Dear Mrs Gandhi,
I had asked to meet you on the 5th of November, to bring to your notice the unjustified and illegal detention of Medha Patkar with Mukesh Bagoriya, Braj Kishore Chaurasia and 20 others in Chindwara Jail; and that of activists Suniti S R and 34 Women in Pune Jail. While they have been subsequently released, the manner in which their civil liberties were disregarded, the conduct of the authorities through the entire process and the implications for policies of land acquisition and development are reason for great concern.
Activist Dayamani Barla is in Hotwar Central Jail since October 16th. Every time she is given bail, she is immediately rearrested and is currently facing her third set of charges. Her offences are leading a demonstration demanding MGNREGS job cards and unemployment allowance for villagers and protesting against the acquisition of fertile agricultural land for building universities.
This is part of a continuing string of arrests that have been made of activists who are doing nothing more than protest against the unlawful acquisition of land, and critiquing a development model that prioritises corporate and commercial concerns over farmers and the rural poor. These activists were not indulging in unlawful activities, and were only exercising democratic rights protected by the Indian Constitution. There has been a growing intolerance of anyone who is seen as coming in the way of the plans of commercial interest. While parliament examines the contentious Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparent Land Acquisition Bill, 2012, such methods of suppressing dissent are bound to completely polarise all debates around the issue. Eventually, using the law in this unjustifiable manner against those who are raising a voice of marginalised people will undermine democracy itself.
We strongly feel that the right to peaceful protest is one of our most fundamental principles. I have already written to you about the baseless charges of sedition against those protesting against the Koodankulam Nuclear power plant. It is vitally important spaces of dissent are preserved in a democracy and people’s movements, themselves committed to democratic principles are given the same legitimacy that the political class seeks for itself.
We request you to please treat this matter with the highest degree of concern and ensure that the Government of India takes the responsibility of being the protector of ordinary people and ensures that all questions around land acquisition are sensitively and comprehensively examined and acted on. We also believe that it is the duty of the central government to ensure that constitutional principles are adhered to and the space for democratic protest is protected.
With warm regards,