Bangalore International Centre had arranged a Panel Discussion on “Civil Liberties and Rights in our Country and the Role of the State” on Wednesday, 19th January, 2011 at 6:30 pm. The Panelists included eminent personalities like Dr. Ramachandra Guha, Eminent Historian and Writer; Prof. S.L. Rao, Member, Board of Governors, ISEC and Ms. Jija Madhavan Harisingh, IPS, Director General of Police and Commandant General, Home Guards, Director, Civil Defence and Director General Fire and Emergency Services, Karnataka. The discussion was chaired and moderated by Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, Former Chief Justice of India.
The Discussion was based on the context of recent indictment of Dr. Binayak Sen. The Sessions Court of Raipur, Chhattisgarh sentenced Dr. Binayak Sen and two others to life imprisonment under charges of sedition on the 24th December 2010, which has drawn nationwide and international criticism. Dr. Sen, a medical practitioner working in one of the most backward areas of the country, is a sharp critic of the violation of human rights by the state police and the Chhattisgarh government machinery, in the name of containing Maoist violence. The judgement, indicting Dr. Sen for ‘sedition’, has opened up a larger debate on the problematic relationship between the state, its institutions like the judiciary, and the democratic values they are supposed to uphold.
In a perceptive analysis, Dr. Ramachandra Guha highlighted the fact that the founding fathers of our freedom struggle and the early independent India were all champions of civil rights and liberties and that it was not possible for a true democracy to survive and flourish if the state decides to suppress such rights and liberties including freedom of expression, and if there is collapse of criminal justice system. Tracing the background of the spread of violence and left-wing extremism in the tribal pockets, Dr. Guha stressed that exploitation and neglect of the tribals was the root cause of the problem. He emphasized that inclusive development, and not suppression, would be the right solution. While not disagreeing with Dr. Guha, Ms. Jija Madhavan Harisingh pointed out the severe handicaps under which the Police have to function and uphold law and order under the orders of their political and administrative superiors. She also referred to several brutal murders of policemen by the extremists, and the action taken by the government and the Courts against errant policemen who were guilty of excesses. Prof. Rao, who spoke next, supported the rights of the activists, including extremists, to oppose the state and the policies of the state and stressed that their rights could not be taken away without the due process of law. He also decried the thoughtless pursuit of “development” by totally ignoring the local needs and sentiments which often breed discontent and unrest. Justice Venkatachalaiah who moderated the discussion, recalled the horror he experienced when he came across numerous cases of gross violation of human rights when he held charge as the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. He fully endorsed the stand of Dr. Guha that suppression of civil rights and liberties is tantamount to the suppression of democracy and felt that all the institutions under the state should clearly understand and appreciate the issues at stake.
A large number of members and eminent citizens of Bangalore participated in the interactive session and agreed that systematic changes must be introduced within the institutional framework of the state to make it more responsive to the people’s need and keep our democracy alive and vibrant.