PUDR condemns the undemocratic ban of 16 civil liberties, students, women’s, writers and cultural organizations as “unlawful associations” by the Telangana government under the Public Security Act (PSA). These include the Telangana Praja Front (TPF), Telangana Asanghatitha Karmika Samkhya (TAKS), Telangana Vidyarthi Vedika (TVV), Democratic Students Organisation (DSU), Telangana Vidyarthi Sangham (TVS), Adivasi Students Union (ASU), Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), Telangana Raithanga Samithi (TRS), Tudum Debba (TD), Praja Kala Mandali (PKM), Telangana Democratic Front (TDF), Civil Liberties Committee (CLC), Forum Against Hindu Fascism Offensive (FAHFO), Amarula Bandhu Mithrula Sangham (ABMS), Chaitanya Mahila Sangham (CMS) and Revolutionary Writers Association (RWA).
The notification issued by the state government makes no effort to disguise that the organizations have been banned for the exercise of their fundamental rights to speech, assembly and association under Article 19 to dissent against the policies of the central and state governments. Reasons for the ban include: highlighting issues against the central and state governments, organizing protests against state repression, demanding release of political prisoners including the Bhima Koregaon arrestees, repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, CAA-NRC, farm laws etc. These are bookended by unsubstantiated allegations of being fronts of the proscribed CPI(Maoist)- an allegation that the government does not have to justify in front of any court of law before bringing the ban into effect for a period of one year.
Although the notification was issued on 30 March 2021, many of the 16 organizations were not informed about the ban until three weeks later, after it was covered in the news media. This “secret” ban circumvents even the bare minimum due process guarantees under the draconian PSA. The PSA requires that the notification be served to the office-bearers of the organization, affixed outside their premises or published in a local newspaper.
These organizations have been facing the brunt of targeted attacks by the central and state governments on several occasions, but with renewed vigour since November 2020. In the last week of November, two FIRs were registered on trumped-up allegations of conspiracy, waging war, sedition, and a host of UAPA provisions against 80-90 named persons out of whom 10 were arrested. In fact, just one day after the Telangana government issued the present notification banning the organizations, the NIA conducted raids in 31 locations across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana targeting many of the same organizations, on 31 March and 1 April 2021.
The procedure for proscription does not follow due process guaranteed by the Constitution, as the targeted organizations do not have a right to be heard or to represent themselves before the ban is brought into effect. The PSA also effectively bars recourse to ordinary courts of law to challenge the proscription after it is brought into effect. Members are left with the tokenistic option of sending a representation to an “Advisory Board” within two weeks of the proscription, in a process where they may or may not be personally heard. The PSA also bars legal representation to the banned organization in case the Board does grant a personal hearing. The denial of due process guarantees is exacerbated by the fact that any member who sends such a representation becomes immediately liable to arrest for the offence of membership of a banned organization. Prior experience of such Advisory Boards/ Tribunals under the UAPA and PSA in other states like Chhattisgarh and Jammu & Kashmir testify that these act as mere “rubber stamps” for the actions of the government, and do not afford an effective remedy.
PUDR unequivocally opposes the politics of banning organizations as undemocratic and unconstitutional. Instead of engaging with legitimate concerns relating to democratic rights of citizens, a ban is put into effect with the object of silencing and delegitimizing the activities of the organization as “unlawful”. The broad and vague definition of “unlawful activity” makes it immaterial that a banned organization may be engaging in peaceful democratic activities such as organizing rallies, protests, speeches etc., as even these are immediately put an end to, and members are placed under imminent risk of arrest. The ban itself becomes the bedrock of further persecution of the organization and its members, either through relentless criminalization of all its activities, or by extending the web of persecution based on guilt by association.
PUDR demands that:
- The notification declaring these 16 civil liberties, students, women’s, writers and cultural organizations as “unlawful associations” under the Telangana PSA must be immediately withdrawn;
- The Telangana Public Security Act must be repealed with immediate effect;
- Immediately cease the persecution and continued targeting of civil liberties and human rights organizations and activists.
Radhika Chitkara and Vikas Kumar