Creating atmosphere of fear

By Cleofato A Coutinho
13 June 2015 18:43 IST

The row over the decision of IIT Madras in temporarily derecognizing Ambedkar Periyar Student circle for spreading hatred against the prime minister shall blow over as another headline takes its place. In June 2014 nine students of Shree Krishna College in Kerala were arrested because of objectionable and unsavoury language against the prime Minister as part of cross word puzzle. These appear to be small events but they have larger implications for the society and the polity.  These events have to be seen on a larger plan of the country wide attempt to suppress dissent in society by creating an atmosphere of fear. If one goes into the pamphlet which reproduced the speech of a Dravidian university academic R. Vivekanada Gopal, one realizes that what is stated in the pamphlet are issues that have been on the table for over six months. Areas like ‘Hindutva’ role of Multinational Corporation in India and polarization of the polity (through banning cow slaughter, slogans of ghar wapsi and promoting Vedas) have been routinely debated.

The government which came into being with the massive mandate is only frittering away. Its energy attempting to suppress all dissent. Fixing of  Priya Pillai of  green peace and hounding of Teesta Setalwad   smacks of vengeance  and revenge. The Ford foundation working at international level and which funded great centers of learning and thinking like the Tata Institute of Social Sciences also came under government scanner due to Ford foundation’s support to Teesta Setalwad’s NGO which took up the cause of the Muslim minority in the aftermath  of the Gujarat riots.

There is nothing wrong with receiving foreign funds as the government of India scrutinizes these funds through various laws like the Foreign Contribution   Regulation Act, Income Tax Act etc. In India the NGOs have performed a stellar role  in forcing the government to come up with certain rights based legislations. The Right to Information Act, MNREGA, Forests Rights Act, Food Security Act etc. is a result of continuous pressure built by the NGOs during the UPA government. Certain NGOs have held the governments accountable by providing much need shoulder to the people in taking on the governments on inconvenient aspects. Teesta Setelwad took up justice for Muslims after the Gujarat riots. Greenpeace and in particular Pillai led protests in Mahaan area which led to rising levels of farmer and village protests   and  other coal producing regions and thermal plant locations.  

Great environmental battles have been fought by the NGOs who in a way have become ‘nuisance’ for unbridled destruction of environment and ecology to both the government and corporates. Even before independence organizations like servants of India society of Gopal Krishna Gokhale and People’s Education Society of B.R. Ambedkar fueled the spirit of freedom. Hundreds of NGOs throughout the country both getting funds across the border and through domestic means  have been spear-heading tribals’ fight for justice  and working for women empowerment. The previous UPA government was felled by Narendra Modi after India Against Corruption brought the issue of corruption and mal governance to the fore. The Goa Foundation has performed a splendid role in the area of environment and the fragile eco system of Goa. The Goa Bachhao Abhiyan and village groups did their bit in getting the 2011 regional plan and the special economic zones scrapped.

The measuring rod of government’s democratic credentials   would be its tolerance level to NGOs.  To look at any dissent and criticism as anti-national is bordering on stupidity particularly when we look at the pioneering role played by some of the NGOs over the past decade even leading to the parliament passing legislations. It must be stated had it not been for Anna Hazare led India against corruption the Lokpal Law would not have passed the parliamentary test. The NGO led by Aruna Roy has a lion’s share in the Right to Information Act, while Harsh Mandar’s NGO has major role in the Food Security Act. Each of these NGOs could be termed as creating ‘nuisance’ to the governments of the day and the multinational corporates due to their continuous action   in taking up causes their organization believe in.

The attack on Greenpeace and the freezing of accounts of hundreds of NGOs across  the country highlights the streak of intolerance to dissent and debate. The banning of the Ambedkar Periyar Study circle demonstrates the government’s hatred to any inconvenient questioning.  

The Greenpeace matter may have been taken up by the Congress party. The Rahul Gandhi led NSUI or the DMK with Periyar ancestry may have highlighted the case of IIT Madras. But these are non partisan issues which if ignored shall undermine the core value of democracy. 

A democracy must celebrate debate, discussion, criticism and involvement of citizens in policy formulation and law making. It is only through NGOs that the civil society can involve itself in law making or policy formulation. Dissent and criticism of government policy can never be akin to spreading hatred. If the prime minister can use all fora to put forth his point of view in ‘Man Ki Baat’ jarring us all time, than don’t we who disagree have a right to question the state of affairs? Noami Chomsky the great American dissident intellectual   said ‘Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to totalitarianism’. George Orwell (of animal farm) tells us that in free England unacceptable ideas can be suppressed voluntarily, without the use of force. In an atmosphere of fear created by the emergency, Indira Gandhi thought everything was going her way till elections showed her the door.  Stalin  and Hitler were dictators who also loved the freedom of speech, but not   the views they were not tuned to! 

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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I read your curious article which stops short of detailing the potential harm or the divisive nature of these so called NGOs. You fail to mention how these NGOs work without respect for Indian democratic processes and offices. You fail to mention how the interventions of these NGOS are not in sync with the governments efforts to achieve the same and thus creates a lot of friction within the processes. The NGOs stir a degree of expectation and an uprising which doesn't allow for our own methods to solve the issues. Let the NGOs do this with Government rather than independent of it. Let the NGOs follwo the rule of the land and do it the way the Indians do. Let the NGOs do without a vested interest of religious conversion or instigating religious or class hatred. India should look after its poor and the downtrodden. It should work on ways to uplift them. NGOS should merely strengthen these processes and NOT create turbulence within the dynamics of our Society. Everything needs time

- Dr Kirthivasan, UK | 13 th June 2015 20:34


A wonderful article, highlighting some vital developments in the past related to the topic discussed here. As per your statement,

"A democracy must celebrate debate, discussion, criticism and involvement of citizens in policy formulation and law making." I agree with full consent. And prior to the need of hour it is rather more necessary today. But however, don't you think the machinery under which all these NGO are running also arises lots of serious questions too? I want to further know your views on How to successfully check all this channels in possible alternate way.? And as you have mentioned that many earlier arrangements like the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, Income Tax Act etc are already scrutinizing all these channels, don't you think it may be only these bodies which may have encouraged the government to initiate such steps?

I will be waiting for some further information Sir.

Thank You.

- Ashutosh Yadav, New Delhi | 13 th June 2015 20:34


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