Indian diaspora stands with Prahsant Bhushan

On Wednesday, many Indian organisations in America came together to voice their support for Prashant Bhushan and discuss the current condition of the right to free speech in India

indian diaspora

Several Indian diaspora organisations in America held a virtual press conference on August 19 to stand in solidarity with Prashant Bhushan and decry the contempt of court charges against him.

The online conference started off with a speech by renowned Indian human rights lawyer, activist and Padma Shri awardee, Indira Jaising who said that the charges against Bhushan were invalid on legal grounds. She argued that the judgement violated the right to life and liberty by failing to hold a public hearing or present proper charges; the right to free speech by not permitting fair criticism except on pain of prosecution; the right to legal counsel by targeting lawyers who appear in court demanding accountability and justice. In light of this, Jaising questioned whether offences like ‘contempt of court’ ought to exist in a democratic society. She said that it is a citizen’s right, if not a duty, to criticise the judiciary and its functioning.

“The conviction we are here to discuss has shaken the very foundations of free speech in India. Courts are required to defend the right to free speech. But when the courts themselves cut that right, then it is a time to pause and think: What has happened? The defenders of our right to speak freely are the ones today trying to shut us up,” she said.

Similarly, Dr Rajmohan Gandhi claimed that it was India’s judiciary that was on trial. “When future scholars look back at this time, they will be puzzled by the Court’s priorities,” said Gandhi adding, “Prashant Bhushan’s standing as a defender of the rights of the Indian people has grown decade by decade, and year by year. The future will see him as one of the great Indians of our time. My anxiety is about the standing of the Supreme Court.”

Among the panelists present, Raju Rajagopal from the Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) charted the landmark judgements ranging from the Right to Privacy ruling in 2017 to the Ayodhya temple case in 2019. “In a nutshell, if some of us felt a sense of optimism by the progressive rulings by the court only a couple of years back, that optimism has, in recent months, melted away with a foreboding sense of pessimism,” he said.

However, Rohit Tripathi from the Young India organisation reminded everyone of the positive influence the Supreme Court had historically exerted by guarding India’s Constitution from the Executive and the Legislature. He said that the Supreme Court could still avail chance at redemption in the Prashant Bhushan case.

Accordingly, Dr Manish Madan from the Global Indian Progressive Alliance (GIPA), called for a re-examination of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. He pointed out that dissent in India needs to be considered as an ‘Indian Tradition’ and said that the right to free speech must remain sacred for a thriving and flourishing democracy. “Criticism allows us to introspect on our conduct both at an individual level and the institution level that we claim represent – it can allow for new ideas, new values system to emerge whereby disagreements do not necessarily mean disrespect, and by no stretch of imagination they bring disrepute to the institutions that have withstood for far too long and far bigger than a few individuals,” he said.

Reinforcing this idea, Aminah Ahmed of the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) brought the conference’s attention to the Court’s ruling that said, Bhushan’s tweet “Bhushan’s tweet has the effect of destabilizing the very foundation of this important pillar of the Indian democracy” and questioned whether India’s democracy is in fact so frail as to be brought down by one person.

Vishwa Padigepati from the Students Against Hindutva Ideology (SAHI) said, “The implications of this decision don’t fall on deaf ears. To be clear, this action is an omen. An omen that sets a dangerous precedent for the conviction of students and activists and creates a chilling effect that will haunt India’s promise of free speech.”

Concluding the conference, Suniti Sanghavi invited the gathering to join in a day-long fast on August 22, the International Day of Fasting in solidarity with Prashant Bhushan. In the wake of the Delhi pogroms in February, Sanghavi started a chain-fast wherein 28 people participated, each person fasting for five days, for a total of 177 days thus far.

“It is not difficult to recognize that we are spiralling ever faster towards asatya, tamas, and mrityu — untruth, darkness, and destruction. The only means we have to put a check on this dangerous trend is to speak up, to infuse the current political climate with some desperately needed satya, jyoti and amrit — truth, light, and the essence of what it means to be truly alive,” said Sanghvi.



SC grants Prashant Bhushan time before sentencing

I submit to any penalty which the court may inflict: Prashant Bhushan

Justice delivery must be Constitutional




Related Articles