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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 22, May 22, 2010

Open Letter to P. Chidambaram

Tuesday 25 May 2010


Dear Mr Chidamabaram,

This is in reference to the press release by the Union Home Ministry which has warned ‘civil society groups, non-governmental organisations, intellectuals and the general public’ to refrain from ‘supporting the CPI(Maoist) ideology’ as it will attract action under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. It warned that under Section 39 of the Act, “any person who commits the offence of supporting such a terrorist organi-sation with inter alia intention to further the activities of such groups would be liable to be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or with fine or with both”.

We strongly feel that the order violates the very fundamental right of freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution. Freedom of expression does not retain any meaning if it does not entail freedom of expression of those who oppose us. Such an order and the context in which it is being threatened to be used reminds one of the infamous witch-hunting led by Senator McCarthy in the United States in the 1950s, which is universally regarded as an assault on democracy. Thought and belief and the free expression of thought and belief are inalienable rights of human beings. By snatching that away, you are laying the groundwork for an intolerant state incapable of accepting any criticism.

The question of Maoism is a complex one that tends to invite multiple political opinions. By denying a section of society the right to even voice their opinion, even if it is in support of Maoists, you are striving to polarise the debate and reduce the whole issue to a simplistic good-versus-evil situation in which you and the government appear to firmly stand on the side of the good.

We would also like to know what classifies as ‘support’ through expression. How do you chose to define it? Does any faint agreement with the ideology or a support based more on personal experience classify as a punishable offence even if it does not involve any violent activity? Will any criticism of state actions in anti Maoist operations be penalised? What safeguards exist to ensure that this will not be used to persecute intellectuals and activists opposed to actions of the state, even if they are not aligned with Maoists, ideologically or otherwise? The case of Binayak Sen stands as a testimony to the fact that these draconian measures are more often than not used to shut dissenting voices regardless of their position on Maoists. Terms as vague as ‘support’ end up as a useful excuse in this regard.

We, a group of concerned citizens, are protesting against

1. The attempt to silence those who identify with, and consider valid the Maoist critique of the state’s policies.

2. The labelling of all critics of State and Central governments as ‘Maoist supporters’.

3. Vengeful police action on activists, journalists etc. that is already underway using the announce-ment as a cover.

We believe that the open threat issued by the Home Ministry in its press release goes against the spirit of the Constitution and the fundamental principles of democracy, and hereby issue an open challenge to the Ministry to arrest us under this draconian order as we will not be cowed down into silence by force or the threat to use force.


Ananyo Maitra, IISc, Bangalore; Arvind Marathe, IISc, Bangalore; Balaji Narsimhan, AID, US; Balmurli Natrajan, AID NYC and South Asia Solidarity Initiative, NYC; Cyril Sam, DU, Delhi; Debamitro Chakraborti, Software Engineer, Bangalore; Deepak Menon, Arghyam, Bangalore; Deepak Srinivasan, Maraa, Bangalore; Diptarup Nandi, IISc, Bangalore; Gautam Das, EFLU, Hyderabad; Gopal Menon, Independent Documentary Film Maker, Bangalore; Himanshu Kumar, New Delhi; Kishor Bhat, NIAS, Bangalore; Krittika Bhattacharjee, Oxford University; Meera Baindur, NIAS, Bangalore; Parthasarathy Ray, Sanhati, Kolkatta; Pranav Prakash, Iowa University; Ramdas Rao, PUCL, Bangalore; Rohan D’Souza, ATREE, Bangalore; Sajai Jose, Journalist, Bangalore; Samik Basu, AID, US; Sarita Dhawan, IISc, Bangalore; Shaheen Shasa; Shalini Gera, AID, US; Shamala Kittane, Oracle, Bangalore; Shiv Sethi, RRI, Bangalore; Shubhendu Senroy, IISc, Bangalore; Sidharth Menon, NUJS, Kolkata; Siddharth Narrain, Alternative Law Forum, Bengaluru; R Soujanya Kumar, EFLU, Hyderabad; Soundarya Iyer, JNCASR, Bangalore; Supriya Nair, Writer, Mumbai; Sushumna Kannan, CSCS, Bangalore; Tathagata Sengupta, AID, US; T.V.H. Prathamesh, IISc, Bangalore; Vibha Iyer, JNU, New Delhi.

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