Who will speak for the Human Rights Defenders?

Who will speak for the Human Rights Defenders?

Pushkar Raj*

The Bombay high court judgment cancelling Prof. Sai Baba’s bail and initiating contempt proceedings against the writer Arundhati Roy is a major blow to the human rights defenders in the country.

Dr. Sai Baba was arrested by the police in 2014 for allegedly indulging in maoist activities. He was charged under various sections of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and later denied bail. In an article in a magazine Arundhati Roy had questioned the manner of arrest of the professor and grounds on which he was denied bail. She had criticized the courts in the country for following different set of rules while granting bail depending on person’s ideology and proximity with the government of the day.

Dr. Sai Baba organized and participated in the meetings in the capital that highlighted the misery of the indigenous population who face displacement and crisis of survival in light of the governments’ big project centric development agenda. Arundhati Roy stressed that Dr. Sai Baba is primarily a human rights defender who should be treated humanely in light of his 90 per cent disability and the jurisprudence principle of presumption of innocence till proven guilty.

Ideally the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) should have come out in support of activists like Dr. Sai Baba. However, its record for defending the HRDs, despite having a dedicated cell for this purpose, has been dismal for various reasons. Therefore, the burden of speaking on the behalf of people like Dr. Sai Baba has fallen on the shoulders of the civil society in the country.

However, the civil society organizations too require support of the writers, artists and intellectuals to lend weight to their voice, especially when the present government, erroneously, treats the rights based human rights activities in the country as an anathema to its development and ideological agenda.

As a writer, one would assume, Arundhati Roy may feel that branding people naxalites and then treating them inhumanely before their guilt is proven is an outrageous practice in a constitutional democracy. In the outlook article which is the subject of ‘interference in administration of justice’ charge against her, the writer puts her perspective with her own set of arguments. These arguments may be right or wrong. The judgment of the court castigates the writer’s right to hold that perspective or opinion which is a disturbing trend.

It is a matter of concern that the contempt proceedings against Arundhati Roy, might serve as a warning to the writers and thinkers of the country to stay away from the public issues. Already, a section of the government has vilified a large number of writers because they dared to voice against encouraging and growing intolerance in the Indian society.

Any kind of threatening message coming from any branch of the government on thought and its expression is an erosion of our constitutional values and detrimental to the interest of our society. The writer, as Chinua Achebe, doyen of African literature, argued, creates the values of a society. When we silence the writer, we create a value vacuum in the society, i.e., a breeding ground for the mob driven justice and fascism.

The Bombay high court judgment is regrettable that it has come from an institution- the judiciary- that the writers and HRDs of the country look up for protection of their life and civil liberties. Several of courts’ landmark judgments preserved and expanded the rights of the individual rather than shrinking them.  In that light, the Bombay high court bench judgment is an exception.

The present case is sure to go to the Supreme Court. One hopes that it will be reviewed and nullified in the interest of civil liberties and constitutional values of the country.


*Pushkar Raj is an independent writer based in Melbourne (Australia). Earlier, he taught political science in Delhi University and was the National General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), India. 

2016 Front Line Defenders Award – Secure Online Nomination Form

2016 Front Line Defenders Award – Secure Online Nomination Form

You can now submit your nomination for the 2016 Front Line Defenders Award online. Simply answer the questions below in the boxes provided and when you have answered all of the questions, input the four digit security code and click on the submit button.

Please note:

  • Incomplete nominations will not be considered.
  • Nominations can be submitted by organisations or individuals.
  • Individual nominees may not play a prominent role in a political party and must be currently active in human rights work (the Front Line Defenders Award is not intended to recognise a historical or posthumous contribution).
  • Nominees should be active human rights defenders and must not be living in exile.
  • Self-nomination is not permitted.
  • All nominations must be accompanied by the names and contact details of 2 referees.


We hope this message finds you well and enjoying a renewed energy for your work for human rights as we begin the new year.

We wanted to let you know that we are currently accepting nominations for the Twelfth Annual Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk (2016).

As you may know, the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk was established in 2005 to honour the work of a human rights defender who, through non-violent work, is courageously making an outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of the human rights of others, often at great personal risk to themselves.

The Award seeks to focus international attention on the human rights defender’s work, thus contributing to the recipient’s personal security, and a cash prize of €15,000 is awarded to the Award recipient and his/her organisation in an effort to support the continuation of this important work.

If you would like to nominate a human rights defender for the Twelfth Annual Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk (2016), please click on the following link to access a secure online nomination form: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/secure/nomination.php (English)

We will continue to accept nominations until midnight (12am GMT) on Friday, 19th February 2016.

Please note:

  • Incomplete nominations will not be considered. Please complete the nomination form in full and provide all of the information requested.
  • Nominations can be submitted by organisations or individuals.
  • Nominations can be made in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic and Farsi. We will also accept Chinese and Portuguese submissions via the English and Spanish nomination forms respectively.
  • Individual nominees may not play a prominent role in a political party and must be currently active in human rights work (the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk is not intended to recognise a historical or posthumous contribution).
  • Nominees should be active human rights defenders, and must not be living in exile.
  • Self-nomination is not permitted.
  • All nominations must be accompanied by 2 referees.
  • Late nominations cannot be accepted.

Please feel free to share this call for nominations with your colleagues and network.

Wishing you all the best,

The Front Line Defenders team


FIR against BJP MLA for ‘attacking’ activists

FIR against BJP MLA for ‘attacking’ activists
A day after an FIR was lodged against a BJP MLA and about 35 persons for allegedly attacking a group working for social activists Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, police arrested four persons in connection with the violence.
Though the FIR does not name the MLA, the activists who were allegedly attacked have confirmed that the MLA from Aklera, Kanwar Lal Meena, was involved in the incident.
A 100-day jawabdehi yatra questioning accountability of the government and raising awareness about its schemes across Rajasthan began in December last year. It saw the participation of about 100 organisations under the banner ‘Soochana Evam Rozgar Ka Adhikar Abhiyan’. The yatra has a major participation from Ms. Roy and Mr. Dey’s organisation Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS).
On Saturday evening, members partaking in the yatra, including women, were attacked by a mob in Jhalawar district’s Aklera region. They have alleged that MLA Meena and about 35 of his supporters beat the activists with lathis and slapped some women.
“The yatra was being taken out peacefully until it was suddenly attacked by a mob,” Mr. Dey said in a statement to the media on Sunday.
A statement issued by the MKSS said: “The BJP MLA began the assault by attacking MKSS activist Shankar Singh… The MLA’s followers then lathi-charged the unarmed members in the yatra and slapped two women activists, broke glass panes of two vehicles, and forcibly seized the camera form an independent filmmaker and beat him up.”
The Congress party has strongly criticised the actions of the BJP MLA. Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee chief Sachin Pilot and former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot called it “a new low in the BJP-ruled State where activists were being targeted”.
Video of MLA’s act
On Sunday, a 56-second long video of the attack emerged showing a mob charging towards the activists. The recording shows MLA Meena with a lathi charging towards the activists, beating them and chasing other activists.
However, speaking to The Hindu , the MLA denied any role in the violence. “I heard about the attack and I went to the spot to stop the violence. I am being falsely accused of participating in the violence.”
Jhalawar Superintendent of Police Rajendra Singh said, “An MLA has also been named in the FIR and the investigation is on to find out whether he was involved in the attacks, or not.”
Speaking to the media on Sunday, Ms. Roy and Mr. Dey “condemned the act of violence” and along with Kavita Srivastava of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties met the district authorities over the incident.
The violence took place in the Lok Sabha constituency of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s son Dushyant Singh.
Congress party leaders condemn attack, say a new low in the
BJP-ruled State

Rajasthan BJP MLA “slapped me on my right-jaw when I asked why he was hitting us”: Woman RTI activist

Rajasthan BJP MLA “slapped me on my right-jaw when I asked why he was hitting us”: Woman RTI activist

“BJP MLA slapped me when I asked him to stop attacking”, a social activist participating in the Soochna Evum Rozgar Adhikaar Abhiyaan, a Right to Information (RTI) and Employment campaign organization, which encompasses about 150 different organizations across Rajasthan. The incident, reported by Couterview, took place on Saturday evening.

Accusing Kanwar Lal Meena of also hitting her when she tried to stop his men from attacking her colleagues, activist Radhikar Ganesh said, “We were begging the police to help us, they were at least 5-6 of them standing there, but they did not help us”, adding, a woman in the crowd told her, “The MLA himself is hitting you, the policemen won’t do anything, go from here.”
The incident took place in Aklera town in Jhalawar district as part of the state-wide yatra, spearheaded by the Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS). Of the 63 activists, 12 including, some women were, were grievously injured. Jhalawar is Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s home district and her constituency Jhalraptan is in the same district.
In her eyewitness account released by a prominent news site, Ganesh said, the incident took place when one of the campaigners, Shankar Singh, founder of MKSS, started doing a puppet show and explaining what the campaign was about.
“All of a sudden, three young men with lathis came charging towards us”, she said, giving a graphic picture how they pushed and hit them. One of them attacked Anurag Singh, an independent documentary filmmaker who was shooting and documenting the whole yatra.
As a constable standing nearby refused any help, Shankar Singh announced end of the programme. “We started walking towards the exit, where our bus was standing. Within 5 minutes of the first attack, about 45-50 men armed with lathis came charging at us from two different directions”, said Ganesh.
The man in a brown jacket and orange shirt – who was identified as the MLA later – first hit Shankar Singh. Other men thrashed the jeep and mike systems. “Everybody was getting hit. All our volunteers were getting dragged and hit with our own placards”, she said.
Immediately thereafter, she said, “I went to the MLA and started screaming at him asking why he was hitting us. He slapped me on my right-jaw. He ran towards Anurag, who was holding the camera… Anurag started running and found a police jeep parked. He tried to enter it asking for help, the constable pushed him out and locked the jeep.”

“A mob of about 20-25 men started running towards Anurag. Now everyone went behind Anurag, so the mob left us. I saw a bunch of them taking Anurag’s camera away. I looked at the policemen near us and asked them to get the camera, but they did not respond”, Ganesh said, adding, they found him in the “gully”, so “we picked him and brought him out.”A mobile video footage of the incident
Things did not end till one of the activists called Nikhil Dey, senior member of the MKSS, who “immediately called the chief minister’s office and the DGP in Jaipur”, and “30 minutes later a deputy SP came to the spot”, she said, adding, this was folled by the visit of the district collector and SP.
After the activists told them what all had happened, Ganesh said, the Collector called the MLA asked the MLA for the camera. “About three hours later, a young boy walked in with Anurag’s camera. The camera was broken. The tape was taken out and jammed shut with Feviquick”, she said.

Click HERE to read complete personal accout by Radhika Ganesh