PUCL May, 2003

An Appeal to Conscience
Let's us not allow Anomie to set in!

Open letter by K G Kannabiran
President, People's Union for Civil Liberties

Also see, Killing free speech By K. G. Kannabiran

Though I am writing this in a particular context of death-threats being received by some of people's activists and intellectuals in Andhra Pradesh, I feel it concerns larger issues of the state of liberal democratic values and Constitutional provisions prevailing in our country in general and in Andhra Pradesh in particular. Though the threat is against a few individuals at this point of time, I think it is going to envelope all of us - overtly or covertly - and capable of undermining the basic edifice of democratic polity and culture of dissent.

In the first week of April at least a dozen activists from AP Civil Liberties Committee, Human Rights Forum, Viplava Rachayitala Sangham, Jana Natya Mandali, etc., including noted revolutionary poet Varavara Rao and singer Gaddar, received telephone calls when the unidentified callers threatened to kill them. In a particular case, Pinakapani, General Secretary of Viplava Rachayitala Sangham not only got this kind of threatening calls several times over a span of three days, but also chased by a vehicle in his hometown.

The persons facing this danger are being hounded and threatened by police directly and indirectly for a long time now. Threatening telephone calls have become the order of the day. The brutal murders of activists of APCLC from Dr Ramanatham in 1985 to Md Azam Ali in 2001 are not allowing me to dismiss these threatening calls as a mere pressure tactic and I think there is some immanent and real danger.

I do not think that the threats are a personal issue of those concerned. I strongly feel that larger social and political issues are involved and hence it is high time all of us have to be concerned about these threatening calls. In fact, this kind of threats to people in public life have been there for the last three decades and we, in a way, allowing that to pass. At least now we have to say "NO".

The present regime in Andhra Pradesh is so intolerant of dissenting voices that it wants to silence all those voices by any means. I believe that protecting, allowing and making space to the dissenting voices is the essence of democracy, irrespective of our acceptance or otherwise of those dissenting ideas. But the regime that boasts of its representative and democratic nature is not able to allow any opposition as well as the middle class voices that lend support to the grassroots movements.

The police have been using mercenary gangs to do the dirty job so that their hands are not soiled. The murder of APCLC State joint secretary T Purushotham in 2000 and Nalgonda district secretary Md Azam Ali in 2001 amply show the policy being employed by the police. I feel the same policy is going to be implemented again and the police are hatching a conspiracy to kill a prominent activist from mass organisations to terrorise all activists and silence the organisations.

Thus the killing will not only kill one person but will be capable of killing the democratic spirit of potest and lending support to that protest. It will not only snatch away a particular individual from our midst, but will also snatch away right to expression of people, including each of us. Silencing one in turn will be able to silence hundreds and the state wants precisely this. Like Martin Niemoller's poetic warning six decades ago, keeping silent when the first attack takes place, makes each of us vulnerable and ultimately when we become a victim, there wouldn't be any protest. Thus I call upon you to raise your voice against the danger and try to do everything that you can now.

The obtaining situation reminds me one that existed in Germany and Italy in particular and world over in general during World War II. Those gloomy days witnessed a diminished responsibility state and the same demon is spreading its tentacles now. While the state is abdicating its responsibility in all social spheres, people's right to seek justice is being denied. Mercenary gangs set up among the civil society are allowed unlimited freedom to violence and crush the voices of dissent. Rising Right as seen in Gujarat and elsewhere is fuelling this all pervasive violence. The violence by a few aberrant groups is growing and now we have to raise our protest against these gangs also, since subjugating people by using this violence and undermining right to life seem to be the objectives of the state policy. The Constitutional obligations towards fundamental rights and directive principles of state policy towards social justice are given a go by. Erosion of right to life extends to violation of right to free speech, freedom of expression and freedom of association - the three fundamental and inalienable attributes of human existence.

I bring this state of affairs to your notice not just to seek your sympathies with those under life threat. The situation has crossed the limits of mere sympathy. It is time to act. Please act so that the state listens and takes note of our concern. Let the state understand that the threats are not a personal issue. Let the state act and change its methods. Let the state follow the rule of law and liberal democratic values set out in the Constitution.

Inability of society to respond to such grave concerns was described as the state of anomie by McIver, who described it as, "the state of mind of one, who has been pulled up by moral roots, who has no longer any standards, but only disconnected urges, who has no longer any sense of community of folk or of obligation. The anomic man has become spiritually sterile, responsive only to himself, responsible to no one. He derides the values of other men. His only faith is the philosophy of denial. He lives on the thin line of sensation between no future and no past… Anomie is a state of mind in which the individual's sense of social cohesion - the main spring of his morale is broken or fatally wounded."

Let not the world think that the principle of anomie has set in in Indian society. Let us show we are responsive and responsible. Let us react and make things happen. Now. Here.

You can send in your responses to:
Mr Surjeet Singh Barnala, Governor of Andhra Pradesh at governor@ap.nic.in

Mr N Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh at cmap@ap.nic.in

Mr T Devender Goud, Home Minister of Andhra Pradesh at min_home@ap.gov.in

Mr P Ramulu, Director General of Police, Andhra Pradesh at dgpap@ap.nic.in


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