Where’s the evidence, minister?

Venkaiah Naidu’s attack on human rights activists ignores facts

Written by Aakar Patel | Published: May 13, 2017 12:25:19 am
 Venkaiah Naidu, Naidu maoists, Sukma attack, human rights report, Venkaiah naidu human rights, Maoist attack, Naidu Sukma attack, NDA human rights, Indian Express Union Ministe M Venkaiah Naidu. (PTI File Photo)

M. Venkaiah Naidu’s article, ‘Romancing the Maoists’, (IE, May 1) , is a piece remarkable for its disingenuousness on human rights.

It is telling that an op-ed on the “double standards” of human rights activists comes from the pen of India’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting. The National Democratic Alliance government has done little to hide its hostility towards human rights activists. It is unfortunate but not surprising therefore that Naidu’s ill-informed — and at times downright misleading — article continues in the same vein.

First things first: Is it true, as Naidu claims, that human rights activists have remained silent on human rights attacks by Maoists? No. The Sukma attack was widely condemned by groups and individuals including the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Soni Sori and Bela Bhatia. Every year, Amnesty International lists in its annual human rights report the various abuses carried out by Maoist groups and also other groups operating in states in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir. When a Maoist attack in May 2013 killed 24 people, including three politicians, we immediately condemned the attack and pointed out how it could lead to further violence against civilians.

In an official statement on April 25 soon after the Sukma attack, under the heading “Why Human Rights activists silent on dastardly killing of CRPF Jawans in Sukma?” Naidu asked this question, perhaps rhetorically: “Are Human Rights only meant for those who chose violence in furtherance of their outdated ideologies and not for security personnel and common people?” The minister will in fact be hard-pressed to find any incidents of violence by Maoist fighters against ordinary people that have not been condemned outright by activists. Importantly, he will also find that violence by security forces — including fake encounters where villagers are passed off as “Maoists” — is subjected to the same scrutiny.

And it is this objective gaze that seems to be the government’s real grouse. There can exist only two types of voices, Naidu’s article seems to argue: Those who support everything the government does, and those who support Maoists. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s official statement ends on a similarly pernicious note. It says, “There is an urgent need to build strong public opinion against so-called human rights activists who have double standards”.

This government claims in Naidu’s statement that: “These activists raise voice and react violently if an extremist or a terrorist is killed by the Police but take shelter in silence when large number of Jawans and innocent people get killed by those who operate underground, kill and run.” This is a demonstrable lie.

This is the same sentiment that seems to drive the use of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act to suppress NGOs, the state backing of vigilante groups who harass and attack activists, and the arbitrary arrests of peaceful critics. Naidu’s letter may finally end up revealing more about his government than about human rights activists.

India’s constitution and law protect its citizens and it is the right of citizens to protest when these rights are violated, whether by organs of the state or by armed groups.

Naidu picks and chooses, and then groups the statements and actions of rights groups and citizens, casually ascribing motive. The most charitable thing one can say about his allegation is that it is borne of ignorance. That he collects his evidence from the echo chambers that are convinced that civil society groups are up to mischief.

It would benefit the Minister for Information and Broadcasting not a little if he actually gathered and vetted information before broadcasting it.

The writer is executive director, Amnesty International India

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