissent, can it really exist when the State is throwing our constitutional rights out the window?
Looking at the way these intellectuals have been raided and arrested, it is clear that the state is suppressive of any dissent. It simply can't tolerate dissent. Instead of upholding the constitutional and fundamental right to freedom of speech expression and right to peaceful assembly - that every Indian citizen is supposed to enjoy - the state is invading those people's lives who are only trying to express themselves in favour of the downtrodden and voiceless sections of the society.
What transpired in court when the Maharashtra Police attempted to have the intellectuals remanded to custody?
The Maharashtra Police's move to arrest five well-known activists was blown off on Wednesday with the Supreme Court observing that "dissent is the safety valve of democracy" and directing that the five activists in its custody be sent back home.
The five human rights activists — Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonzalves, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — who were arrested after the pan-India crackdown on Tuesday will not be sent to jail but be under house arrest until September 6, the court ruled. "Dissent is the safety valve of democracy and if you don't allow these safety valves it will burst," a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said.
The activists were arrested under IPC Section 153 (A), which relates to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language and committing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony. Some other sections of the IPC were also invoked, along with the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, for their "alleged Naxal activities.
Let us be very clear about what has happened. All those who have been arrested are intellectuals, well placed in life, responsible in their own jobs, have been diligently carrying on with their jobs and they are not people who are running away from the clutches of the law. Even if there was a case being made out against them there was no necessity to arrest them. They are most certainly not a flight risk.
If the state finds anything close to a criminal offence against them, the police can always file a final report (charge sheet)and get them convicted. But, what is being attempted is clearly just silencing dissent. This very clearly shows that their fundamental right is being curtailed. Instead of upholding the rights of Indian citizens, the state seems to be an aggressor against fundamental rights.
I am definitely sure that the courts would understand they are culpable and let them free. If there is a case made out then it will lead to filing a charge sheet. That has its own legal implications and that will be dealt with in the due process. But, in my opinion, there was no necessity to harass these people or arrest them.
Sudha Ramalingam is a senior advocate at the Madras High Court and is a Human Rights activist and noted legal commentator who gave us her opinion on the arrests and the way forward