The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) on Saturday condemned the NDA government’s persecution of activists, journalists and academics during the COVID-19 lockdown, which it said had been turned into an “insidious and undeclared emergency”, effectively suspending the fundamental rights and freedoms.
When the government should be fulfilling its constitutional mandate to help lakhs of people who were on the brink of starvation due to lack of planning by the State, the ruling party was using the lockdown period as an opportunity to further its political agenda and suppress all forms of dissent, said the MKSS.
The MKSS, headed by social activist and Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy, said the targeting of Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha was linked to the arrests of activists Sudha Bhardwaj, Arun Ferreira, Varavara Rao and others in the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case in 2018 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. At the time, there were national protests and global condemnation of their incarceration.
Named in FIR
Meeran Haider, Safoora Zargar, Umar Khalid and many others were recently named in an FIR for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to incite communal riots in Delhi in February-end. The MKSS said in a statement that while the individuals who made inflammatory speeches before the violence were free, those who worked for relief and rehabilitation in the aftermath had been booked.
Several persons facing incarceration in this period have been booked under either the non-bailable sections of Indian Penal Code or the UAPA.
“The registration of FIRs against Kannan Gopinathan, Siddharth Varadarajan, Prashant Bhushan, and Ashlin Mathew in different parts of the country are part of a pattern of acts intended to silence those critical of the government,” the MKSS said. These should be seen as a continuation of arbitrary persecution of other activists earlier, it said.
Though the Supreme Court had suggested the release of prisoners as a measure to contain the pandemic, the government was using the lockdown to curb fundamental rights, criminalise dissent and take more prisoners.
“Even legal recourse is made much more difficult in these extraordinary circumstances,” the MKSS said.
The MKSS demanded that the State and political leadership release the prisoners and cease its “repressive tactics”. All lockdown excesses must be stopped and the State must focus on ensuring the delivery of social entitlements to the hungry, poor and unemployed, said the MKSS, while asking the government to engage with dissent, protest and critique from citizens during the present crisis.