What started with a around 140 participants on Zoom, expanded to 400 with 900 people watching live on Facebook page of Swaraj Abhiyan. Such was the magnanimity of a gathering that came together not only to stand in solidarity with Prashant Bhushan who was going to be sentenced for contempt of court today, but also to stand for freedom of speech, expression and conscience.
The meeting began with playing of the iconic song written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz sung by Iqbal Bano as a mark of resistance during the Benazir Bhutto regime in Pakistan. Then, the convenor, Yogendra Yadav, paid homage to and remembered doctor and activist, Narendra Dabholkar who was shot at on this day, seven years ago and his culprits have not yet been convicted. “Dhabolkar has become a beacon of truth and justice,” said Yadav.
While many speakers came forward and shared their experiences and encounters with Bhushan and expressed their solidarity with him, the proceedings at the court were also being closely followed with Advocate Avik Saha coming in with the dynamic updates from the court room. Just before the hearing began, Saha commented on the judgement passed in the case by the 3-judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra. He said that the judgment has not dealt with the detailed affidavit in response filed by Bhushan in the case and no judgment is complete without dealing with the response of the party to the case. He further said that what the nation was already saying in different ways, Bhushan fit in the 240 characters of his tweets.
The congregation was also joined by Mr. H S Doreswamy, 103 year old freedom fighter from Karnataka; he said, “freedom of speech is not to be violated and not to be violated especially by the Supreme Court…The injustice served to Prashant Bhushan will be remembered.”
The meeting was soon joined by journalist and human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, who is also Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace. She said this is not an event, this a moment, a historical moment. “Above all, Justice Delivery must be free of any consideration, personal, political, free of vendetta. Vendetta snatches away that essence of justice. Moreover, justice delivery must be Constitutional, governed by no other consideration than the values, principles and rights enshrined in our Constitution,” she said.
Further expressing her solidarity with Bhushan and overwhelmed with the conviction of her dear friend, she teared up and said, “His long career in public service questioning executive wrongs, speaking out against mass killings of the minorities, urging judicial accountability are the stuff that substantive public legends are made of. Not only do we stand with Prashant Bhushan, his wife Deepa, father Shanti Bhushanji and their children, we salute you… and feel ashamed for what you are being made to go through today, by small and petty minds in powerful places.”
Yadav added, “We shall always remember that we gathered here at this moment.” Just then Bhushan’s submission began before the court he quoted Mahatma Gandhi, “I am here to cheerfully submit to any penalty that can lawfully be inflicted upon me for what the court has determined to be an offence and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen.”
After this was read out during the meeting, Yadav said, “This is what legends are made of.” Then spoke Admiral Ramdas, former Chief of Naval Staff, “Today is a very dark day… This could have been and should have been avoided.” He said he was very depressed and dejected but “we will not stop the fight until the war is won.” He was joined by his wife Lalita Ramdas who is an activist work mainly for education and she said that they were not here just to stand with Prashant Bhushan but also to stand in support of the Constitution, democracy and the genuine heritage of India. “We will continue to raise our voices aur fir hum dekhenge (then we will see)”.
Thereafter spoke Prof Anand Kumar who said, “Entire India has come to a stop to stand in solidarity with Prashant Bhushan. All these voices are saying Prashant Bhushan we are with you there is nothing stopping you”. He concluded by saying, “Sach kehna agar bagawat hai toh baaghi hai hum (If speaking the truth is rebellion, then we are rebels)”.
There were even visuals of people protesting on the streets outside the Supreme Court and this spirit had further channelled to even to Gwalior where young advocates had gathered chanting, “Prashant Bhushan Sangharsh Karo hum tumhare saath hai (Prashant Bhushan, keep fighting, we area with you)”. Then ativist and Carnatic vocalist, TM Krishna joined who said, “This is a moment for us to activate larger conversations. This is the beginning of something big”.
Further, Harsh Mander, who himself is a human rights activist like his good friend Bhushan said, “Like so many across the country I stand with Prashant Bhushan with my heart full. He is a true advocate for justice. I am proud to count him as my dear friend He is a man of such immense courage and integrity.”
All the people for whom Bhushan has fought cases pro bono, for the greater good, called him a guardian angel and expressed anguish that a person like him was being punished by the Supreme Court. Even artists like Rahul Ram of Indian Ocean joined in and sang a powerful song by Gorakh Pandey, Hum Dekhenge was sung in Punjabi as well as Telugu; it seemed like a celebration of the struggle for rights, of which Bhushan has become an icon as he refused to bow down before the court.
Activist Ganesh Devy said that in the people’s court Bhushan has won because he is protecting the Constitution and for that he had to speak up against the judiciary. He further said that the government and the judiciary are both creatures of the Constitution and hence it was important to protect the Constitution.
In the end, after the bench declared the hearing to have concluded, Avik Saha read Bhushan’s full statement that was submitted at the court and the meeting was conclude by singing the national anthem.