ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Civil Rights and Local Sensitivities

We are familiar with the invocation of the NSA, justified or otherwise, in situations involving communal riots, terrorism or threats to the security of the state. Its use against activists of a development group accused of wounding local sensibilities is, to say the least, unusual, marking a new low in our democratic experience. Without seeking to play down the mistakes of Sahayog, it needs to be unequivocally stressed that the group's misdemeanour has invited an unwarranted reaction.

With the arrest of Jasodhara and Abhijit Dasgupta and two of their colleagues, all activists of Sahayog, an Almora based NGO working on health related issues, under the draconian National Security Act (NSA), the unfolding drama in the Uttarakhand hills has taken a decisively new turn. This overkill by the district administration (incidentally welcomed by a broad cross-section of the local citizenry), though at the time of writing still to be ratified by the state and union governments, has both deeply disturbed and confused the development and human rights community in the country. We are familiar with the invocation of the NSA, justified or otherwise, in situations involving communal riots, terrorism, threats to the security of the state. Its use against activists of a development group accused of wounding local sensibilities (calumnising a people and a region) is, to say the least, unusual, marking a new low in our democratic experience. But first the background.

Sahayog, as part of its ongoing work on reproductive health concerns, had last September produced a booklet AIDS aur Hum. The booklet, designed to generate a larger awareness of the dangers of AIDS and measures to reduce risk, reproduces comments and observations of those interviewed on sexual practices and customs prevalent in the Almora region. The booklet was seen by many as offensive, if not downright pornographic. What many found even more objectionable were some of the general conclusions – sweeping statements about widespread sexual promiscuity and references to the prevalence of homosexuality and incest.

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