NEW DELHI: Noted historian Romila Thapar on Saturday expressed concern over attacks on those fighting for the rights of the disadvantaged, and said dissent was normal to civilisation and could not be equated with “terrorism”.
“Suppression of dissent is not a new development, but it has become more frequent of late,” said Thapar, who is one of the five petitioners in the Bhima-Koregaon case. She was speaking during a public discussion on ‘Dissent and Democracy’.
Joining the debate, Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan and veteran journalist N Ram expressed disappointment over the higher judiciary’s decisions in cases where activists fighting for the rights of people were charged under laws like the National Security Act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
“Dissent is normal to civilisation and it cannot be equated to terrorism. It is now being denied by weakening the democratic institutions,” Thapar said. Ram criticised the media for its attitude in matters of dissent against the government, and stressed on creating awareness about the linkage between the “right to dissent” and the “right to freedom of speech”.
Speakers in the event pointed to the branding of “dissenters” opposing the government as “urban naxals”.
“The government and ruling party is attacking activists of various kinds precisely because they are able to expose the hollow claims of the regime,” rights activist Aruna Roy said.
Scholar Anirban Bhattacharya said that those in power wanted to “ divide, divert and demonise”.
“Usage of words like urban naxal and anti-national has a toxic effect on the society that needs to be challenged,” he said. Academician Zoya Hasan and lawyer Vrinda Grover also addressed the gathering.