Karnataka Govt Charges AIPWA VP with 'Sedition'
In BJP-ruled Karnataka, if you criticise the Government or organise marginalised sections of people, you are liable to be accused of 'sedition.' This is what is implied by an FIR recently filed by the Karnataka police charging Dr E Rati Rao, a senior scientist and long-standing activist of the women’s rights movement of sedition. Dr. Rati Rao is Vice-President of PUCL-Karnataka and Vice President of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA).
Dr. Rati Rao was Editor of an in-house PUCL-Karnataka Kannada language bulletin (called PUCL Varthapatra) for private circulation among PUCL members – and it is this bulletin (last published in 2007) that is the supposed basis for the charges of ‘sedition’.
The FIR against Dr. Rati Rao accuses her of publishing the PUCL bulletin that is “favoring naxals and Muslims and is propagating that the police are killing innocent people in the name of encounter”; that “calls upon dalits, women, minorities, farmers and adivasis to build organizations in order to fight for their rights”; that “accuses the Sangh Parivar in Karavali (coastal Karnataka) of indulging in false propaganda and fueling communal disharmony” and “calls upon the secular forces to raise their voice against such spread of communal hate”; and “by raising such issues incite and spread intolerance, disbelief, discontent amongst the public”; that “in the name of doing good to the dalits, women, minorities, & adivasis the said bulletin is spreading false information against the casteist & communal Government…It is propagating intolerance, disbelief, and discontent amongst the Government officials.”
The sections under which Dr. Rati Rao has been booked are Section 124 A (Sedition), Section 505 (False statement, rumour, etc., circulated with intent to cause mutiny or cause communal discord) and sections of the Press Act that relate to knowingly spreading false information. The PUCL Bulletin in question had discussed the attacks on the Christian community in Karnataka and had indicted the Government for failing to do enough to protect the minority community from attack.
In the eyes of the BJP-ruled Karnataka today, it seems, it is ‘sedition’ to avail the basic democratic right (and duty) of resisting communal hate campaigns and extra-judicial killings by the police; of asserting secularism; of encouraging dalits, women, minorities, farmers and adivasis to organize for their rights; and of asking why the Government is failing to prevent attacks on minorities and dalits!
Ironically, while the Karnataka police does not book the Sangh outfits for spreading rumours galore of ‘love jehad’ and ‘forced conversion’ to target Muslims and Christians, nor for violating the Constitution by indulging in communal violence – people like Dr. Rati Rao who have devoted their lives to defending constitutional liberties are accused of sedition and activists seeking to bring facts to light are booked for ‘spreading rumour’!
Dr Rati Rao is a scientist and researcher specializing in food microbiology, and retired as the Deputy Director of the CFTRI (Central Food Technological Research Institute). She has a history of several decades of democratic activism – first in the student movement, then in the women’s movement with the Samata Progressive Women’s Forum, Mysore since 1978 and as a prominent figure in the autonomous women’s movement right since the 1980s; and long associated with the Left and progressive movement and the human rights movement.
Why was a bulletin last published in 2007 dug out now, three years later, for punitive action by the Karnataka Government? It is nothing but a pretext to intimidate Dr. Rati Rao, who has in recent times, as National Vice President of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) been visiting Karnataka villages to organize rural poor women to fight for their rights, who was recently part of a fact-finding to expose the atrocities against Dalits in Chitradurga district of Karnataka (see report in Liberation March 2010), and who recently participated in a National Convention against Sexual violence and State Repression in Raipur, Chhattisgarh.
The charge against Dr. Rati Rao is part of a calculated campaign of harassment of civil liberties and democratic activists and crackdown on dissent that has marked the BJP regime in Karnataka and the ‘Operation Greenhunt’ of the central government.
A signature campaign addressed to the Karnataka CM and Governor has been undertaken demanding that the trumped up charges against Dr Rati Rao be withdrawn. The petition has been signed by hundreds of people, including labour historian Dilip Simeon, Kalpana Wilson and Amrit Wilson (South Asia Solidarity Group, UK), documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, Prof K.J. Mukherjee (JNU), Dr. Gail Omvedt (Dr. Ambedkar Chair, IGNOU), Daya Varma (Profesor Emeritus, McGill University Montreal), columnist Jyoti Punwani, Bernard D'Mello (deputy editor, EPW), Prof. Valerian Rodrigues (JNU), historians Dr. Gyanendra Pandey and Dr. Lata Mani, Harish Dhawan (PUDR), women's group VIMOCHANA, Dr Susie Tharu, Kalpana Kannabiran, V. Geetha and many others