There has been a persistent and arbitrary misuse of preventive detention against any individual the state feels threatened by.

Trampling dissent with detention What the arrest of a student leader in Telangana tells usA poster of detained student leader Mahesh
news Opinion Sunday, October 22, 2017 - 16:13
Written by  Padmaja Shaw

“It’s great when the emperor is Marcus Aurelius,” Elon Musk, the great technology prophet says of Artificial Intelligence, “It’s not so great when the emperor is Caligula.”

Some laws in modern democracies can similarly be a boon or a curse, depending on the kind of people in power.

The powers of the police to detain anyone under an undefined threat perception to national security is reaching farcical proportions.

The recent disappearance of Kranthi, a student and Mahesh, President of Telangana Vidyarthi Vedika (TVV) – an ardent activist in the separate statehood movement for Telangana – and the discovery that the Telangana police have detained them without information, is a case in point.

There have been several alleged attempts by the plainclothes police to kidnap Kranthi. When he and Mahesh disappeared this week, an alert civil liberties group raised the alarm. Kranthi was let off but Mahesh is still reportedly under detention in Nalgonda charged under the Public Security Act.

The law and order machinery does not follow minimum procedural requirements like informing families, or informing the detainee the reasons for their arrest. It is a widespread practice to arrest first and to find reasons later by building, often untenable, cases.

The recent years have seen a spate of cases where the victims of arbitrary arrests are acquitted after spending several years under detention. Neither the state nor the judiciary has shown respect for the rights of the victims of “law enforcement” by holding anyone accountable for their loss of liberty.

On 11 October 2017 too, when the TRS ministers set out to inaugurate the Collectors’ Office in Sircilla district, a large number of people, some who participated earlier actively in the separate statehood movement of Telangana, were allegedly rounded up, held till all the festivities were over and the ministers had left.

Homes were allegedly raided and people were picked up, while some were not allowed to come out of their homes.

A similar situation seemingly prevails at present in Warangal district where the Chief Minister is going to lay the foundation stone for a Textile Park.

There has been somewhat of a blackout of these illegal detentions by both newspapers and television channels. A web search does not find any stories on Siricilla detentions either.

Victims who have been detained, and want to remain anonymous, are saying that they have been rounded up before the arrival of the politicians, K Taraka Rama Rao, the Chief Minister’s son, and Eetela Rajender along with the Collector and SP of the Siricilla district, to ensure that no protests are seen on the streets. Close to 700 people have been detained in various locations, according to an estimate of the detainees.

The TRS government has been allegedly shielding the land-sharks and the sand-mafia, and looking the other way when atrocities are committed against dalit-bahujan communities starting with Rohith Vemula case to the murder of Manthani Madhukar and the Nerella incident.

The land acquisition law has been amended, allegedly to take away the rights of the people easing the way for the state to grab fertile lands from the farmers. There is widespread disillusionment among the people of Telangana at the arbitrary use of the law and order machinery against all dissent, even as the state has closed all avenues for expressing public sentiments.

Locations like Dharna Chowk have been shut down. Police permissions have not been forthcoming for legitimate ways of expressing public opinion through rallies and public meetings.

Right to expression and assembly we are told are guaranteed under our Constitution. The present government, however, does not recognize any such Constitutional rights and has no qualms in arresting people like Professor Kodandaram who was the Chairman of the Telangana Joint Action Committee under whose leadership and credibility the present Chief Minister rode to power.

There has been a persistent and arbitrary misuse of preventive detention and arrests against any individual the state feels threatened by. The Police Department is the only department that seems to merit the grace of the rulers in the present dispensation. Advanced weapons, vehicles and communication have been provided and substantial recruitment has been done in this department, even as health and education sector have been on the back-burner for long.

All public awareness campaigns, whether by opposition parties or by civil society entities are actively suppressed in an attempt to create the impression that people are happy with this government.

Nationally also, India since the 2014 election has taken a distinct turn toward becoming a police state.

Ahead of Modi’s two-day visit to Gujarat in mid-September, Jignesh Mewani, the Dalit activist, Reshma Patel, leader of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), along with 400 others were arrested without citing any reasons.

When the PM of India inaugurated the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Delhi on 5 June 2017, it was hyped as his commitment to support the game. An entire section of the seats behind him were left unoccupied for security reasons. And after inaugurating the game, after the photo-op, he left without watching even a half of the inaugural game!

The author of this report rightly points out that global leaders all over world go to matches but this strategy of keeping an entire section of the stands, the best seats in the stadium, empty for security reasons is unheard of.  

Between the paranoia about the security of these “most popular people’s representatives” and the fear of all political dissent, the democratic rights and personal liberty of people have been quietly eroded over the last several years. A situation that was bad has taken a turn for the worst under these modern-day Caligulas.

Without realising, we are now in a militarised surveillance state (whether at the Centre or in the states) that uses monitoring technologies to take into preventive custody anyone seen as a potential troublemaker. The fire is spreading. How fireproof are we?


Note: Opinions expressed are personal opinions of the author.


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