The move by the central government to freeze Greenpeace India’s bank accounts and block sources of funds, is a blatant violation of the constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association. It also seems to be an attempt to warn civil society that dissent regarding development policies and priorities will not be tolerated, even when these are proving to be ecologically unsustainable and socially unjust. These are dangerous signs for the future of democracy in India.
Specific allegations of legal violation contained in the Ministry of Home Affairs’ notice are aspects Greenpeace India needs to respond to. However, the notice also charges the organization with adversely affecting “public interest” and the “economic interest of the State”. These charges give the impression that Greenpeace India is indulging in anti-national activities, using foreign funds. However, dissenting from the government’s development policies, helping communities who are going to be displaced by these policies to mobilise themselves, and generating public opinion for the protection of the environment can by no stretch of imagination be considered anti-national, or against public interest. Quite the contrary, any reasonable policy of sustainable development (which the government claims to adhere to) will itself put into question quite a few of the mining, power, and other projects currently being promoted. ”
Civil society organisations in India have a long and credible history of standing up for social justice, ecological sustainability, and the rights of the poor. When certain government policies threaten these causes, civil society has a justified ground to resist, and help affected communities fight for their rights. This is in fact part of the fundamental duties enjoined upon citizens by the Constitution of India.
In June 2013, a series of large demonstrations throughout Brazil have shaken up its main cities and political landscape. They have also perplexed politicians and analysts alike, many of whom found themselves without solid references to interpret the novelty and oscillated between silence and old discourses. It is always risky to interpret emerging processes. Minimally, we risk following secondary paths or, even worst, framing new events with the vocabulary made available by old interpretative models, exactly the ones that the new events are trying to displace. However, in order to reveal what is emerging it is necessary to risk, search for new hints, and follow signs already available. Several references that can guide us to interpret the June events have been around for quite a while; others are new, but we can trace their lineage and contextualize them.
A petition from an organization called Change India invaded my Facebook wall today right before – rather ironically, it turns out— my morning auto ride. The petition is filed under a category on the site called “petitions for economic justice.” When you open it, the image pasted below opens. A sharp fanged, dark skinned “auto-rakshasa” demands one-and-a-half fare. The commuter is “harassed.” The petition that accompanies this image urges the ACP of police to create “an efficient system” so that complaints made to report auto-drivers who overcharge or refuse to ply can be tracked. How, it asks, can “concerned Bangalorean citizens” expect “justice” if their complaints are not tracked? We all must, it urges, “join the fight.”
Let me first say quite clearly that I do not mean to undermine the intentions and frustrations of those who launched this campaign and, yes, when the meter goes on without asking, it eases a morning commute significantly. The question is: if this does not happen at times (and indeed it doesn’t) then why is this so and what does one do about it? There is a lot to be said about the economics of the issue itself and I welcome others reading who know more to write about it more extensively. But this piece is not about that. It is about the campaign itself and how we articulate political questions in our cities. It is fundamentally about the easy, unremarked way in which a working urban resident and citizen – who is also, after all, a “fellow Bangalorean” and concerned with “economic justice”– can be termed and portrayed a “rakshasa” as if it were a banal utterance.