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10th December 2018 marked 70 years since United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights which includes the right to freedom of speech, stating that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
Freedom of speech allows you to express yourself, to use your voice. It allows you to use this voice to agree as well as to dissent. A running government is liable to answer its people if and when they question it, especially when it falls short on its promises. People raising concern with its government, its policies, is participation, and participation of the people is the very spirit of a democracy.
Greenpeace India celebrated the International Human Rights Day, celebrating the right to freedom of speech with other like minded individuals and organizations. It joined NAPM’s Jashn-e-Samvidhan at Jantar Mantar, which marked the end to the organization’s Samvidhan Bachao Yatra (save the constitution march). The Samvidhan Bachao Yatra that started from the 2nd of October 2018 from Dandi and covered 20 states concluded with a participation of more than 3000 people from across the country.
The celebration set off with cultural performances like songs of dissent followed by speeches by eminent activists such as Bezwada Wilson, a Magsaysay awardee, lending their voices to save the sanctity of the constitution. Also present was Medha Patekar, the face of Narmada Bachao Andolan, who discussed how the time calls for saving the constitution in order to save the nation.
In the words of Harry S. Truman, 33rd president of the United States, “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear”. Such is the state of the country today, with the government targeting civic and social organizations, accusing them falsely, to shun their voices.
Amnesty International India too, along with Greenpeace India, joined the event at the same venue, to protest the brutal crackdown on their and likewise organization’s human rights by the government. Senior lawyer Indira Jai Singh, one of the speakers at the event, said “we stand in solidarity with all human rights organizations which have been attacked. The government should know the more it attacks human rights, the stronger we will get”. Other present in solidarity included senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, senior journalist Hartosh Bal, activists Nikhil Dey, Nadeem Khan and Anjali Bharadwaj.
It was a moving spectacle, with people from various backgrounds, from farmers from the remotest of villages to both well and lesser known activists, from students to lawyers, coming together to celebrate the constitution and the rights it provides, stressing upon the freedom of speech and the right to dissent in today’s times, doing their bit to uphold human rights in the country.
Aisha Zafar is an intern with Greenpeace India