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A Roar of a Lion- Right to free speech, Right to Dissent, Sedition and Majoritarianism

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Justice Deepak Gupta's Fearless Speech 2

Of Roaring Lions and Squeaking Mice!

Francis Bacon had once described the judges as ‘Lions under the throne.”However decades later in the famous Second World War case of Liversidge v Anderson, where Lord Atkin delivered his powerful dissenting speech, he commented on the arguments of the lawyers and stated that this level of reasoning would have been acceptable to the Court of Kings Bench in the time of Charles I (a monarchy) but not in a democracy, sadly this reasoning was accepted by all of his brother judges. The subjective interpretation adopted by his brother judges who were then pleasing to politicians provoked a letter to Lord Atkin from Mr Justice Wintringham Stable. The letter expressed approval of Lord Atkin’s dissent, and then added:

“I venture to think the decision of the House of Lords has reduced the stature of the judiciary, with consequences that the nation will one day bitterly regret. Bacon, I think, said the judges were the Lions under the throne, but the House of Lords has reduced us to mice squeaking under a chair.

The time is right to celebrate the courage shown by one of our very own, Justice Deepak Gupta, who has roared like a lion in times where just speaking against the ruling Governments would amount to sounding of the death knell for some. In times where we have judgments after judgments trying to bypass the constitution in novel ways so that the mighty and the powerful may not get offended (remember the dissent of Justice Chanderchud where he talks of a fraud played on the constitution and present grant of adjournments in habeas corpus petitions in SC), in times where police is more active in catching hold of people who have written something on their Facebook wall or WhatsApp (under an extinct provision of Section 66A) rather than looking for rapists and murderers, in times where a lawyer if he knows the politician he becomes a judge or an advocate general, in times where dissatisfaction with the government will brand you as an anti-national, in times where freedom of speech is being attacked across the country and fight for human rights and civil liberties is undermined in every nook and corner, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, and our very own, ‘son of the soil’ has had the spine to publically say THE TIMELESS TRUTH of our democracy.

The Hon’ble Judge expressed himself On September 7. The following are edited excerpts of his lecture.

Right to Dissent

There cannot be any democratic polity where the citizens do not have the right to think as they like, express their thoughts, have their own beliefs and faith, and worship in a manner which they feel like.

The right to freedom of opinion and the right of freedom of conscience by themselves include the extremely important right to disagree.

Thus, the right to dissent is one of the most important rights guaranteed by our Constitution. As long as a person does not break the law or encourage strife, he has a right to differ from every other citizen and those in power and propagate what he believes is his belief.

Every society has its own rules and over some time when people only stick to the age-old rules and conventions, society degenerates. New thinkers are born when they disagree with the well-accepted norms of society. If everybody follows the well-trodden path, no new paths will be created, no new explorations will be done and no new vistas will be found. If a person does not ask questions and does not raise issues questioning age-old systems, no new systems would develop and the horizons of the mind will not expand.

Whether Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammad, Guru Nanak Dev, Martin Luther, Kabir, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Karl Marx or Mahatma Gandhi, new thoughts and religious practices would not have been established, if they had quietly submitted to the views of their forefathers and not questioned the existing religious practices, beliefs and rituals.

In a secular country, every belief does not have to be religious. Even atheists enjoy equal rights under the Constitution. Whether one is a believer, an agnostic or an atheist, one enjoys complete freedom of belief and conscience under our Constitution. There can be no impediments on the aforesaid rights except those permitted by the Constitution.

The judgment of HR Khanna, J. in A.D.M. Jabalpur case, is a shining example of a dissent which is much more valuable than the opinion of the majority. This was a judgment delivered by a fearless, incorruptible Judge. Judges are administered oath wherein they swear or affirm to perform the duties to the best of their ability without fear or favour, affection or ill will. First and foremost part of the duty is to do one’s duty without fear.

Law of Sedition

It was enacted at a time when India was ruled by a foreign imperialist colonizing power. The British brooked no opposition and did not want to listen to any criticism. Their sole aim was to deprive the people of this country of their rights including the right to express their views.

Interestingly, though sedition was an offence in the first draft of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) drafted by Lord Macaulay, somehow this did not find its way into the IPC when it was enacted in the year 1860. The IPC was amended in the year 1898 when Section 124A was introduced.

When Section 124A was first introduced, we were told that this provision was not to curb legitimate dissent but was to be used only when the writer or the speaker directly or indirectly suggested or intended to produce the use of force.

Interestingly, another reason given was that there was a Wahabi conspiracy by a man who had preached Jihad or holy war against Christians in India and therefore the need to introduce such a provision.

Though Section 124A was inserted for fear of Muslim preachers advocating Jihad or religious war, it was initially used against Hindu leaders. The first such case was of Jogendera Chunder Bose wherein in a newspaper called Bangobasi, the Editor objected to the English rulers raising the age of consent of sexual intercourse for Indian girls from 10 to 12 years.

Subsequently, the British used the law of sedition to curb any demand for independence said Gupta citing the case of Queen-Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

I would also like to refer to the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, who in this city of Ahmedabad was charged with sedition. Appearing before Sessions Judge Broomfield, Mahatma Gandhi while dealing with the word ‘disaffection’ had this to say: “Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence.”

I think this brilliantly sums up what I want to say today that mere criticism without incitement to violence would not amount to sedition. However, the Mahatma was sentenced to undergo imprisonment for 6 years.

You cannot force people to have affection for the government and merely because people have disaffection or strongly disagree with the views of the Government or express their disagreement in strong words, no sedition is made out unless they or their words promote or incite or tend to promote or incite violence and endanger public order.

However, in present times there is no healthy discussion but only shouting and slanging matches, lamented Justice Gupta. If one does not agree with another, that person becomes an anti-nationalist.

There is no advocacy on principles and issues. There are only shouting and slanging matches. Unfortunately, the common refrain is either you agree with me or you are my enemy, or worse, an enemy of the nation, and anti-nationalist.

The constitutional validity of Section 124A has to be read in the context of Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Thus, advocating any new cause however unpopular or uncomfortable it may be to the powers that be, it must be permitted.

Sedition can arise only against a government established by law. Government is an institution, a body and not a person. Criticism of persons cannot be equated with criticism of the government….Criticism of senior functionaries may amount to defamation for which they can take action in accordance with law but this will definitely not amount to sedition or creating disharmony.

Police cannot deal with law and order problems but have time for sedition

Majoritarianism Can’t be Law

During the dark days of Emergency, an attempt was made by one party President to equate his leader with the country. I am sure that no one will ever try in future to equate a personality with this country of ours which is much bigger than any individual.

A majority government does not mean that minority voices should not be heard. Majoritarianism cannot be the law. Even the minority has the right to express its views. We must also remember that in India we follow the first past the post principle. Besides, he also stated that even Governments which come in with a huge majority do not get 50% of the votes. Therefore, though they are entitled to govern or be called as the majority, it cannot be said that they represent the voice of all the people.

The police always claim to be short of forces when questioned about the adverse law and order situation in various parts of the country. Trials in criminal cases of rape, murder and crimes falling under POCSO carry on for years on end because police officials do not have time to even depose before the courts but when it comes to sedition or Section 153A or implementing the provisions of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (which has been declared unconstitutional), there seems to be no shortage of manpower and the police acts with great alacrity.

It is, thus, clear that there is one set of rules for the rich and the powerful and another set of rules for the ordinary citizens of the country. In a country which professes to live by rule of law, this cannot be permitted.

Thus, the law of sedition is more often abused and misused and the people who criticise those in power are arrested by police officials on the asking of those in power and even if a person may get bail the next day from the court, he has suffered the ignominy of being sent to jail. How the provisions of Section 124A are being misused, begs the question as to whether we should have a relook at it. Freedom of expression being a constitutional right must get primacy over laws of sedition. Sedition is a crime only when there is an incitement to violence or public disorder.

But the law as laid down in Kedar Nath Singh’s case regarding sedition is not being followed.

‘Right to Criticise Government’

I think our country, our Constitution and our national emblems are strong enough to stand on their own shoulders without the aid of the law of sedition. You may force or compel a person to stand while the National Anthem is being sung, but you cannot compel him within his heart to have respect for the same. How does one judge what is inside a person’s mind or in his heart?

In Chhattisgarh, a 53 years old man was arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly spreading rumours over social media about power cuts in the State. It was said that this was done to tarnish the image of the then Government running the State. The charge was absurd and again highlights the misuse of power. In Manipur, a journalist made a vituperative attack on the Chief Minister of the State and used unparliamentary language against the Prime Minister of the country. The language was intemperate and uncalled for but this was not a case of sedition.

Criticism of government by itself cannot amount to sedition. India is a powerful nation, loved by its citizens. We are proud to be Indians. We, however, have the right to criticise the Government. Criticism of the Government by itself cannot amount to sedition. In a country which is governed by the rule of law and which guarantees freedom of speech, expression and belief to its citizens, the misuse of the law of sedition and other similar laws is against the very spirit of freedom for which the freedom fighters fought and gave up their lives.

The shoulders of those in power who govern should be broad enough to accept criticism. Their thinking should be wide enough to accept the fact that there can be another point of view. Criticism of the policies of the government is not sedition unless there is a call for public disorder or incitement to violence. The people in power must develop thick skins. They cannot be oversensitive to people who make fun of them. In a free country, people have the right to express their views.

Everybody may not use temperate or civilised language. If intemperate, uncivilised and defamatory language is used, then the remedy is to file proceedings for defamation but not prosecute the persons for sedition or creating disharmony.

Judiciary Not Above Criticism

In fact, I welcome criticism of the judiciary because only if there is criticism, will there be an improvement. Not only should there be criticism but there must be introspection. When we introspect, we will find that many decisions taken by us need to be corrected.

Criticism of the executive, the judiciary, the bureaucracy or the Armed Forces cannot be termed sedition. In case we attempt to stifle criticism of the institutions whether it be the legislature, the executive or the judiciary or other bodies of the State, we shall become a police State instead of a democracy and this the founding fathers never expected this country to be.

Section 66A of the IT Act, which put restrictions on the freedom of expression in an online space, is still being used by the lower judiciary and the police, even after being struck down in the Shreya Singhal case.

It does not speak well of the Indian judiciary that the magistrates are unaware of the law of land, and day in and day out, we hear of magistrates granting judicial custody or police remand in relation to such offences.

Cyber Bullying

The recent trends have instilled fear in people when it comes to expressing their opinions on criticising governments in power. A very important aspect of a democracy is that the citizens should have no fear of the government. They should not be scared of expressing views which may not be liked by those in power. No doubt, the views must be expressed in a civilised manner without inciting violence but a mere expression of such views cannot be a crime and should not be held against the citizens.

No doubt, the views must be expressed in a civilised manner without inciting violence but a mere expression of such views cannot be a crime and should not be held against the citizens. The world would be a much better place to live if people could express their opinions fearlessly without being scared of prosecutions or trolling on social media. It is indeed sad that one of our celebrities had to withdraw from social media because he and his family members were trolled or threatened of dire consequences.

‘Nationalism is a Great Menace’

Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore had a view on nationalism, which is the anti-thesis of the view which many of us have. He, in fact, had not appreciated the Satyagrah movement. He, who wrote the National Anthem also held the view that ―nationalism is a great menace. I do not agree with those views nor did eminent leaders of that time but this did not make Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore less an Indian, less a patriot than any of his contemporaries. Merely because a person does not agree with the Government in power or is virulently critical of the Government in power, does not make him any less a patriot than those in power. In today‘s world, if any person was to say ―nationalism is a great menaceǁ he may well be charged with sedition.

If this country is to progress not only in the field of commerce and industry but to progress in the field of human rights and be a shining example of an effective, vibrant democracy then the voice of the people can never be stifled. I can do no better than quote the words of Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore:

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,

Where knowledge is free.

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls.

Where words come out from the depth of truth,

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection.

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary deserts and of dead habit.

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action.

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

(The post was first published in https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/ )

 

Deven Khanna is a Lawyer, practicing at High Court of Himachal Pradesh, other H.P Courts/Tribunals and the Supreme Court of India, he is an alumnus of a National Law School. For any queries related to the articles, he can be contacted at 7018469792 or at khannadeven@gmail.com. The personal blog is at https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/

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Shimla: Heavy Price Hike in Food, Tea, Snacks, Admin Says It No More Has Power to Regulate Rates

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Shimla-What is being reported as the result of not notifying certain rules of the Essential Commodities Act, a chaotic situation is arising in Shimla district, Himachal Pradesh. Though the district administration has not issued any notification regarding it, prices of vegetables, food, meat, tea, parantha, samosa/other snacks etc. have been increased arbitrarily by sellers . The government and the administration is not even aware of this situation, a media reports said.

Reports of over-charging owing to loss of control over the price of commodities are appearing from Shimla, especially the cities, for a couple of days. According to a report, this over-pricing is completely out of control as several dhabas, street-side vendors, tea stalls, and restaurants in Shimla are selling tea, parants, Samoas etc. at almost double the set rates.

According to the reports, where earlier a cup of tea cost Rs. 10, now Rs. 20 are being charged from consumers. Similarly, the cost of a parantha has been hiked upto Rs, 50 as compared to the previous rate of Rs. 20. The rate of a Samosa was reported to be Rs 20 – double the previous rate. While a thali/plate of food is being sold between Rs. 90 to 120 compared to the set rate of Rs. 60, people are paying upto Rs. 80 for chow mein.  

When asked about the matter, the Deputy Commissioner, Shimla, Aditya Negi, said that the district administration used to check the rates as per regular notifications issued related to two rules of the Essential Commodities Act. However, the HP Government has not issued any notification in this regard since December 2020. That is why, the district administration is neither able to decide the prices or take action/conduct checking, he explained. 

According to another report published on February 18, the district administration’s power to regulate prices of these commodities has been taken away as a result of abolishing two rules under the Essential Commodities Act. The report said that the state government is not in favour of issuing any such notification in this regard due to pressure from businessmen and traders.

The Food and Civil Supplies Department said that it hasn’t received any proposal to extend/renew Himachal Pradesh Hoarding and Profiteering Prevention Order,1977. However, ambiguity in information still prevails due to lack of any proper explanation from the government. 

The President of Vyopar Mandal, Inderjeet Singh, according to the report, justified the hikes saying that the cost of raw material has also gone up.  

It’s pertinent to mention that, in the absence of lack of any clarification regarding the issue, this over-charging business also being related to constant hike in petrol and diesel prices for the past 12 days. Transporters and suppliers are already raising their demand to hike their rates in view of rising cost of fuel.

Sanjay Chauhan, former Mayor of Shimla, condemned the current situation and blamed BJP Government’s “free market policy” for it.

“This is the policy of the BJP government of free-market economy. BJP government has withdrawn the Essential Commodities Act in the state and all the orders to check hoarding and profiteering are now ineffective. This has given free hand to market forces to overcharge and this will definitely promote price rise,” said Sanjay Chauhan.

“This action of government will affect the common man and particularly working people, daily wager and poor. This will force poor sections of society which is already in crisis due to economic crisis towards hunger,” he added.

“Government must immediately come with legislation to check prices particularly essential commodities and food items,” he demanded.

Other than food prices, a third report published on February 22, 2020, said that the hike in fuel prices is now hitting developmental works in the state. Contractors of the Public Works Department are demanding a hike in the cost of construction projects, the report said. The head of the association/union for contractors in Himachal Pradesh, Satish Kumar Vij, according to the report, said that the contractors have taken a hit due to the pandemic.

Now, due to the constant hike in the prices of petrol and diesel, they are compelled to pay a higher cost for hiring labour, transportation fare, and other works which require labourers, the report said.

If the government does not revise the rates, the contractors would have to face losses, Satish said. The report said that a delegation of the union would soon reach Chief Minister Jairam Thakur regarding their demand.    

Akhil Bharatiya Janwadi Mahila Samiti has also launched attack on the government, blaming it for putting more financial burden on commoners. Women are finding it hard to manage household expanses due to inflation in rates. The state government has also washed its hands off from the responsibility of regulating prices of commodities in the market, leaving people on the mercy of sellers/businessmen/traders, the Samiti said. 

“The BJP Government is indifferent towards the people and only misguiding them in the name of development. The government only focuses on diverting attention from critical issues,” said the Mahila Samiti in a press statement. 

“Amidst of pandemic, when crores of people have lost their jobs, the price hike is burning a hole in their pockets. The government need to take back this decision to abolish control of district administration on rates of food and other items of daily use. The fuel prices should be brought down to provide relief to the people, ” the statement said. 

No word regarding the issue has been issued by the government so far. Also, there is no clarity whether a fresh notification would be issued by the government or not.   

Moreover, the opposition also appears to be clueless as no statement regarding the issue has been released.

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After Uttarakhand Tragedy, Several Orgs., Activists Yet Again Express Fear Over Hydro Projects Planned in Himachal’s Ecologically Fragile Regions

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Uttarakhand Tragedy: ‘Natural disaster’ or ‘Willful Negligence’? Asks Environmental Activists and Organizations in Himachal Pradesh

Shimla-After a massive flood trigger by what is being called a “glacier bust” swept hydropower plant in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli on February 7, 2021, over 200 workers working at the project site or inside the tunnel are missing, including 10 persons from Himachal Pradesh. So far, bodies of 32 men have been recovered, and it is feared that the number could go higher as rescue operations are still underway. 

Though Centre Government suggests that an avalanche occurred in the upper catchment of Rishiganga River, a tributary of Alaknanda River in Chamoli District of Uttarakhand, which led to a sudden rise in the water level of the Rishiganga River, the real cause  is unknown. The Government is calling it a natural disaster triggered. But, was it really a natural disaster or man-made?

This is what a dozen environmental activists, societies, and organizations including Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective in Himachal Pradeesh are asking, while expressing fear that the similar fate awaits to happen in Himachal Pradesh due to large number of hydropower projects proposed in the ecologically fragile regions of the state. It’s not the first time that these organizations and activists have warned of the dangers of rampart construction of power projects on major rivers. The government, however, neglected not only these activists, but also studies published by several researchers. 

Himdhara had also released their report titled “The Hidden Cost of Hydropower” in June 2019 to highlight the risks associated with hydropower construction, especially in Himalayan regions like Himachal Pradesh.

But MoUs for construction of over a dozen of projects have been signed by the HP Government in 2019 only. 

Also Read: Ignoring Environmental Concerns, HP Govt Signs 10 More MoUs for Hydro Projects Worth Rs. 25,772 Crores

Yesterday, in a collective statement issued, these organizations/activists and others expressed their grief and utmost anguish for the lives lost in the tragic event that occurred in Chamoli Uttarakhand.

“We hear that hundreds are missing and several feared dead. We are also aware that there is no clear statement from the government or any other State agency about the exact event that triggered the massive flood,” the statement said.  

However, the statement said, considering the location and context of the event conjectures are that this could have been an avalanche or landslide and/or a glacial lake burst of some sort. The high altitudes of the Himalayas have been known, for time immemorial for the harsh conditions of the climate and floods. But in recent decades, these ecologically and geologically fragile and sensitive terrains have become even more vulnerable due to rapidly changing climatic patterns.

“Let us acknowledge that these climatic changes, be it erratic rainfall or deglaciation due to increased warming are not ‘natural phenomena’. These are caused and exacerbated by several anthropogenic factors, the biggest being the rapid exploitation of land, water and forests and the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere given the highly polluting nature of ‘development’ – worldwide,” they said.  

“This crisis is adversely affecting the poorest of communities across the world and in our country, living in frontier regions like the mountains and coasts. Scarcities of water, changing agricultural patterns and deforestation have grossly impacted farmers, forest-dependent indigenous people and the urban poor,” it said.

Also Read: Hydropower Projects in Himachal Not ‘Eco-Friendly, Govt Keeps People in Dark Through Biased Environment Impact Assessment Reports

Let the common people know that in the year 2008 the government of India set up the National Climate Change Action Plan, the statement said. In the last couple of years close to 140 Billion dollars have been spent on various missions under this plan. Thousands of crores have been spent on setting up state climate cells for climate change research in the Himalaya. Apart from this several independent studies have been published over the last two decades on the vulnerabilities of the Himalayan region.

“It is a matter of shame and sheer negligence that the findings of these studies have not converted to policy,” they said.  

They further added that this is why the dam building agenda continues unabated and unabashed in the Himalayas ranging from the East to the West attempting to realise a potential of 118000 MW of electricity involving hundreds of large, medium and small hydropower projects. In Himachal, where projects worth 10000 MW have already been built have changed land use – gobbled forests & farms, caused landslides, soil erosion and impacted the riverine ecosystems at an enormous scale.

According to the State Disaster Management Authority, most of Himachal’s hydropower projects in operation or under construction fall in areas highly vulnerable to various hazards like landslides and floods. The Avay Shukla Committee report presented to the Shimla High Court in 2011 had recommended a moratorium on new hydropower projects in the state for this reason. But the state government dissed the report completely, they said.  

As a matter of concern, these groups and activists highlighted that most of the planned projects that are yet to come up in Himachal are in the climate-vulnerable and ecologically fragile greater and trans-Himalayan regions of Kinnaur and Spiti, located in the Upper Satluj valley and Lahaul in the Chandrabhaga also known as Chenab, where tribal communities are resisting them tooth and nail. These are also geologically unstable terrains prone to earthquakes and avalanches. A study by researchers from the University of Potsdam, Germany, analysing 273 hydropower projects in the Himalayas in India, Nepal and Bhutan found that about 25% of them are likely to face severe damage from quake-triggered landslides.

The 2013 Uttarakhand disaster was an expensive and tragic lesson. The Ravi Chopra Committee and scientific assessments made clear the role of hydropower and mindless construction in exacerbating the impact of the Kedarnath flash flood. But we learnt nothing from it. The reason we refer to this as an ‘agenda’ should be clear by now, the statement said.

It is an agenda because no amount of evidence presented to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, to state departments, to CWC, to courts has led to a reconsideration or review of the hydropower policy of the Government of India or the state governments of Uttarakhand, Himachal, Arunachal, Sikkim etc. Lack of adequate and thorough scientific planning and shoddy impact assessment studies are approved by Expert Appraisal Committees with members who are clearly in support of projects. The Asian Development Bank which has funded the expansion of NTPC projects in the Dhauliganga river approved an EIA report of Tapovan Vishni gad which doesn’t have a single mention of the threat of flood or glacial lakes, avalanches. International Financing agencies are thus also complicit in this negligence. 

Once clearances are granted non-compliance of environmental norms and social accountability laws is rampant. No safety monitoring is undertaken and the lives of workers and people of affected villages are constantly at stake.

“Have we ever heard of an Environment Clearance of a dam being cancelled because of non-compliance?” they asked. Diminishing space for democratic public participation in decision-making processes have further worsened the situation in the past few years. With the EIA 2020 the MoEF&CC and government are completely finishing this space, they alleged. What is worse is that the central government, despite the obvious hazards associated with large hydropower projects, has in 2019 classified projects above 25 MW as ‘renewable’ which will be able to avail subsidies and the power produced by these will be subject to obligatory purchase norms. 

“We express our collective rage at the inaction by the government at multiple levels and its repeated thrust on large dams in the Himalayas. No amount of monetary compensation can placate the anguish of those who have suffered irreparable losses. No amount of trying to hide behind words like ‘natural disaster’ and ‘act of god’ can deceive the people. The lack of accountability and intent of all the institutions, agencies and political representatives involved stands amply exposed,” the statement said.  

Signatories 

Himalayan Students Ensemble; Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective; Himalaya Bachao Samiti, Chamba; Himalaya Niti Abhiyan; Him Lok Jagriti Manch, Kinnaur; Nagrik Adhikar Manch, Kangra; People’s campaign for socio-economic equity in the Himalaya; Save Lahaul Spiti, Lahaul; Spiti Civil Society, Spiti; Sutra, Himachal Pradesh; Towerline Shoshit Jagrukta Manch; Zilla Van Adhikar Samiti; Sirmaur Van Adhikar Manch

 

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Supporters in Himachal Displaying Solidarity With Protesting Farmers, Term Delhi Violence a Failed Conspiracy to Discredit Movement

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Shimla-Stabbed in the back by internal enemies – miscreants among them who had segued into the tractor rally held on the Republic day and sparked violence- farmers protesting for over two-months on Singhu, Tikari, Ghazipur boarders appeared to had lost the battle against the government. But, as more facts are appearing, the agitation is again gaining momentum and receiving the support of farmers from other states including Himachal Pradesh. Further, arrest of a freelance journalist, Mandeep Punia who was reporting the farmers protest for the Carvan Magazine from Singhu boarder, has led to outrage among press community.

Though people/farmers unions in Himachal are still refraining to come out openly in support of the protesting farmers, small groups have been extending their support once in a while.

On Saturday, a group of eight to ten people, including an elderly person, held a peaceful demonstration at the busy Cart Road of Shimla city in support of the ongoing farmers protest. They said, they were only local individuals who doesn’t have any political leader or affiliation to any party or organization. Himachal Watcher spoke to some of them. Here is what they said (video):

They stood on the roadside, holding posters and placards demanding inquiry into 26 January violence in Delhi, withdrawal of police cases against journalists reporting the protest, and expressing solidarity with the farmers protesting against the Farm Bills passed by the current government. Their number was very small, but still they attracted attention of the locals and tourists.

Famers protest in himachal pradesh
Some of the tourists spoke to them and shared their opinion.

SHimla farmers support

Within the next 20 minutes, police personals arrived at the spot and inquired these persons for permissions to hold this demonstration. They were also asked as to who was their leader and that whether they were planning more demonstrations or protests in future. One of these officials claimed to be a CID official. The police noted down addresses of all these persons. 

SHimla farmers protest 2

Earlier, farmers in Una district on January 27, 2020, had held a tractor rally to express their anger over the ruling party for allegedly trying to malign the image of the farmers by conspiring violence that had erupted in Delhi on the Republic Day. Hundreds of farmers had participated in the rally with their tractors, cars, and bikes to express solidarity with the farmers who had been protesting against the three contentious Farm Laws for over two months now.  

Tractor Rally in Una himachal pradesh

It was a deliberate attempt to brand all farmers as anti-nationals and terrorists, thus, break the otherwise unbreakable farmers protest, which has been giving nightmares to the Union Government, the farmers in the rally alleged.

Starting from Dulehar, the rally passed through Tehaliwal, Santoshgarh, Mehatpur to reach the district headquarters. Up in arms, they shouted slogans in support of the farmers and against the Centre Government.


Though the people claimed that it was an apolitical rally, some of the people, namely Ashu Puri, Gurmukh, and Rajender Singh played a leading role in organizing the rally.  

Ravikant Bassi, a farmer and former Councilor of Santosh Nagar, told Himachal Watcher that about 150 tractors took part in the rally, while several other farmers flocked in their four and two-wheelers to extend their support to the farmers’ protest.

“Violence was a conspiracy as it was the only way to defame such a massive protest, which is receiving widespread support across India,” said Bassi.

“The purpose of our rally was to attract the attention of other farmers in the district and the state towards the Farm Laws, which are not in the interest of farmers. We only want that the respected Prime Minister of India, Narender Modi, withdraw these laws so that more damage of lives and property could be avoided,” he said.  

“The Government need to listen to everyone; be it farmers, labourers, or any section of society,” he said.

“When the country needs us, the farmers need us, we must unite to support them and to uphold the democratic values. If we do not support them now, then what would we eat? ”

“Look at the situation in Bihar. People migrate to other states to work as labourers. If we lose our farming land, then we are destined to face a similar fate,” he said.

“Another purpose of this rally we had organized was to create awareness among other farmers that these three Laws passed by the Centre Government are not in the interests of the farmers. The Government should withdraw them,” he said.

“Today, farmers need your support. Stand by them, and they will stand by you when you would need support,” Bassi urged to other farmers in the district and the state.

Earlier, on January 26, Youth Congress had also held a tractor rally to support the farmers.

It’s pertinent to mention that a group of alleged miscreants, which the farmers allege was a part of the trickery to defame and weaken the protest by exploiting sentiments of the common people, had sparked violence on the Republic Day. During this violence, hundreds of policemen were injured. Horrible scenes from the violence had shocked the nation. The unfurling of religious flag of Sikh’s – Nishan Sahib-at the Fort had further aggravated the situation. However, as more facts emerged, the movement again started to gain momentum. A huge crowd of farmers continue to arrive at the protest sites, especially after an emotional video of farmer leader, Rakesh Tikait, surfaced media and social media. 

The leaders of Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a joint front of farmer unions, observed January 30 as “Sadhbhawna Diwas” (Goodwill Day) and observed a day-long fast at all protest sites. They appealed to the public to join them. 

Recently, the farmers alleged, another attempt to spark violence was made when some people who claimed to be locals entered the protest site without any check from the police force and started vandalizing tents and trolleys of the protesting farmers. It resulted in a clash and stone-pelting from both sides. The SHO of Alipur, Pradeep Paliwal, was injured after he was hit on his left palm by the sword. However, a fact-check by Alt News claimed that it’s indeed workers of a particular party who were posing as locals. In another report, the actual local people were said to have rubbished the claims of facing inconvenience due to farmers protest. 

According to a report published by English Daily Hindustan Times,

“They were raising slogans of “goli maaro…” (shoot the traitors) and branding the farmers as “Khalistanis”. Some of them had covered their faces with mufflers and handkerchiefs.”

HT reported that the protesters included members of groups called the Hindu Sena, the Hinda Yuva Seva Sangh, and the Delhi Dehat Vikas Manch (DDVM).

During the two-month-long protest over nearly a hundred people have died either due to cold, accidents or other health-related problems. 

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