NEW DELHI: People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) held a press conference on Thursday at the Press Club of India addressed by well known intellectuals who minced no words in attacking the government for the arrests of activists. A summary:

Aruna Roy

Activist and founder of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS)

The right to freedom of expression is diminishing in front of us, and such learned people are being arrested as those who speak about exploitation in villages, and about exploitations against Adivasis, Dalits, and the poor. All these events indicate that if you speak up, action will be taken against you. The limiting of the freedom to expression is very dangerous for society and our democratic system…we must be aware that the space for us to do something is also shrinking (…) this system of instilling fear in people and depriving them of their rights will slowly create a situation where people will be fearful of speaking their mind. This is a big attack on our democratic system.

The Elgar [Parishad] was organized by Justice Sawant and Justice Patil, both of whom are very well-known judges. Now this meeting is being attacked on grounds of having maoist connections.

The government wants to distort every story, to invert it and spread it, and attack rights activists through media trial.Ordinary citizens of India need to stand up against such activities – this isn’t a matter of the interest of some activists, but of all people’s interests and rights, and of the constitution.

Sanjay Parikh

PUCL Vice President

I think that the most important thing for us to understand is that the freedom of expression is our biggest and most important right under the constitution. We also have the right to disagree with others and offer our dissent. If it is such that speaking against the administration will get you arrested under UAPA; like our 5 human rights activists who have been working extensively to contribute to the marginalized peoples’ cases; then freedom of expression is taken away and an atmosphere of fear is created.

This is worse than an undeclared emergency – it is an actual state of emergency, because one has no right to speak.

N. D. Pancholi


Civil liberties such as the right to expression, to equality and to social justice were the main planks of our freedom movement. Even after independence, people continued to value and uphold civil liberties and democratic rights. For example, During the emergency when elections were declared, the government told people to forget their freedom, for it will give them economic prosperity. However, the opposition and the citizens of India rejected economic prosperity if it came at the price of their rights and civil liberties.

We must be content to die if we cannot live as free men and free women.

Arundhati Roy

Booker Prize-winning author and activist

#MeTooUrbanNaxal: A front-page report in the Indian Express says “Police to Court: Those held part of anti-fascist plot to overthrow govt. We should know by now that we are up against a regime that its own police call fascist. In the India of today, to belong to a minority is a crime. To be murdered is a crime. To be lynched is a crime. To be poor is a crime. To defend the poor is to plot to overthrow the government.

BJP and PM Narendra Modi are losing popularity at an alarming pace. This means that we are entering dangerous times.

There will be ruthless and continuous attempts to divert attention from the reasons for this loss of popularity, and to fracture the growing solidarity of the opposition. It will be a continuous circus from now to the elections – arrests, assassinations, lynchings, bomb attacks, false flag attacks, riots, pogroms. We have learned to connect the season of elections with the onset of all kinds of violence. Divide and Rule, yes. But add to that – Divert and Rule. From now until the elections, we will not know from when, and where and how the fireball will fall on us, and what the nature of that fireball will be.

Apart from the activists, there are thousands of people in jail, across Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Andhra… people who don’t have names, people who don’t have lawyers, people who don’t have press conferences. Earlier it was the Adivasi community who were being called Maoists, now the Dalits are being included, as well as anyone who supports them (…) By arresting activists and calling them ‘Maoists’, the government manages to undermine and insult Dalit aspiration by giving it another name – while at the same time appearing to be sensitive to ‘Dalit Issues.’

Arrests are a ‘coup against the Constitution.

This is a very dire situation, more potentially dangerous than the Emergency. The emergency was declared supposedly to impose law and order – though of course it was violating civil rights. But this situation is in order to overturn the Constitution, in order to declare a Hindu Rashtra – an upper caste Hindu Rashtra – in which all minorities and everyone else who does not agree with this majoritarian point of view is criminalized.

Kalyani Menon-Sen

Feminist researcher and activist with WSS

The more we think about it, the more it seems that their real crime is to uphold the Constitution. They are telling those at the receiving end of state violence what their rights are, granted by the same constitution from which the state is drawing its authority. This is their real crime. There is no greater irony than the fact that those who uphold, believe in and work on the basis of the constitution are the ones who are being called the enemies of the nation. The government wants us to see an absolute inversion of reality – their worldview is like a looking glass in which reality is absolutely inverted, where those who protect the constitution become its enemies. Those who stop lynching mobs become lynchers and are stuck with a murder case against themselves. Those who speak against violence and terror are arrested under anti-terrorism laws. We see through these games and see what they are meant to establish.

Prashant Bhushan

Senior advocate who filed a writ petition on the arrests in the SC

The charges say that they [the activists] have connections with Bhima-Koregaon and Maoists. People who have been working for human rights and human right laws for decades are suddenly called part of a terrorist conspiracy so compelling that raids and arrests are needed. These people are not even remotely related to Bhima-Koregaon, but have been arrested under that FIR.

We need to understand that sometimes, when the escalation towards fascism takes place slowly; trampling over human rights and strangulating democracy; it is not easy to take note of the fact that it is happening. Unlike the emergency, this isn’t instantaneously declared but a slow process. It is hence more dangerous.

We need to understand that today our society, our human rights, our constitution and this democracy are on the line.

Bezwada Wilson

Safai Karamchari Andolan

I have noticed that whenever there is a Dalit assertion, the state itself opposes it. This is condemnable. We were treated like slaves for five thousand years in this country. When there’s a victory symbol in Bhima-Koregaon, we want to celebrate it – how can one say that this is wrong? The entire country should celebrate it because for the first time, Dalits and untouchables have anything to celebrate in this country.

The people who are arrested stood by the sides of the Dalits, the oppressed and the marginalized. Now the state is coming for everyone. It is important to condemn these actions because they don’t stop at arrests,” he said, speaking of the recent arrests. He also talked about the new currency being used by the government – the term ‘Urban Naxal’. “This is a new term in the country that has been made to divide people – you are either an urban naxal, or you’re not. Before that, we had ‘deshbhakt’ and ‘deshdrohi’, ‘tukda tukda gang…’ this is a policy of the government against which we all must unite. It is a matter of our freedom and our rights.

Jignesh Mevani

Gujarat MLA, social activist and lawyer

They want to do two things: The first is seen in the fact that people who have been fighting against the Sangh Parivar and the BJP for not just the past four years but decades; who really want the state to be a secular socialist democracy; who fight for the rights of the Dalits, minorities, farmers, and labourers; and who can really emerge as a challenge against the Sanghis and the BJP in 2019 elections – those people are being terrorized. Another attempt is to discredit Dalit assertions at every step by putting the stamp of naxal activity on it…The so-called Maoist plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi is nothing but a plot designed and articulated by the Maharashtra police; upon the instruction of Midi and Amit Shah; to generate sympathy for Modi before 2019. A similar situation was seen in Gujarat in 2003, 2004, and so on for seven years: till the Apex court declared all encounters as fake, every year a jihadist would be said to come to kill Modiji. Now they’re using the stamp of Maoists”, he said. “When the BJP Minister Ramdas Athawale has openly said that the organizers of Elgar Parishad have no Naxalite connections, then why are we facing the FIR?

Mevani had been present at Bhima-Koregaon meet and said that another Dalit protest against the arrests would take place on September 5t.

After the conference, a Joint Statement was released, demanding “appropriate action against Maharashtra Police for launching a vicious and malafide attack against activists”. The statement also condemned the draconian Unlawful Activity (Prevention) Act which was used in the arrests, and called for an unconditional repeal of the same.