National Seminar on the Scope and Extent of Civil Rights Organisations

Drawing Courtesy: Brydie Cromarty.

We are living in a period in which the hard earned civil and political rights are under severe threat from the state. The neo-liberal politics unleashed by the state deprives large number of people their basic livelihood especially in areas that are rich in mineral and water resources. The new laws enacted by the state serve the carporates as instruments of appropriation of common properties that belongs to the adivasis and peasants. When the victims of such dispossession and the movements that represent them fight for their rights they are brutally repressed. The state never hesitates to wage a war against its own citizens. Paramilitary forces trained in violent repressions are deployed in such areas and violence let loose on innocent people. Apart from such paramilitary forces, armed goons paid from state exchequer are also brought into service against the poor tribals and peasants. They move with arms and indulge in all sorts of heartless and brutal activities against their own people. In this way the local people are divided into two factions and made to stand against each other. Hundreds of villages are forcefully emptied and lacks of adivasis are made internally displaced. Fake encounters, unlawful arrests, sexual violations and forceful disappearances have become day to day affairs in such areas of conflict.

Even in states where there are no such conflicts, restrictions are imposed on the rights to speak and assemble. Permissions are denied for peaceful meetings and demonstrations. Even hall meetings for which no police permission is required, are obstructed by threatening the hall owners. Black laws with extraordinary provisions to curtail the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution are enacted by the central and state governments. The draconian provisions of the infamous POTA are now incorporated into the ULAPA which is a permanent act in the sense that it requires no parliamentary approval for every two or three years. These illegal and abnormal provisions incorporated into the preventive detention and anti terrorist laws and the procedural lapses by the executive are often legalized and made normal by the judiciary.

In these circumstances the importance of civil rights movements has increased. They have to move the courts, come to the streets and fight for constitutional governance. In such a situation the civil rights activists functioning in the conflict zones have to bear the brunt of the oppressive instruments of the state. Draconian provisions of preventive detention laws are deployed against them and they are accused and arrested for ‘abetting’ the terrorists and extremists. The police and the illegal brigades nurtured by them do not even hesitate to eliminate such activists. There are innumerable examples of attacks and killings of HR activists in India. Even the United Nations human rights rap-por-teur Hina Jilani had registered that the attacks against the HR activists are increasing in the conflict zones which are rich in mineral wealth.

In the past civil rights organizations have played a significant role against the violations of human rights in the sub-continent? They have done immense work to expose fake encounters, emergency excesses and hunger deaths. They had also waged legal battles against the draconian laws that appropriated the fundamental rights of the citizens.

However it is sad to find that there is no coordination between the civil rights organizations that function today. This has weakened the civil rights movements in the sub-continent.

The civil rights movements have to fight not only against the state but against the corporates and the media networks also. We have to do this with the meager resources in our hand. The only strength and power that we enjoy is the hard earned credibility from the people. This credibility can be sustained only in two ways. When the state and media are propagating certain ‘truths’ that are naturally against the people, if the civil rights organizations say something against these imagined ‘truths’, the credibility earned by them should be such that the common sense should believe only what the civil rights organizations  say. For this to happen a civil rights movement should not be a frontal organization of a political party or a people’s movement. It is not enough that it is not a frontal organization but it should behave like that also. Secondly, a civil rights organization should not also depend on any external funding agency. In a globalised world, human rights have become an industry and mega HR organizations are functioning with huge foreign aids. Though they speak vociferously against the HR violations of the state, they also collude with the state in many ways such as conducting HR classes for the police officers.

To what extent the civil rights organizations fulfill these conditions today? This question has to be answered. Though many civil rights organizations claim that they are not the frontal organization of any political party, in practice they don’t behave like that. When a civil rights organization raises its voice only when a particular political party or people’s movement is repressed or an activist of that party is either arrested or killed and keeps quite in other such circumstances, it begins to loose its credibility. When they try to build a coordination with other civil rights organizations for such a cause, this exercise becomes one that of using others for their purpose. Thus a real strong coordination does not evolve.

A civil rights organization looses its credibility when it either amplifies the truths in favor of the movement they support or suppress or downplay the truths when they are not in its favor. A civil rights organization should not also restrict itself to issues which are only relevant to the present politics of the party or movement they support.

This doesn’t mean that civil rights organizations are not committed to any cause and are neutral in an abstract sense.  Of course they are committed to the cause of victims of all kinds of violations. Whenever the state and the ruling class suppress a fact or derail a people’s movement, a civil rights movement will take this issue against all oddities and risks it faces. Protecting the human dignity is the ultimate aim of a HR organization. It should be bold enough to oppose the violation of the human dignity in any form and from whichever direction this violation comes from.

Though a civil rights movement will not behave like a frontal organization to any political party it will strive hard to establish a civil space for all the people’s movements including those which believe in armed struggles.

We are speaking all these things with the sole aim of strengthening the civil rights movements in a time when HR violations are increasing. A dialogue becomes necessary between the various civil rights organizations functioning today. This dialogue should be conducted concurrently with our ongoing struggles against the violations of state agencies.

With this aim we are initiating a dialogue among the civil rights activists functioning in different parts of India. The one day seminar we have arranged will have two sessions. In the morning session activists from various states will share their views and experiences. In the afternoon session representatives from different organizations will air their views followed by an open session.

The possibilities of a coordinated action against the war proclaimed by the Indian state against the tribals will also be discussed. An appeal signed by all those assembled will be released in the evening.


People’s union for Human Rights (PUHR), Tamil Nadu
Federation for People’s Rights (FPR), Puducherry


Prof A. Marx

3/5, First Cross St., Sastri Nagar, Adyar, Chennai – 600 020

Cell: 94441 20582, e-mail:

Ko. Sugumaran

179 – A, Upstairs, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Puducherry – 605 001.

Cell: 98940 54640, e-mail:

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