Opposition leaders on Wednesday expressed solidarity with activist Stan Swamy, who has been booked under the UAPA, and demanded that the stringent law be repealed. They also urged the public to break their silence on the government's efforts to "chip away the rights of the people".
The NIA arrested 83-year-old Swamy on October 8 in the Bhima Koregaon case. Activists and political leaders have been condemning Swamy's arrest, saying that despite him being a patient of Parkinson's disease and suffering from other health problems, he is now in jail. Speaking at a press conference organised by People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren claimed that the government was trying to silence the voices of marginalised communities.
In a video message, he alleged that under the present government, the unity, integrity and democratic structures were under attack. "The NDA government sitting in the Centre today - it is silencing the voices of those speaking for the adivasis, Dalits and other marginalised groups, the non-BJP ruled states are being harassed, the various constitutional mechanisms of our country are being weakened today by different groups and organisations for its own political benefit under a hidden agenda," he claimed.
"It is forcing us to ponder about where the country is headed. It crossed all limits today when someone like Stan Swamy was arrested. He is someone who has been working in Jharkhand for years, in the remote faraway villages, wandering in the jungles, just so that the adivasis, Dalits and minority populations here could be reached. This is extremely disappointing. Stan Swamy is also suffering from many diseases," Soren said. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury as well as the DMK's Kanimozhi urged civil society groups and the public to break their silence over the "government's attacks on the rights of the people".
"Today we have to make a decision as political parties, as the whole society whether to accept what is happening in silence or say this is enough and fight them together. If we accept this, then in a few years we will not see a democratic India that we know. Every law that this government has passed has chipped away the rights of the people. It's time to break the silence," Kanimozhi said in the video conference. A total of 16 people have been arrested under the UAPA in the case, which include three cultural activists of the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Ghogre and Jyoti Jagtap, as well as thinker, writers and academics Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Shoma Sen, Hany Baby, lawyers, Sudha Bharadwaj, Surendra Gadling, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira, who are all also trade unionists, and activists. Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson are also in prison.
"The UAPA has been grossly misused, like POTA, this law has to be removed from our statute book. However, this is not the issue of just one law. All these draconian laws are being used to silence all dissent against the government. These arrests are not isolated cases; these are part of an agenda to establish a rabidly theocratic Hindutva Rashtriya which was their plan from the beginning. This cannot be accepted. We must break this silence. For evil to succeed, the good only requires to be silent. People need to restore the secular democracy," Yechury alleged. Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said Swamy deserves "respect and support", not jail term.
Tharoor said he was convinced that "no Jesuit will indulge in any violence or entice anyone towards violence". "This must stop. I appeal to the government to be fair and at least grant him bail we stand in solidarity with Stan Swamy," he said.