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PUCL, 23 March 2012

PUCL President’s letter to members

PUCL President’s letter to members

March 23, 2012
An Appeal to the Esteemed Members

Dear Colleague,

PUCL is probably the only human rights organization in the country of its kind, but it can achieve its objective only with your active involvement. It is true that everyone cannot be involved in its day to day working, but a far more important and constructive involvement is not only possible but is urgently needed .To be vigilant and to critically examine whether the organization at different levels follows the letter and spirit of its constitution or not, and to strive for course correction, if any deviation is noticed, can be your most valuable contribution.

It is also your duty. So far we have not been able to involve you and seek your cooperation, but it is never too late to do what is right.
What makes PUCL unique, the only organization of its kind, is its criteria for membership. As a general rule, organizations enroll only like-minded persons as their members. It is quite logical and there is nothing wrong in it. However, the extraordinary context in which PUCL was formed and the extraordinary experience it went through resulted in the formation of this extraordinary organization in its present form (1980) with the present constitution. PUCLDR (People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights) was formed during the emergency (1976) when Indira Gandhi had imposed her authoritarian rule by declaring internal emergency and destroying democracy. The victims of the emergency were not only her political opponents but millions of innocent citizens. In anger and desperation, many political leader felt that it was justified to use violence to fight a dictator .Some effort was made in this direction, which is known as Baroda Dynamite case. However, those who founded PUCL (then named People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights or PUCLDR) believed that permanent democracy could be restored only with the support of the millions of common man using only peaceful means. This belief further deepened when at 1977 election, the common man who had been trampled under the authoritarian boot of Indira Gandhi threw her out of power. The impact of this experience can be seen in some of the salient features of our constitution the most important of them being its aim to bring together ‘all those who are committed to the defence and promotion of civil liberties in India’ regardless of their political belief and membership of political parties.

An organization consisting of members having not only different but also antagonistic ideological commitment is both novel and unique. But it was envisaged that just as the people fought together against dictatorship regardless of their political differences ,the members of the PUCL would honestly and sincerely fight together for achieving the Aims & Objects of the organization(section 2) The second important feature is its commitment to ‘uphold and promote ……’democratic way of life ‘ ‘by peaceful means [ section 2(a)]. Another very important and basic feature of the constitution is complete negation of authoritarianism and the High Command Syndrome in its functioning.

As regards its objective, the aim of PUCL is to protect the life, liberties of all rather than only the victims of special laws. The life and liberties of all can be protected only by ensuring the rule of law. It is only by securing the rule of law that the rights and dignity of the common man, which are daily trampled under the boot of not only the police but the pettiest of public servant, can be protected. So, our Aims and Objects include securing the rule of law. Having been victims or witness to the repression under draconian laws, the framers of our constitution have also vowed to work for repeal of repressive laws , end police excesses and use of third degree method, prison reform, reform of judicial system, independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press and independence of the mass media. Its aims and object also include opposing communalism, casteism and similar social evils. It has been specifically mentioned that the organization will work to defend the civil liberties of the weaker section of the society, women and children. To encourage freedom of thought and defend the right of public dissent is one of most important objectives of the organisation.

A look at the Aims and Objects of our constitution makes it clear that we have to fight for the rights of all the people of the country and to achieve this end we have to work for creating the condition necessary for protecting their rights.

It is with this in view that our Aims and Objects are so inclusive and also so specific.
A very special feature of the constitution is its brevity (shortness). Only the criteria for membership and the Aims and Objects have been dealt with in detail. Very little has been said about the power and function of the office bearers .It has been assumed that those who join PUCL would be selfless persons committed to the spirit of its constitution and the great cause it aims to serve and would act in conformity with the spirit of the organization where no provision has been made in the constitution.
The letter vs the spirit of a constitution: The constitution of India is probably the lengthiest in the world with almost 400 article dealing with even the service condition of public servants, which should have been the subject matter of ordinary statutes; but despite the effort to take care of all problems, all of our institutions are in a shambles .Who is responsible for this degeneration? On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of our Republic, Prime Minister A.B. Bajpayee blamed the constitution for many problems and said that ‘the Constitution has failed us’. President K.R. Narayanan countered by saying that ‘it is not the Constitution which has failed us, but it is we who have failed the Constitution.’ He was absolutely right.
The constitution of PUCL is so short and silent on the functioning of the organization that any deviation from its spirit is bound to destroy it. For example, there is no Article dealing with the power and function of the office bearers.

It does not even say that the President will preside over the meetings or that the General Secretary will convene meetings. However, the General Secretary has been entrusted with the responsibility of day to day work of the organization. Since the people like V.M. Tarkunde, H.M. Seervai and Annada Shankar Ray were envisaged to head the organization, the President was not saddled with the burden of the day to day working, which was left to be done by the General Secretary with the advice of the President. Since everybody acted in conformity with the spirit of the constitution, there has not been any problem at the national level, and there would not be any in the future if the spirit of the constitution is respected.

Some of the basic features of our constitution are mentioned below:
1. The spirit of PUCL is to be inclusive .It aims at bringing in all who are committed to promote and defend civil liberties and are willing to sign the declaration that they subscribe to the Aims and Objects of the organization and agree to abide by its constitution. Even the members of political parties are eligible to join it in their individual capacity (however, they are not eligible to be an office bearer). The inclusiveness is aimed at reaching out to all sections of the society through the members coming from different sections. It also ensures that the organization will not be hijacked by any group to misuse it for partisan purposes. When there are members with different views and loyalties, they would not permit the organisation to deviate from its path of impartiality and rectitude.
The principle of inclusiveness is the very soul of PUCL, and it was considered so sacrosanct that it has been specifically provided that the criteria of membership cannot be amended.

2. It is anti-authoritarian: The ‘High Command’ syndrome prevalent in the political parties has been destructive of their democratic functioning. Organisations which function undemocratically cannot run a government democratically. Wary of the prevalent practice of interfering with the functioning of the organization at the lower levels in various organizations, our constitution enjoins the National Executive ‘to promote the formation of branches of the organization in every State in India’ but does not vest it with the power to interfere. Our approach has been to persuade the State units or district units to find the solution themselves according to the constitution and healthy common practice and precedent where the constitution is silent.
So far, there has been no intervention. It is only when a body becomes defunct (i.e., ceases to function ) either due to infighting or some other reason , that National PUCL has advised the State to find a replacement according to democratic norms and in conformity with our constitution. During the last thirty years, there has been only two occasions (in my knowledge) when the national PUCL was constrained to ask the State units to find a replacement democratically and in accordance with the spirit of our constitution.

3. Using only peaceful means: PUCL is committed to the use of only peaceful means to achieve its objective. By the same token, it does not support use of violence even for laudable causes and cannot acquiesce in the use of force or any other anti-democratic means in the organization.

4. The rule of law and the double standard: There is no room for discrimination in the rule of law. We hold that from the Prime Minister to the man on the lowest rung of the social ladder should be equal before the law and must be treated on the same footing. The State swears by this principle but has been willfully acting against it. Our fight is to compel it to adhere to it; therefore, we cannot advocate that anyone should be treated as being above the law on the ground that those in power manage to subvert the rule of law and get away with their crimes.
Sometimes, we are asked about our attitude to a terrorist or a Maoist. Our answer is that if someone is accused of being a terrorist or Maoist who is alleged to have committed a crime, he should be given the treatment which was given to Nathuram Godse (who confessed to have killed Mahatma Gandhi) and which is being given to Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani citizen accused of terrorist acts committed in Mumbai. Action should be taken against all accused, but according to the law of the land. There should be no killing in fake encounters or in the custody of the security forces because the state has no evidence to get a conviction. It is plain murder and a slur on the face of India.

5. Association with other organizations: The question of organization’s association with other organizations had also come up years ago. It was decided that organizational relation with organizations not subscribing to our Aims and Objects would be unprincipled, and hence unacceptable. The constitution provides that voluntary groups and institutions (but not political parties or groups affiliated to them) may join PUCL as Institutional members (Art.3A). The constitution does not provide for any other kind of relationship with other organizations.

There are also certain practices which have been followed by the National PUCL, which have the sanctity of a precedent. A few are recorded below:
1. It has been a cardinal principle to avoid working as a High Command by directly intervening to settle disputes of state/district unit. Our approach has been to insist that the units concerned must find a solution according to the letter and/or spirit of the constitution (if there is no provision pertaining to the issue concerned).
2. If a State has not been able to hold election in time, our approach has been to persuade it to do so as soon as possible. Direct intervention has been avoided. The National PUCL also does not involve itself in any negotiation to settle disputes among the contestants at the State/District level .The issue is left to be decided by the units concerned.
3. It has been the policy of the National PUCL not to enroll large number of members at the national office .When the organization was formed in 1980, and there was no State unit, the National office directly enrolled members, but the practice was discontinued when State units were formed. The policy has been adopted to eliminate the possibility of the National Executive destabilizing a state unit by enrolling a large number of members from the state.
The national office sometimes enrolls a member at the instance of the President/General Secretary as an exception. However, it is not common to do so.
4. If there is a dispute regarding membership of a person/persons, the policy is to go by the record at the national office. Only those persons are accepted as members whose names had been forwarded by the State along with the one third of their membership subscription. They are recognized as members with effect from the date on which their names were received from the authorized person of the state concerned as per our record. However, no objection is raised by the national office if they are allowed to exercise rights as members by the State unit if their names have been duly recorded in the list of members in the office of the state unit.
5. If there is a complaint that either the President or the General Secretary has acted unilaterally, our approach has been to advise the complainant member/members to demand that the matter must be placed before the State Executive Committee, whose decision shall be final. Such members are informed that PUCL is a democratic organization and seeks resolution of conflicts democratically giving due respect to the autonomy of the State/District units.
6. In the event of the President and/or the General Secretary of a State not convening the meeting of the Executive Committee, they are advised by the General Secretary to do so.
7. In the event of the President and/or General Secretary evading convening a meeting of the General Body, Executive Committee or the State Council, the members concerned are advised to ask for a Requisition Meeting. If the President and/or General Secretary refuse to convene the meeting, a Requisition Meeting may be held without them. However, if a Requisition Meeting is going to be held without a notice being issued by the General Secretary or the President, the National General Secretary should be informed in advance so that he may send someone as observer, who may facilitate conducting the meeting, if necessary. Such observer will not involve himself in the decision making which is the prerogative of the State/ District Body
8. Whenever, there is a credible complaint from the States against the State unit, our policy has been to draw the attention of the State unit concerned, ascertain facts from them and offer them advice if necessary, but firmly refraining from intervention. The intervention may be the last choice where the constitution is being willfully violated, and no attention is being paid to the advice to act within the framework of the constitution.
9. The National President and General Secretary receive complaints in hordes but it has been the policy of the organization never to form or express an opinion without hearing the person/unit against whom the complaint is made (i.e., if taking cognizance is considered necessary).
Forming and expressing an adverse opinion against and any person without hearing him or forming and expressing an opinion on any issue without ascertaining facts from the people concerned are universally accepted to be wrong and unacceptable. PUCL is totally committed to the principle of natural justice.
10. Though very rare, there has been complaint against some State functionaries of misusing their position for personal gains. The complainants demand an enquiry. Our policy has been to refrain from such enquiries, as it might result in a spate of malicious and false complaints. We advise the complainants to vigourously oppose any move by the person concerned to prevent him/her from misusing his/her office and not to support any person of doubtful character in the future.

What can the members do?
I have drawn your attention to the letter and spirit of our constitution and also to some of our policies and the past practice. You may examine whether our membership is according to our constitution or not. If it is not, you may request your unit to move in that direction. You may help the organization in taking a stand or making a decision according to the letter and spirit of the constitution. You must judge us and draw attention to any wrong doing by us. By doing so, you would be rendering a great service to the organisation and making an invaluable contribution.

Prabhakar Sinha
President, PUCL National

P.S. I also appeal to all the state/district units to organize meetings to familiarise our members with our constitution and its spirit. It should be appreciated that all of us cannot appreciate the letter and spirit of any constitution on our own. It would be very useful if the appeal is translated into the language of the state and given to every member.?


People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014