CLOTH IS A SECURITY THREAT TO INDIAN STATE

CLOTH IS A SECURITY THREAT TO INDIAN STATE

During the recently concluded national convention on ‘One Year of Right to Information’ organized by the Central Information Commission in New Delhi the security and intelligence agencies were caught unawares when some activists unfurled cloth banners saying ‘Sack CIC, Save RTI’ and ‘President, we want to speak for 2 minutes’ immediately after the President sat down after making his inaugural speech. Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was gracious enough to let it be known to the activists that they could seek an appointment with him by sending an e-mail message. It was quite obvious that he took the entire episode in the right spirit and that would have been the end of an attempt by some citizens to exercise their right to speech in the least disruptive manner. It was quite heartening to note that our democracy allowed such space where ordinary citizens could attract President’s attention on an important issue. However, the joy was only short-lived. The security forces surreptitiously arrested 6 activists – Manish Sisodia, Rekha, Santosh, Ritu, Javed and Rajiv - who had raised the banners and took them to the Tughlaq Road Police Station where the intelligence agencies took over and subjected them to thorough interrogation, also parallelly sending teams to their homes to make additional enquiries. They were let go off at 3 am in the morning. When a senior police official was enquired about the objective of interrogation, it was reported that antecedents of these activists were being
checked to ensure that none of them had any terrorist links. Now, if terrorists started using peaceful ways of protest, it would be the victory of philosophy of satya and ahimsa. Moreover, a terrorist getting converted to an RTI activist would have to be considered quite an achievement! Then on the last day of the Convention, 5th October, 2006, another activist, Rakesh Agarwal, was taken
into custody when he refused to open his shirt to show what kind of t-shirt he was wearing inside. On the first day the activists before raising their banners had opened their shirts to reveal t-shirts inside saying ‘Sack CIC, Save RTI’. Probably, the security and intelligence agencies were in no mood to take a chance during the Prime Minister’s closing speech of the Convention to save themselves a dual embarrassment. When this activist did not comply he was asked to leave the venue of the Convention. However, later, the security forces changed their mind and took him to the same police station. He was detained there until the PM was speaking at Vigyan Bhawan and then let go off. Earlier at the Convention venue, every single individual was thoroughly checked to ensure that nobody was carrying any banners again! The security forces were so paranoid that they would not even let handkerchiefs be carried into the hall.
Why is the Indian State so afraid of pieces of plain cloth and cloth banners? The security forces say that the dignity of the President was compromised when cloth banners were raised after his
speech. The President, of course, didn’t seem to have any objection to it as he readily promised to grant an appointment but our security and administrative apparatus, seeped in colonial and feudal mindset, could not tolerate the fact that some citizens had shown the courage to register their views peacefully in an unconventional manner. The activists didn’t mean any disrespect to the President, did not shout any slogans neither did they attempt to disrupt the meeting. How is a common citizen who cannot approach the President and doesn’t know how to send an e-mail expected to attract the President’s attention without offending him? If we cannot even allow such freedom of speech and expression then what kind of democracy are we living in? And why should the dignity of the President be any higher than that of any common citizen in a democracy? The security forces were reasserting some vague and hollow concept of ‘dignity’ of the President’s office by adopting repressive
measures violating the basic human rights of 7 activists in this case. On the contrary, the endeavour should be to offer every citizen the same status of dignity which the President of India enjoys. When will our bureaucracy and security forces bring about a change in their attitude? The same colonial and feudal attitude is also the cause of failure of the RTI Act. The officials feel it is their prerogative to keep the information secret and away from people. When common people are filing applications under the RTI Act, 2005, the officials and Information Commissioners are making every attempt to ensure that the
protective invisible shell of the administration which hides a plethora of irregularities and corruption is not pierced. The citizens are right now engaged in what is going to be a long drawn battle to make the officials loosen their grip on information and to bend the Information Commissions to their side. The Information Commissions are right now standing in guard of the official information almost taking on the responsibility of providing a protective cover to the bureaucracy, as if the immunity that they presently enjoy is not good enough. The above incident during the national convention on Right to Information
highlights the reality that under the prevailing circumstances none of the basic rights and the right to information are guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. The activists who were hauled up have also realized from this experience the right to information is closely linked to basic human rights and ‘security’ will be cited as a reason for denying both. Hence the fight to secure right to information is going to be part of a larger fight to ensure basic human rights. This fight will include fighting and changing the colonial and feudal mindset of our rulers. The only way this can be done is by openly challenging and questioning their authority like the 7 brave activists did. We are grateful to these seven who decided to make a dent in the system and displayed the courage which the activist community is proud of.

By Sandeep Pandey

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