In a shocking move by the Delhi Police, it has named several human rights activists in its charge-sheet against Maoist leader Kobad Ghandy, who was arrested in September last year.
The 800-page document includes accusations that a number of groups, including the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), People’s Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR), Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), suggesting that they met with Ghandy and are continuing to offer what Home Minister P Chidambaram has called “intellectual support” for the Maoist movement.
I attended a press conference in Delhi yesterday, where a number of leading activists, including retired judge Rajindar Sachar and writer Arundhati Roy, decried what they see as an attempt to silence critics of the government’s treatment of tribal people in Naxal-affected areas. In their press statement they said:
The chargesheet is yet another instance of the state’s attempt to criminalise any resistance or protests against its actions in the areas covered by Operation Green Hunt … these allegations constitute an unprovoked and unwarranted attack on these democratic and civil liberties associations.
I’ve met quite a few of these activists over the past couple of weeks, and the idea that they are front organisations for the Maoists is laughable. While their rhetoric may lean somewhat heavily against the government, this is because they focus on the exploitation and deprivations of the tribal people that underlie the insurgency – not because they support violence in any form.
There are a number of human rights cases currently going through the Supreme Court in which the states’ counsel simply accuse their opponents of being Naxal supporters.
Fortunately, it seems that many judges are growing tired of this reasoning. The day before the press conference, a Supreme Court judge came down hard on the Andhra Pradesh government for deploying an anti-Naxal police unit to quell violence at Osmania University, on the shaky grounds that some of the students were “Naxal sympathisers”.
At the moment the government lacks a political strategy for dealing with the Naxal insurgency that can balance its desire for security with its interest in exploiting tribal lands. This leaves it little capacity to stomach the criticism of academics and activists who point out its short-comings. While the government struggles to think up a comprehensive strategy, it is likely to find it increasingly difficult to find enough judges willing to keep up the line that retired professors are in fact violent extremists.