Peoples Union for Democratic Rights condemns the Jharkhand Government for banning PFI, Popular Front of India, without providing any prima-facie evidence to support its decision. Through its official release dated 20th February 2018, the BJP state government proscribed PFI by invoking extraordinary powers provided under S 16 [Powers to Declare Associations Unlawful] of the CLA (Criminal Law Amendment) Act. The Home Department reported PFI activity in the Pakur district of state and stated that the organization is “internally influenced” by ISIS, and that some of its members have secretly gone to Syria. Following the ban, 3 FIRs have been registered under section 17 CLA, 1908 in Pakur, Jamtara and Sahebganj districts against office bearers, sympathisers and even owners of buildings in which PFI was running its offices. One person Tahmid Alam has been arrested from Sahebganj on 5th March. Offices at Pakur and Jamatara have been raided and sealed without any notice.
The proscription is unwarranted as there is no clarification regarding the nature of ‘activity’ in Pakur. Further, the charges leveled against PFI—that it is internally influenced by ISIS and that its members have secretly gone to Syria—are based on unverified reports. Hence, neither can be proffered as conclusive reasons for banning PFI. So, why the ban?
Pakur, the supposed ‘activity’ region of PFI, was in the news in July 2017 when PFI led a march protesting cow vigilantism and hate messages, over WhatsApp, by a local BJP leader, Hisabi Rai. While no action was taken against Rai, in December 2017, members of PFI filed a complaint against the Pakur SP and two police officials for falsely implicating its members in the July episode and for torturing and humiliating them. No local lawyer represented the PFI and the case was taken up by several lawyers from across the country. The ban is surely meant to paralyze the activities of the PFI, especially its role in exposing the administration.
There’s yet another reason which needs to be factored. The banning coincided with the deposition of witnesses in the Saraikala lynching case of 18 May 2017 where four persons, Mohammad Naeem, Sheikh Halim, Sheikh Siraj and Sajjad, were lynched to death in Sobhapur village in Saraikela Kharsawan district. The attacks were mobilized by a Hindutva mob at the instigation of Hindu cattle traders and the administration’s controversial role in the incident came to light from the finding by a two-member panel, in June 2018. While lawyers have been reluctant to take up this case, the PFI has been assisting families of the victims. Once again, the ban has enabled the administration in raiding the PFI offices and in lodging FIRs as abovesaid.
Seen within these contexts, the claims made in the official press release against PFI border on being scurrilous because there is no evidence for the grievous charge. On the contrary, the administration has much to answer for: based on innuendos and sweeping half-truths, the proscription is unlawful and unconstitutional as it is an arbitrary exercise of power sans grounds. Notably, the charges of activities are restricted to one district, but the ban is effective throughout the state. What is particularly galling is the manner in which the Jharkhand government has been targeting a range of dissident voices through bans. These organizations have been protesting lynching and attacks by Hindutva preaching groups who are also at the forefront in terrorizing minorities or those agitating against forest land grab and displacement. The ban on PFI follows the December 2017 ban on Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti, a 30-year old Trade Union which has been active in organizing contract workers in the coal areas of the state.
Banning associations and criminalizing dissidents and suppressing ideas/ideology is undemocratic because advocacy of any idea/ideology is a legitimate right of the people. If a crime has been committed then perpetrators of that crime should be prosecuted, banning the organization only compels it to move underground. Ideas are difficult to erase through either diktat or imposition. By banning PFI, the Jharkhand government has exposed itself.
1. Revocation of the ban on PFI
2. Repeal of the imperial draconian law, CLA 1908
3. Immediate and unconditional release of Tahmid Alam
Shashi Saxena and Shahana Bhattacharya
8th March 2018