July 10, 2012
PEOPLE’S UNION FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS
When Protest Becomes a Crime
Shut the voices that do not speak for them: that is what all non-democratic regimes do. And that happens in democracies too. Or at least it happens in India which makes high claims of its democracy. Sometimes it is done through the state machinery like police and the armed forces, at other times through the use of proxy forces. The recent attacks on activists Akhil Gogoi of Assam and Ramesh Agarwal of Chhattisgarh in two separate incidents are stark examples of this.
Akhil Gogoi, the General Secretary of KMSS which has been leading several struggles for the peasants of Assam including the one against the construction of mega-dams in the North-East, has been repeatedly harassed by the state in recent times. He was forcefully evicted from a peaceful protest site not long ago. As the state has failed to suppress the democratic voices led by Gogoi, the recent attack on him seems to be a part of the game-plan to neutralize him. On 6th of July, Gogoi was on a visit to Punni village in Dharmapur area of the Nalbari district to take stock of the flood situation. While in the area, which is the legislative constituency of the congress MLA and agriculture and parliamentary affairs minister Nilamani Sen Deka, he was attacked by sticks and sharp weapons by assailants, who are allegedly Congress (I) workers as identified by Gogoi. They are also known to have taken minister Deka’s name with regard to the attacks.
In a separate incident, Ramesh Agarwal, an environmental activist who clashed with powerful steel and coal interests in Chhattishgarh’s Raigada district was attacked and shot through the thigh by unidentified assailants, right at his own cyber café. Mr. Agarwal and his NGO Jan Chetna Manch (JCM) had been organizing village level oppositions to the plants of several companies violating environmental procedures, especially of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL), and the conflict between JSPL and JCM has been a long one. In June last year, Mr Agarwal was imprisoned for two months for allegedly inciting a mob against the Jindals. The assailants who came to Agarwal’s shop on Saturday the 7th July told him to stop opposing JSPL before firing at him. Though JSPL denies the charge, it appears too apparent to be dismissed.
In both incidents, after the procedural tactics of using police and prisons failed, the more ingenious tactic of physical attacks by ‘unidentified’ assailants have been taken recourse to. While the immediate culprits are ruling party members in one case and company goons in the other, the ultimate purpose of both incidents is to suppress voices of dissent against neo-liberal capitalism. The difference between the party goon and company goon fizzles out here.
While confident that the commitment of fellow activists like Gogoi and Agarwal cannot be diluted by such threats and physical violence, PUDR strongly condemns such dastardly acts committed in collusion with a so-called democratic state. We demand that a proper enquiry be done and the culprits be punished.
Paramjeet Singh, Preeti Chauhan