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INTERVIEW: Justice HOSPET Suresh
‘‘POTO aims to gag every voice of dissent’’ 

Justice H Suresh is a former Mumbai high court judge. He is a leading human rights activist and has worked extensively for civil liberties in Maharashtra and other parts of the country. He was one of the leading lights behind the struggle to scrap TADA and worked for the early release and rehabilitation of TADA detainees in Mumbai. He has himself seen atrocities perpetrated by law enforcers on the people arrested by them during the post Babri demolition riots during 1992 and 1993 and subsequent bomb blasts. Justice Suresh has been fighting for them and has been trying to drum up support for them. S Ubaidur Rahman talked to him.

What is your view of POTO?
There is no need for a special law to curb terrorism, more so when we have not clearly defined terrorism itself. There are a number of laws and special laws to curb criminal activities and contain anti-national activities. We have special laws for areas like Jammu &Kashmir and Northeast where we are facing militancy. So we have laws in own place to face either militancy or organized crimes. We do not need new laws and ordinances.
I have seen how TADA was misused. It had terrorized not only those people who were charged with it, but their whole families and their women. How police used women for getting confession from TADA detainees is no secret. They coerced, they threatened, stripped and tortured their women relatives to get confession from the accused. It was simply terrible.
POTO, when there are several laws dealing with militancy and crimes will serve no purpose in either containing crimes or militancy. It is going to be only a political tool in the hands of the BJP government at the centre that it wants to use against one and all. The tone of the BJP leaders like LK Advani, and other BJP members of the government at the centre shows that they want to use it for their own political gains. With us or against us tone is very dangerous in a democratic country like ours. It gives unprecedented power in the hands of almost illiterate policemen who have no regards for human rights and want to detain a person, get confession from him and deny him bail.
What BJP wants to gain by promulgating POTO is winning election in states like UP from where it is receiving very negative feed backs. It wants to create an atmosphere like the country had before Kargil so as to win elections in UP. It is sure that it is impossible for the BJP in communally calm atmosphere to win the forthcoming elections in the state. So it is trying to charge atmosphere and create fear among people.

Do you believe that the new ordinance will serve any purpose?
Instead of serving any purpose, it is going to be the other way round. It will not serve any purpose in a way that it is certainly not going to solve militancy problems in states where militancy is flourishing. It is not aimed at elimination of militancy either. TADA did not serve any purpose. What TADA did was to create havoc in the minds of common people. It denied justice. It worked against human rights. The new ordinance is more stringent and severe. It imposes curbs not only on common people and restricts their freedom but also tries to keep tab on media, whose freedom is so important in a democratic country. It orders media personnel to disclose the identity of their sources. If the ordinance is passed with this clause in place I assure you that from now onwards you will not be able to see a free and fair report on areas like Punjab, J&K and North East states. People who assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and convicted were not tried under TADA. They were tried under other laws in the IPC and awarded stringent punishment.

Do you have reason to believe that it is aimed against Muslims?
The new ordinance is not only aimed against Muslims but also against all minority communities. Almost all organizations banned under POTO are from minority communities. It intends to strike terror in the minds of minorities and restrict their freedom in the country. The dispensation at the centre is not sympathetic to problems and sufferings of minority communities in the country and is doing everything to prop up its organizations against them. It intends to gag every voice that goes against it. Not only Muslims and minorities, even people who are against saffronization of country, saffronization of education and restrictions on human rights and civil liberties and dare to speak against their policies are going to lose their freedom if this ordinance is approved.

Why in your view the VHP and Bajrang Dal are not banned under new ordinance?
The whole thing is being done to give more and more freedom to organizations who represent their ideology and aim to increase their presence in every sphere by using every means. If these organizations are banned their whole plan will fail. They are restricting others’ freedom to give more space to these people.

You are following TADA cases. Are there still TADA detainees in jails?
Though TADA was disbanded way back in 1995, but thousands of people are still languishing in jails. Though eight years have passed since Mumbai bomb blasts but people detained after those blasts are still there in jails. Cases and arguments are still continuing. I hope the arguments in their cases will end in August or September next year. Not before that. There are other people in other cities also who are still in jails under TADA.

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