Thursday, May 15, 2008

POTA and Sons Inc.

        It's one year since Dr.Binayak Sen was arrested, a full year during the course of which almost every wing of the Indian state combined to put a committed social worker behind bars on the basis of flawed evidence and coerced testimonials. Dr. Sen, who campaigned relentlessly against the extra-constitutional "Salwa Judm" in Chattisgarh, was/is accused of colluding with terror-the one charge that will ensure that institutions/individuals normally accustomed to voicing their opinion keep silent and entrust everything to the Government.

        The strange case of Dr.Sen slithered to the underside of public(you know what I mean) memory, kept alive by a few voices which were generally ignored. In April, The Supreme Court expressed its disapproval of the basic idea behind the
creation of an organization like the Salwa Judm, thus vindicating the stand of Dr. Sen and his comrades.

        The state government however, not only refused to relent on Dr.Sen's case, but carried out another arrest in almost similarly shocking circumstances. The arrest of T.G Ajay under the CPSA (Chattisgarh Public Security Act) on the 5th of May and the conferral of The Jonathan Mann award for Global Health and Human Rights on Dr.Sen have seemingly awakened erstwhile silent sections of civil society to this issue. The demonstrations, petitions and marches have begun and will hopefully intensify. However there is one broader trend that must be isolated and resisted, since it goes beyond these particular cases and contexts.

        I am referring of course, to the CPSA and its brother laws.

        The blog for the "Campaign for Peace and Justice in Chattisgarh" has a link to the copy of the Act as well as a review of the Act by the People's Union for Democratic Rights.

        A very cursory reading of the Act itself indicates the immense potential for the misuse of this act and the severe restrictions on review of decisions made under this Act(The Government is the only agent empowered to call for an Advisory Board). The CPSA is yet another bastard offspring of the "War on Terror" and its true significance can only been understood when studied in the global context. Of course oppressive laws abounded even before, but 9-11 and the incidents that followed proved to be a boon for those believed that tough measures like POTA or CPSA are the solutions to issues of public security. The recent bomb blasts in Jaipur saw a great deal of noise about the need to act tough on terror. There were even calls for POTA to be brought back from the place it was rightly consigned to after the NDA was thrown out in 2004.

        The most important temptation to be resisted is this-the belief that a hastily-crafted law without any of the proper safeguards necessary can, on its own, solve all those issues that give rise to terrorism. Statistical evidence aside, common sense alone is enough to tell one that centralization in law-making is not the strategy to combat terror structures that are getting increasing de-centralized. Centralized(those that effectively end up concentrating power in fewer hands), coercive laws invariably end up affecting those at the margins, alienating them further and stretching the fabric of the state to its breaking point. However this is something that happens over a longer period of time and the myopic comfort provided by harsh and effective sounding laws often trumps considerations about the society of the future.

        A cautionary note must be sounded here in the context of liberal voices associating a preference for these kinds of laws with "communal forces". While it's true that the Sangh Parivar has been in the forefront of advocating such laws, it is also to be remembered that there is as great a mass of the populace, which while distancing itself from the Parivar's agenda, firmly believes that the nation must take a "strong" stand against terror. This group is the "swing group", the one which must be engaged if we are ever to be saved from the indignity of our Democratic state transforming into a complete Police State.

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