Prabhat Sharan, Deccan Herald
The Bombay high court’s observations, while granting bail to four persons who were accused of being Maoists by the anti-terrorist squad (ATS) of the state, should be a warning and guide to the police in all states.
It is well-known that the police foist unconvincing charges on people, harass them, rob them of their freedom and take them to court. Many times it is calling a man a dog and trying to hang him.
To be found with a copy of the Communist Manifesto or any other work that advocates social change, to write a poem or stage a play that criticises injustice and iniquities was enough reason to be locked up by the police many years ago. The experience of the street theatre group which highlighted the pervasiveness of corruption and inequalities in society shows that the situation has hardly changed.
The artistes of the theatre group , Kabir Kala Manch were booked under the strict provisions of the anti-terrorism law for alleged allegiance to the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and for inciting violence to subvert the state, and some of them have been in jail for over two years. The evidence produced by the ATS is their possession of books available in the market and the literature has not been banned. It is possible that many of the ideas which the police found criminal could be found in text books also.
Castigating the police, the court has said that it is not wrong to raise social issues and advocate a change of the social or political system. Many thinkers, social activists and leaders of the past and present could be considered guilty and criminal if there was a sweeping ban on demands for a better society.
Corruption, poverty, social injustice and the oppression of the weakest sections of society are vital issues that need answers and solutions. The inability of the state to address these issues and improve the social and economic status of the people in the margins should be of concern to all citizens.
While these issues are raised in public the answer of the state should not be to come down with a heavy hand on those who do so. It is not just a matter of freedom of expression but of what to express and work for. It is not the first time that courts have made it clear that faith in an ideology is not a crime. Unfortunately it has to be said again and again.
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