WHAT IS THE ROLE OF CIVIL LIBERTIES ORGANIZATION?
Any organization will have its own specific objective and hence a limited scope depending upon its objective. An organization can not take up any issue and every issue. It can and will take up those issues which are concerned with its specified objective. There exist different organizations that are concerned with different objectives.
We may assume three kinds of organizations in connection with ‘Civil Liberties’: (1) Civil Rights Organization, (2) Human Rights Organization, and (3) ‘Revolutionary’ Civil Rights Organization. As there is some confusion regarding the nature, scope and the objectives of theses kinds of organizations, it is necessary to discuss various aspects of the question of ‘civil Rights’.
Civil Rights Organizations
When we speak of ‘citizens’, we are referring to the relationship between the ‘citizens’ and the ‘state’. Legislative assemblies that formulate laws and the courts; police, government offices, etc., that implement the laws constitute the state machinery. Therefore, we may consider state (‘government’) as something that is opposed to the citizens. Citizens are entitled to possess certain rights derived from the laws. Various wings of the state are expected to implement properly the laws. But, in a ‘class society’, it so happens frequently that the state machinery violates the law. Hence the need for a ‘civil Rights organization’. However, this organization can not hold a ‘class perspective’. Which means, it can not exist as an organization representing exclusively the ‘class of owners’ or exclusively the ‘class of laborers’. Persons belonging to both the classes could be members of this organization. The only condition, however, is that the members should have the objective of protecting the civil liberties to which they are entitled as per law. This organization cannot make such declarations as: “This society is a class society”, “This government is the government of exploiting class’, “This is fake democracy” and so on. The function of this organization is merely to protect the rights that are available within the existing laws. This is its limitation.
What, in fact, are the civil rights in this society? Right to property, right to organize, right to speech, right to education, right to practice any religion, right to be appointed to the government office, right to vote and contest and so on. We cannot comment on these rights for want of space and context. ‘Right to property’ in the actual fact means ‘right to exploit’. This right perpetuates the class distinctions and makes all other rights meaningless. This is not, however, a context where we can clarify issues involved. The point to be noted here is that it is a violation of civil rights whenever the state denies a right.
To take an example from our experience in the daily life, workers in a factory go on strike to achieve a demand. To go on strike refers to the right of the citizens to organize. But, if the police, colluding with the management, subject the workers to repression and attempts to break the strike, it amounts to the violation of civil rights. Similarly, if a person is denied an appointment in the government on the ground of religion or some other thing, that too constitutes violation of civil rights. Same is the case with all other violations.
Citizens may participate/organize many ‘movements’ rightly or wrongly! If the destruction of state property, kidnaps, murders and such other acts occur in those movements and if we name such acts as ‘private violence’, the state can face such violence legally through its forces. But if the state arrests innocent persons and shoots them without conducting any investigation, it amounts to the violation of civil rights.
Baseless arrests, tortures in the lock-ups, imprisoning persons without trials--all these constitute violation of civil rights. All these violations take place through the state alone. In other words, all such things amount to violations of civil rights only if they take place through the government (state). Based on the laws, citizens have to fight against the state with reference to the violations.
It is against the state that the citizens have to struggle in order to retain the existing rights. Similarly, in order to demand abolition of some of the existing laws or creation of new laws, it is against the state that the citizens have to struggle. Which means, when we speak of ‘citizens’ or ‘civil rights’, we are concerned wholly with the ‘state’. Or with the ‘state violence’ only.
In Andhra Pradesh, the Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) has been functioning for the past several years and gained many experiences. APCLC had properly understood its objective in the initial stages. That is, in its initial stages, it understood properly the fact that “a civil rights organization should be concerned only with the state violence and concern for the ‘private violence’ does not fall under its 'purview'. (For example, APCLC had said the same thing in its Open Letter to the then Chief Minister N.T.Ramarao in July, 1985). But, due to certain experiences which it confronted and has been confronting, there emerged gradually a view in this organization that ‘APCLC cannot confine itself to its earlier self-imposed limitation of condemning the ‘state violence’ only’.
There exist a specific situation in Andhra Pradesh with regard to ‘violence’. We find not only the violence of the police against Naxalites, but also violence of the Naxalites against the police and the police informers. Under these circumstances, APCLC has been condemning the state violence only. Same has been considered by APCLC as its concern and scope of its activities. But, the APCLC members, wherever they went, began to confront with a question raised by the victims of the violence of Naxalites thus: “Why are you not condemning ‘the Naxalite violence’ while you are condemning the ‘state violence’?” Whenever this question was asked, the members of APCLC used to say that “The only concern of a civil rights organization is to question the violation of the civil rights by the state against the citizens and not the violence that takes place among the citizens. We have a state that investigates into the crimes committed by the citizens. The state has an extensive machinery to do that job. The state is any way concerned with the Naxalite violence and hence it is not our job”. Those who questioned the members of APCLC were not satisfied. Moreover, they abused them as stooges of Naxalites and resorted to physical violence: beating, kidnapping and even killing of the members of APCLC. After such experiences as these, there arose a question among some members thus: “Should a civil rights organization be concerned with ‘private violence’ as well?” This question has gradually gained currency. Some members came to the view that “a civil rights organization should not only question the ‘state violence’ alone; it should question the ‘private violence’ as well”. Which means, those who have been telling that “there is a state that is concerned with the private violence” have now come to the view that “we should be concerned with the private violence as well”. Before we see what they are arguing now after forming a different opinion, it is important to recall what they said in the past with regard to the question of ‘private violence’. The relevant passages in the Open Letter (originally written in Telugu) addressed to N.T.Rama Rao read as follows:
“We are writing this open letter to you in the context of daily growing assaults on Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee(APCLC) by way of physical violence and propaganda.”
“Like all the civil rights organizations, APCLC too is making efforts to protect the fundamental rights of the people from the onslaught of the state machinery. It is the duty of the state to prevent and/or punish the assaults made by one citizen on another. But, the state machinery in our country is accustomed itself to resort to assault on the citizens. There are laws and penal system that investigate and punish the crimes committed by the citizens; but the machinery that investigates into the assaults of the state is almost absent. The relevant laws have remained nominal. People do not have courage to get the laws implemented. It is very difficult to get witnesses if people want to proceed with a case against the state. Witnesses are afraid (of the police). The state itself will drive them to fear. It brings pressure on the courts and secure judgment in favor of the government. Above all, the state machinery will water down the investigation since investigation itself is the responsibility of the state. Hence, in order to resist the assaults of the state, a civil rights movement has become necessary. Though we have been successful to the least extent in our efforts to punish the government, the assaults and false campaign against us is too much.”
“An accusation against us is that we are not condemning the murders committed by Naxalites. We are not condemning any murders committed by any political organization. World-famous are the murders organized by the leaders of Telugu Desham and Congress in Rayalaseema districts; of Congress, CPI and CPM in Krishna district; of CPM, Telugu Desham and Congress in Nalgonda district; BJP and Majlis in the twin cities (of Hyderabad-Secunderabad). Besides these, there have been murders committed due to individual rivalries. We are not condemning any of these murders. We are not concerned with the rights and wrongs of these acts. There is a penal system meant to punish them. However disorganized its functioning, the civil rights organization cannot function more than that.(Of course, we will definitely condemn if this penal system functions in a biased manner). We will simply condemn the assaults of the state and the assaults made by the upper castes on the harijans, girijans and other depressed classes (Because, in such incidents, the government machinery functions in a biased manner). As the penal system does not at all function in such matters, we consider it our duty to do whatever we can--however little it may be.”
“Another accusation against us is that we fight for the rights of Naxalites only. We are not ashamed to oppose ceaselessly the assaults made against the members of the Naxalite parties and the rural poor. We are not offering any explanation. But, it is an ill-motivated propaganda to say that we are working for the rights of Naxalites only. We are opposing the state machinery whenever it curtails the rights of any section of the people. We had organized opposition throughout the state against the repression unleashed by your government on NGOs in 1983. Some of our members too were arrested in that context. We had conducted and have been conducting agitation for the sake of 36 people who died in the police custody since January 1984 (only 4 may be cited as ‘Naxalites’) and for the sake of 9 women who were raped in the police custody (there is not even a single Naxalite among them). Trial of four cases are being conducted in Guntur district as a result of our petition filed in the Supreme Court. We conducted agitation when your government was illegally dismissed in 1984. When, in that context, 25 people (mostly the supporters of Telugu Desham and BJP) were killed by the police firing in the state-wide agitation, we, along with OPDR, investigated the matter and prepared a detailed Report. We condemned it through news papers. (You have, however, so far not considered our demand to inquire in to the firing and to pay appropriate compensation to the families of the dead people). I (K.G.Kannabiran) am arguing the cases of the CPM cadres on whom the police committed assaults. We have been doing whatever we can through campaign and courts about the difficulties faced by people during communal riots in Hyderabad. We are conducting agitation against the industrial pollution in Hyderabad and other places.”
“The program and methods of action that we adopt are totally constitutional. Yet, assaults on our members are taking place frequently. These assaults are assuming various forms. Physical attacks, murder, illegal lock-up, torture in the lock-up, implicating in false cases, bad propaganda through pamphlets are going on. These attacks are being conducted both by the police as well as BJP, RSS and other allied organizations in collaboration with the police.”
One can form new opinion in case there is something wrong in the past understanding. Such a correction should be done rationally. Some members, who arrived at a new understanding that ‘a civil rights organization should also be concerned with the private violence’, are now saying that “As the civil rights organization is fighting for the rights of the citizens, it should also question the ‘wrong doings’ of those citizens as well. Hence, it is correct to question not only state violence but also private violence”. Which means, the objective of civil rights organization, when seen from this perspective, is being changed in a different direction. A civil rights organisation, therefore, henceforth will have to be concerned with (1) what the state does against the citizens, (2) what the citizens do against the state, and (3) what one citizen does against another. But, a civil rights organization cannot exist as a civil rights organization if it changes its objective like this. It will transform into a ‘human rights organization’. It follows that there are two ways before the civil rights organization in view of the experiences it gained.
(1) To continue to hold the past perspective that ‘the objective of civil rights organization is to be concerned with the state violence’ and consequently face whatever assaults that may come. Or,
(2) To transform the civil rights organization into a ‘human rights' organization.
The civil rights organization would have to take any one path; but it cannot be concerned with the private violence while being a civil rights organization.
Human Rights Organization:
In the present day society, human rights include--right to acquire property, right to organize, equal pay to equal work, right to life, freedom, right to self-respect, equality without discrimination, right to citizenship, right to residence, right to political asylum, right to speech, right to religion, right to justice, right to secret ballot, right to social security and so on.
Needless to say as to how freely the other rights are implemented on the basis of exploitative property right that enables to increase ‘private property’. Yet, those interpretations are not necessary here.
According to the point of our discussion, the main objective of Human Rights Organization is to oppose ‘violence’ in whatever form it may appear and whoever may resort to it. Violence should not be resorted to either by the state against citizens; or by the citizens against the state; or by citizens among themselves. This organization expects that none should resort to torture, murder or capital punishment. Which means that this organization opposes not only the ‘state violence’ but also ‘private violence’. If an organization intends to oppose ‘private violence’, it could do so only by functioning as a Human Rights Organization or any such other organization. The Human Rights Organization too, like the Civil Rights Organization, does not concern itself with class distinctions. But, it wishes that the human rights should not be violated..
India too, along with other countries, was a signatory to the 1948-UNO declaration on human rights. The government of India, should therefore take into consideration the criticism of a Human Rights Organization.