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Repression is new ‘mantra’
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Sangh Parivar has accepted the war on terror as a ‘mantra’ for the suppression of the constitutional rights of the minorities. The statements of RSS Chief Mr. K.S. Sudarshan and the promulgation of Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) are raising a twin tower of repression.

The RSS chief Mr. K.S. Sudarshan speaking on Vijaydashmi at Nagpur asked Muslims and Christians to reinterpret their scriptures and change their leadership. He observed that the leadership of the two communities remained in the hands of conflict-mongers. If that was not enough, his reported call to RSS cadres to arm themselves against any threat has disturbed the minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims.
Reacting to Mr.Sudarshan’s call to RSS cadres to arm themselves with licensed weapons, the CPI (M) described it as another form of intimidation and violence. It was further stated that the RSS was repeatedly proving itself to be an organization inimical to national unity.

The statement of the RSS chief is likely to adversely affect the ongoing effort to build bridges of understanding between the Christian community and Sangh Parivar. Archbishop Oswald Gracias, secretary-general of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) stated that the call of the RSS chief is "no different from Taliban’s call to arms."

The demand from Muslims and Christians by the RSS chief for reinterpretation of their scriptures is reiteration of the views of their "Guruji" Mr. M. S. Golwalkar. He prescribed that "Muslims and Christians should alter some of their religious principles to be in tune with the Hindu faith if they were to prove their commitment to Indian nationalism and be regarded as Indians."

All the three assertions by RSS chief deserve serious examination. The demand to re-interpret scriptures is direct onslaught on the constitutional religious rights of the minorities. Such statements aggravate the chasm between the minority and majority communities. It is a disservice to the cause of national unity. The RSS chief spoke in the tone as if he has become the de facto ruler of the country. Why should the minorities delegate to him the right to nominate leaders for them? There is certainly an air of arrogance in the tone and language of his statements.

The responsibility for meeting the internal threats to the country vests with a democratically elected government. If, according to RSS chief the NDA government, led by Mr. Atal Behari Vajpai is incapable of discharging the responsibility, it has no moral right to continue in power. If Mr. Sudarshan is worried about the threat from Pakistan, it appears that he has no faith in the capability of our armed forces.

Armed RSS cadres may pose a serious threat to the internal security of the country. Constitutionally they are not qualified for any role in the internal and external security of the country.

The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) promulgated before the winter session of Parliament is another blatant attack on civil liberties and fundamental rights. The definition of terrorism as given in the Ordinance includes acts of violence or disruption of essential services carried out with "intent to threaten the unity and integrity of India or to strike terror in any part of the people." It also extends existing law by making a crime not to provide authorities with "information relating to any terrorist activity."

If enacted, the ordinance would reinstate a modified version of the notorious Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act; (TADA) repealed in 1995. The law was extremely unpopular because it facilitated tens of thousands of arrests, detentions and acts of torture violation of international law. It caused widespread protests. It was used to crack down on political opponents, social activists and human rights defenders.

The minorities have suffered most by the misuse of TADA. There is no guarantee that new law shall not be similarly misused. In putting forward the new law, the Indian cabinet rejected the pending criminal law bill, deeming it "too weak" to provide a legal framework for combating terrorism.

It is apparent that the fight against terrorism is being used, as a justification to extend police powers and undermine the rights to liberty and due process of law available to citizens and non-citizens alike. Though the ordinance is based on the UK’s Prevention of Terrorist Act, the Indian government has forgotten that the European Court on human Rights objected to the four-day custody period. The police have a negative influence on the society. They protect only the wealthy and the powerful. There is a provision in the new law that an accused cannot be released on bail till a prosecutor agrees or a judge says that there is no case against the accused. How can a judge come to that conclusion? It gives an unwarranted authority to the public prosecutor. The risk is there that the powers may be misused and may lead to miscarriage of justice.

The minorities should join hands with the forces committed to secularism and democracy to defeat the fascist aims of communal organizations.

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