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65 Ex-IAS officials arm up against increasing intolerance in India

New Delhi: The current situations and the incidents happening throughout the country, which was formed on five democratic principles – sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic and republic, a country which was proudly based on secularism, giving freedom to follow and practice their religion, is now striving hard to be called one.

About sixty-five retired civil service officers have come forward with a “petition” featuring the sole need to “reclaim and defend the spirit of the Constitution of India, as envisaged by the founding fathers”.
The ex-officials with their “petition” are asking “all public authorities, public institutions and Constitutional bodies to take heed of these disturbing trends and take corrective action,” in the face of “rising authoritarianism and majoritarianism, which do not allow for reasoned debate, discussion and dissent.”

Among these 65 signatories the senior retired officials who were appointed on various services were Vivek Agnihotri, IAS, V.S. Ailawadi, IAS, S.P. Ambrose, IAS, Ishrat Aziz, IFS, G. Balachandran, IAS, N.Balachandran, IPS, Julio Rebeiro, IPS, NC Saxena IAS, Jawhar Sircar IAS, Ardhendu Sen IAS, and Amitabha Pande IAS. The oldest petitioner among them all is 1953 batch IAS officer, Har Mander Singh aged 91.

Expressing disapproval over the particular idea being practiced nowadays that “those in authority should not be questioned”, and the concern followed by that practice as it is termed by the officials is “growing hyper-nationalism that reduces any critique to a binary: if you are not with the government, you are anti-national”.
In an unusual move for members of the so-called staid ‘steel-frame’ to make, bureaucrats, across services, have referred to a range of developments across the past few months and years and stated their case.

Referring to the ongoing events in the nation with election campaign in UP, the petition highlights many such issues where specific communities are being subjected to lawlessness. The petition written by these officials expresses these issues with “deep disquiet” and also the things going “wrong” and state that the “growing climate of religious intolerance that is aimed primarily at Muslims. In Uttar Pradesh, in the run-up to the elections, an odious and frankly communal comparison was made between the relative number of burial grounds and cremation grounds. The question was also asked as to whether electricity was being supplied equally to different communities during their religious festivals. All this without any basis in fact or evidence.”

Referring to the public speech made by PM Modi in Fatehgarh on February 19 where PM said “Gaon me kabristan banta hai to shamshaan bhi banna chahiye. Ramzan me bijli aati hai to Diwali me bhi aani chahiye. Bhedbhav nhi hona chahiye (If land is given for cemetery in a village, it should be given for cremation ground also. If electricity is supplied during Ramazan, it should be supplied during Diwali also.”

“The political atmosphere is nowadays, encouraging all to believe that they can take the law in their own hands…there is a distinct lack of tolerance. All kinds of people are there in India and we meet all kinds. We have grown to live with a large number of differences, But now, the mood is, nothing which is not to my sense of liking will be tolerated. Such people always existed, but kept quiet or were embarrassed. Now they are being asked to take the law into their own hands and not tolerate anyone who is different” told IAS and former Health Secretary Keshav Desiraju, one of the signatories, to the Indian Express.

The four-page letter also refers to the election manifesto of BJP encouraging people to form groups or ‘Romeo Squads’ to go after couples, says: “Vigilantism has become popular as ‘anti-Romeo’ squads threaten young couples who go out together, hold hands and are perhaps in love with each other. A thinly-veiled effort to prevent a Hindu-Muslim relationship or marriage, there is no justification in law to harass these couples, particularly when there is no complaint from the woman of being ill-treated.”

Since the manifesto, there has been a rise in harassment of innocent people in UP by these Anti-Romeo squads with numerous complaints against them to an extent that the new DGP had to issue a list of “do’s and don’ts” for the UP Police on 26 April.

Sundar Burra, IAS and the former Chief Secretary, of Maharashtra said “it is already there. This is a group initiative and our concerns are well laid out in the letter” reported Indian Express.

The murder of Akhlaq in Dadri on September 28, 2015 for consuming beef, the lynching of Muslim dairy farmer Pehlu Khan in Alwa on April 1 and others were also brought up saying “Vigilantism has become widespread. An Aklaq is killed on the basis of a suspicion that the meat he has is beef and a Pehlu Khan is lynched while transporting to his place two cows he had bought and for which he had the necessary papers. Nomadic shepherds are attacked in J and K on some suspicion as they practice their age-old occupation of moving from one place to another along with their cattle and belongings.”

The officers believe this is important to stop as “Punitive action against the perpetrators of violence does not take place promptly but cruelly, the victims have FIRs registered against them. The behaviour of vigilantes – who act as if they are prosecutor, judge and executioner rolled into one – flies in the face of law and jurisprudence. These actions undermine the rule of law and the Indian Constitution.”

Mentioning the online threats, trolls and intimidation as well as selected targeting of NGOs, civil society organizations the retired officers ask “How does this square with free speech?”

Referring to students, Universities they say “Student groups and faculty members on campuses like Hyderabad and JNU, who raise troubling questions about equality, social justice and freedom are subject to attack by the administration, with a supportive government to back them. In Jodhpur, a planned lecture by a renowned academic was cancelled under pressure and the faculty that organized the event subjected to disciplinary action”, The Indian Express reported.