PUCL Bulletin, December 2001

Some questions on POTO
-- By Y.P. Chhibbar

By now various provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance have been discussed threadbare at various fora. Its genealogy, TADA onwards, is well known. Positions have been taken by various political parties according to their present postures in the politics of the country. The only new feature in the debate is President Bush and his terminology, which the present group in power is vociferously adopting, "if you are not with us (on POTO), you are with the terrorists". This vocabulary though is not entirely new in our country. We have been told again and again that if you don't say, "Vandemataram, you are a traitor". Unless you have got certified, in a proper format, your love for the country, you are a traitor.

We would like to raise therefore, a few fundamental issues. These have been mentioned here and there, but their full import is probably not realized.
The basic thing is that we in India have not yet developed and internalized a Human Rights Culture. It is very easy to visualize the meaning of this point. We have seen that in the wake of the WTC tragedy when the US government wanted to impose certain restrictions on the ease of air travel the government started with attempts to convince the American people that intended restrictions on entry to airport, etc, were necessary curbs on civil liberties. Here, in India on the other hand, a case has to be made out for the protection of human rights and civil liberties. These concepts are not the foundation of our lives. We have to organise campaigns to tell the average Indian that everyone has certain rights and liberties and that these have to be protected. Such a situation is a fertile ground for laws that curb the rights of the people. The likes of KPS Gill are the heroes and JPs and Tarkundes are the black sheep.

Basically we are still feudal and communal. We are always for "strong", "ruthless", State. Equality before law, "rule of law", such like concepts have not yet sunk in. Welfare state is wastage. We are for 'death penalty'. Any situation, any argument is good enough to beat the minorities, the downtrodden, convicts, et el.

Such like situations are very easy to be exploited by the vested interests. We can indulge in Pakistan bashing, minority hunting, etc., without a second thought. Taking advantage of the general sentiments against terrorism perpetrated in the US, the GOI found it easy to push in a terrorizing law in India.

Another point that we would like to take up is the attempts, through POTO, to brow beat the media. The role of the media in today's world is crucial and pivotal in informing the people, forming public opinion, investigating, propagating, and so on. A free and independent media can become an embarrassment to the rulers. The provisions in POTO for making it obligatory to reveal the source of information, the provisions making the mere act of receiving a mail, even if unsolicited, a crime, aim at taming the Media.
Why such provisions? It is being said that in a democracy all citizens are equal and why a citizen belonging to the media should be given latitude? Why can't a media person be compelled to reveal the source of her/his information? Here we have to remember that in present day political theory, in a democratic structure of the 21st century, we cannot overlook the fact that media is one of the pillars of the polity. It is, as Burke is believed to have said in the British Parliament, 'the fourth estate'.
To weaken this pillar is to weaken the edifice.

Lastly, we would like to point out that any law could be misused. Why raise a hue and cry over the possibility of misuse of POTO? This is the most naïve attempt to hoodwink the common people. A law curbing human freedoms and liberties cannot be lumped with "any law". The misuse of a law pertaining to a sales tax or a law pertaining to traffic regulation is something totally different from a law restricting the freedom of free speech or a law guaranteeing right to life

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