30 June 2014

Photo Credit: Neha Saigal

 

The 26th of June has special significance for all Indians who believe in democracy and the Indian Constitution. Thirty nine years ago on this very day, directed by the then Prime Minister, Smt Indira Gandhi, a state of Emergency was declared. There was a curb on fundamental rights and democracy as we know it came to a standstill. Most importantly 26th June is a reminder to all Indians that we wouldn't ever want a repetition of what happened 39 years ago and as an independent nation we have realised the importance of our most fundamental rights, the freedom of speech and expression.

But why are we talking about the Emergency of 26th June this year? What has encouraged us as civil society to come together and protect our space to dissent and protest so that we do not have to feel the restrictions and limitations like we did between 1975 and 1977?

One of the recent reasons for this and a cause of worry is the leaked report by the Intelligence Bureau on NGOs. Apart from the fact that the report has misconstrued many facts, it is a shoddy one which does not come across as very intelligent. The IB report is an attempt to silence civil society organisations, mass movements and individual activists who have a different point of view of development than that of the Government's and corporates. More worrying than the IB report itself is the NDA Government's silence on the IB report, which was leaked by the media, the Indian Express and Times Now, who seem to be communicating with NGOs named in the report rather than the Government itself.

But the activists or organisations named in this report are not one bit deterred by this report and its intentions, as spaces of protest are like temples in a democracy and they need to be protected. So, on the 39th anniversary of the emergency in light with the recent leaked malicious IB report and other such events that have taken place, several civil society groups came together on a collective non-political platform, 'Jan Awaaz'.

Jan Awaaz is a citizen's platform that is a space to highlight public concerns and has many well-known personalities associated with it. The point that citizens were making on this newly formed platform on the 26th of June this year was that freedom of speech and expression is our fundamental right and it cannot be taken away from us. The issues brought up on this platform ranged from rights of transgender people, tribals, dalits to the right to protect our environment and that no force like the IB report or any other can silence us.

The most amazing part about Jan Awaaz is that it brought together many stalwarts of civil society like Aruna Roy, Arundhathi Roy, Kuldip Nayar and a variety of organisations working on diverse issues and assembled together on this platform to protect the most fundamental rights of Indians. Greenpeace was also part of Jan Awaaz on the 26th of June feeling much stronger amongst other civil society groups extending their solidarity towards our cause and us extending to theirs. This was not a place of fear like what 26th of June, 1975 must have felt like but a reassurance that together we will not let history repeat itself.

Neha Saigal is a senior campaigner with Greenpeace India.