Recalling Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of freedom on the seventy-third anniversary of his assassination the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) asked the central government to curb its draconian laws and “develop a sense of humour.”
Stating that, “We live in an egg shell democracy where hurt sentiments of a community as well as state intolerance of criticism are reasons to shut down speech,” PUCL talked about Gandhi’s teachings that freedom of speech is truly respected when people are allowed to discuss even revolutionary projects.
“Liberty of speech means that it is unassailed even when the speech hurts; liberty of the press can be said to be truly respected only when the press can comment in the severest terms upon and even misrepresent matters,” said PUCL while reiterating the Mahatma’s words.
As such, they demanded that the government commemorate the values Gandhi stood for by repealing the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), releasing those falsely arrested under it and opting to respect the constitutional freedom of speech and expression rather than using the UAPA as a tool of harassment.
PUCL drew parallels between the UAPA and the Rowlatt Act that Gandhi vehemently condemned by way of a national disobedience movement. According to the organisation, the recent draconian law is similarly being used as a tool to detain its critics as seen by: the arbitrary and malicious arrest of sixteen human rights activists in the Bhima Koregaon incident; the continued detention of constitutionally-minded and democratically-committed anti-CAA activists; human rights activists across India including Kashmir.
Moreover, those arrested have not been released on bail. Some accused have spent over two years and more in jail.
“Remembering Gandhiji today is to commit ourselves to fighting against this unjust law and demanding `repeal of the UAPA‟ and the release of those unjustly incarcerated… The state has recently invoked these provisions against farmers, protesting against the farm laws as well. In short, the message is clear. Opponents of the state will be targeted with the draconian UAPA,” said the PUCL in a press release.
Similarly, the people’s organisation also highlighted Gandhi’s tongue in cheek humour that did not shy away from making comments like “the King has enough clothes on for both of us” when meeting England’s King George V while wearing his trademark dhoti and shawl.
Alluding to this jovial behaviour, the PUCL talked about young comedian Munawar Farooqui from Gandhi’s homeland Gujarat. Farooqui is nowadays in jail because he dares to crack jokes at the current political establishment.
“Ironically Munawar was arrested by the Madhya Pradesh police for a comedy programme which did not even take place! The dark tragedy of the police abuse of law is mirrored by the High Court refusal of bail on the ground that no one can be permitted to offend religious sentiments, unmindful of the fact that the alleged offensive statements had not been made. It is a sad commentary of our democracy that today comedians of all stripes and hues find themselves under unprecedented attack as the state has lost its sense of humour and comedy is criminalised,” they said.
Members reminded the government about the famous Ahmedabad trial when Gandhi wrote a series of articles lambasting the colonial state because. “We consider its [the government] activity to be wholly evil. We want to overthrow the Government. We want to compel its submission to the peoples will. We desire to show that the Government exists to serve the people, not the people the government.”
PUCL hoped to amplify his message and convey to those in power that “affection cannot be manufactured by law” and that if the citizen has no affection towards its state, the person must be free to give vent to that disaffection in a non-violent manner.
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