5 May 2003)
Killing free speech
By K. G. Kannabiran
Also see, An Appeal
Let's us not allow Anomie to set in!
by K G Kannabiran
President, People's Union for Civil Liberties
THERE ARE other ways of restraining free speech and expression, freedom
of assembly and association. Use of laws invites adverse criticisms.
Though the state generally does not care for such criticism, this does
not solve the problem. Killing silences criticism once and for all. The
critic is silenced and his death silences other like-minded persons. The
others seek reasons for the killing not because their conscience is disturbed,
but because, living in a society, they feel compelled to justify their
silence. People feel that the critic was
silenced for his confrontational politics. We are neutral not because
of our objective understanding but on account of subjective factors, terror
The Government need
not resort to the relevant sub-clauses of Article 19 of
the Constitution by framing laws or to even invoke the drastic Emergency.
Governments have now learnt to abandon governance without doing away
with the formal framework. With the onset of the 21st century, mankind
has come a full circle.
We struggled against arbitrariness, which was not premeditated, and
insecurity. Through gradual evolution, we brought orderliness in our
lives. We devised rules to govern ourselves.We fought against dominance
various forms. We also formulated a philosophy to change the world. And
this led to the framing of the Constitution, which was in itself a major
step towards transparent governance.
were the first to come with the emergence of power and its dominance.
It looks as though we have returned to the Hobbesian state of nature where
life was depicted as "nasty, brutish and short". (man is wolf
of man), said Hobbes. The progress we have achieved seems to have come
to a halt. Instead of moving towards an egalitarian society, we have been
busy completing the task left unfinished by Hitler and Mussolini. We do
not even change the signboards. Governments manage the atrocities with
the same signboards, democracy and socialism. It does not embarrass governments
nor does it lead to angry protests.
One can have a Constitution
without working it and by allowing parts of it fall
into desuetude. And that would be a tragedy because if these rights are
not available or if people are trained not to use these rights or to look
at the exercise of these rights as a futile endeavour, when globalisation
and market forces fail to enhance the quality of our lives, as ahuman
collective we would have forgotten the art of collectively protesting.
This process appears to be on already.
This state of affairs
can only be described as anomie. In Andhra Pradesh, over four decades
of continued brutality employed by the Government for putting down the
CPI (M-L) movement has led inexorably to the present state of anomie in
governance. This is not peculiar to the State. We recently witnessed the
total breakdown of order in Gujarat where authority was supervising mayhem
and looting of Muslim shops by middle-class families. This anomie takes
various forms and exists in various stages across the country. There seems
to be a total
abandonment of governance. Andhra Pradesh has taken the pioneering
step of privatising extra-judicial killings of non-parliamentary political
dissent, including the defenders of human rights and intellectual supporters
of this dissent.
When three inspectors in Andhra Pradesh were abducted recently, quite
large number of human rights activists and writers received threats saying
that they would be killed should something happen to the abducted.
This is nothing new as it has been the logic of state violence for over
three decades. For every extremist killing, the state kills a human rights
defender. These were extensively reported in the media electronic
and print. The Telugu daily, wrote an editorial against the practice.
Despite the release of the abducted policemen, the threat to the lives
of Varavara Rao, Gadar and N. Venugopal, a fairly well-known journalist,
continues. This is not something personal to them. How can anyone claim
the authority to extinguish the right to life of Mr. Rao or for that matter
of X, Y, or Z for their political views? This situation has the potential
of occurring in every State, but in Andhra Pradesh it happens regularly.
The issue in question has nothing to do with the life and politics of
either Gadar or Mr. Rao or anyone placed in a similar situation. The problem
arises because of the existing scope of the law in the case of violation
of freedoms. The Constitution proceeds on the assumption that the state
is likely to be the only violator of our freedoms. All major assumptions
of a liberal state have disappeared.
The state, under these circumstances, corresponds to some extent to the
"Exceptional State'' conceptualised by Nicos Poulantzas: "Law
to put it
briefly, no longer regulates; arbitrariness reigns.
What is typical of the Exceptional State is not so much that it violates
its rules, as
that it does not even lay down rules for functioning. It has no system;
for one thing, i.e. it lacks the system for predicting its own transformations.
This is evident with the fascist state...'' The rights that are recognised
and declared in the Constitution are the rights that in here in the people.
How should one react to the erosion of rights by the aberrant sections
of civil society is the principal
question raised by Mr. Rao, Gadar and others. Has the state the authority
privatise state violence to hireling vigilante groups, ostensibly autonomous
liquidating persons, with a view to withdrawing intellectual support to
political movement, in which the state has not been successful desp!
ite three decades of extra-judicial executions? These are questions,
which primarily should be pondered over by society where governance has
refused to advert to these very basic issues despite rulings by the NHRC
and courts. The complaint is not about breach of a particular law and
the desire is not to correct an isolated aberration.
We have long passed
that stage. We have reached a situation where the
entire constitutional and legal system has been rent asunder for personal
and political aggrandisement.
The peoples' social contract set out in the Preamble to the Constitution
is wholly breached and put out of action.
When the very major premise of Rule of Law and the Constitution is sought
negated, a near revolutionary process affirming our faith in these values
is called for. It is not a few writers', cultural artists' and journalists'
right to life that we are concerned about; it is the entire politics of
We should be concerned about the emerging trends of the rise of right-wing
populism, whether it attacks left-wing politics presently confined to
extremists among them or it attacks the minorities and the secular values
as it parades as the only defender of faith. A study of the police system
shows that it is more in harmony with right-wing politics than with liberal
and democratic values.
When amorphous and unidentifiable and ostensibly autonomous groups
attack our freedoms or our person, how do we retain our freedoms and our
right to life is the question that squarely stares us in the face. I am
afraid of the rise in the number of anomic persons "who are spiritually
sterile, responsive only to themselves, responsible to no one". The
anomic person derides the value of other persons. We have to attempt and
reinstate the fast vanishing social cohesion without undermining the plural
character of our polity.
- 2002 The Hindu