Thursday, June 20, 2024

Stolen freedom of June 4, 2024


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It was on March 2, 2023 that celebratory rejoicing filled the streets of Shillong. With all educational institutions closed, even the youth could join in celebrating the victory of their respective elected representatives. On that day all the gatherings and rallies observed law and order. It was a day to celebrate democracy. Come 2024, and questions arise as to why the supporters of candidates for the Lok Sabha election cannot celebrate the victory of their candidate? Are we considered as threats to the Government of the State? If so, in what senseless way will we obstruct peace, law and order on June 4, 2024? Articles 14 and 19 of the Indian Constitution respectively read that the State shall not deny any person equality before the law or equal protection of laws within India, and that, under the 6 freedoms, we have the freedom and right to assemble peacefully without arms. Now, Section 144 Cr.PC unarguably, authorises the Executive Magistrates to issue an order to prohibit the assembly of four or more people. However, this would be reasonable and valid if and only if the concerned group or mass of people are a threat to the State’s law and order.
This law, preventive in nature, is valid in urgent cases of nuisance and when there is apprehension of breakdown of law and order. So, is the public a threat to the peace and order of the State? We, as the public, respect all laws and regulations that protect us from injustice, inequality and threats present in the society as we solely rely upon the Government to provide us equal laws and to view us as equals in the eyes of the law. We seek freedom and rights to protect the interests and opinions of individuals even as we obey the laws that bind us together. However, to live to see the day when a government seeks to steal the rights that have been so given to us, is a shock and disappointment, for me as a youth hoping for a better democratic and equal future.
We are willing to comply with any reasonable conditions brought forward by the authorities to ensure that our gatherings and rallies on June 4, are peaceful and will not result in any disharmony. Since past celebratory rallies have been safe and non-threatening, the public has demonstrated its ability to safely, peacefully and joyfully celebrate its victories.
This letter is not meant to side with any participating political party, as the results have yet to be declared. It is a respectful request to the authorities to lift the restrictions imposed and allow the public to take part in peaceful gatherings and rallies on June 4 next. I urge the public to stand up for OUR rights and exercise the equally influential powers that we hold. Democracy lies in our hands and in our voices. Let us, then, participate in protecting and exercising our ‘Rights’ towards achieving a ‘Stronger Democracy’ and an equal future.
Yours etc.,
Iaphilaniewkor Thangkhiew,
Via email

Liberal spaces invaded

After the alphabet ‘e’ comes ‘f.’ Similarly, education is the road to freedom. Leo Tolstoy rightly said that the only purpose of education is freedom. Then, what is the purpose of education when academic freedom is restricted? In the 2023 Academic Freedom Index, India is among 22 countries (out of 179) where institutions and scholars enjoy “significantly less freedom today than 10 years ago”.
But is there any sign of improvement after the publication of the report in February last year? Recently over 600 alumni of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) have criticised their Alma Mater over the two-year suspension of a Dalit scholar for taking part in an anti-government protest using the name of the Institute.
The alumni urged the TISS administration to repeal the suspension of Ramadas Prini Sivanandan, who took part in a demonstration outside Parliament during a protest programme on National Education Policy in January under the banner – Progressive Students Forum, TISS. The alumni in its statement said that the action by the TISS is opposed to the democratic values and constitutional ethos of social justice, inclusivity, and free thought that have been instilled by the institute over generations.
There was another incident that happened at TISS in January this year. The students of the Institute have been organising the Bhagat Singh Memorial lecture every year from 2018 onwards. It was held at the campus amphitheatre until 2020 before Covid forced a shift online in 2021 and 2022.
In 2023, human rights activist Harsh Mander was to speak at the event at the amphitheatre. But the Institute denied him permission. Thereafter, it was held online. The students informed the TISS administration in December 2023 that in 2024 Magsaysay award winner, social activist Bezwada Wilson would deliver the lecture.
Interestingly, the Institute which had been regarded as a liberal campus, came up with a notice on February 16 stating that the lecture, which was scheduled to be delivered on February 17 that TISS would not associate with the event in any capacity. However, the event was organised over Zoom by the Students Organising Committee, an independent forum of TISS students. Wilson, a campaigner for the eradication of manual scavenging and caste atrocities, delivered the Bhagat Singh Memorial Lecture on, “Human rights and constitutional values in contemporary times: Role of University and Public”.
A student observed that the Institute had been trying to restrict student-led activities for one year. The student further said, “In the name of issuing new guidelines, the Institute has been creating hurdles for students’ activities. The students are major stakeholders and have a say in the management of the Institute. Efforts to curb their voices are undemocratic and unacceptable.”
India performed poorly in the academic freedom report about campus integrity because of political interference. The situation has been deteriorating further since the publication of the report. Sabyasachi Das, an assistant professor at Ashoka University, resigned as a result of the controversy over his research paper on India’s democratic backsliding.
Recently, Unacademy, an online education platform, fired an instructor, Karan Sangwan, after a video of him talking to students about voting for educated candidates went viral. All these incidents are in sync with the Academic Freedom Index which described the autonomy of Indian institutions to express views on political issues as very poor.
We must not forget Albert Einstein’s views about restrictions on academic freedom. He said, “It is evident that any restriction on academic freedom acts in such a way as to hamper the dissemination of knowledge among the people and thereby impedes national judgement and action.”
Yours etc.,
Sujit De,

Root Canal Therapy

Deep within my heart, I feel voices whispering to me to write about the Umiam dam repair, which I term as ‘Root Canal Therapy’, or (RTC) till we get a new wisdom tooth (new Umiam dam bridge) , by the wisdom of an enlightened one after 25 or 30 years of life expectancy. When experts were on board already, why was not the decision taken earlier to go for the RCC work? The long stretch of road from Jagiroad to Nagaon stretch is an RCC one. What was the need to go for bitumen surface which requires frequent repairs with every monsoon season? Is this bridge not the lifeline to our State? If we happen to arrive at the Umiam bridge during the night we are left twiddling our thumbs or chew betel nuts, while tourists and families walk bare feet, being gracious enough to go patiently with the extended grace period sought for. Only in Meghalaya would a less than I km road repair take nearly a year to complete. What governance model is this?
Yours etc.,
Joydeep Sharma


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