Placard-carrying citizens converging at the Margao Municipal square and positioning themselves at vantage points along the busy thoroughfare and along the municipal garden in the evening of the 12th of July did arouse interest amongst the public who were eager to know what issue had brought multitudes out on the streets.
Protests and demonstrations have had a way of bringing about awareness among the masses with regard to issues which would otherwise be ignored in the most implausible ways by authorities who have never been enthused at the prospects of having their deplorable ways coming out in the public domain in the most unlikeliest of ways.
There has always been a difference in having a large gathering of agitators screaming out their lungs against their higher-ups for their faulty management decisions and pressing for an early settlement of their long-pending demands as compared to the peaceful demonstrations by a motely crowd of activists making the authorities shed their authoritarian stand on an issue under considerations.
Very rarely have such agitations turned violent, but whenever they have it has made governments rue their stubborn stand.
The anti-mining activism and the opposition to casinos by various civil right groups have featured as major agitations that the tiny state of Goa has witnessed.
While the arrest of a large number of residents of Sonshi in Sattari taluka who were protesting against air, water and noise pollution on account of mining activities in 2017 attracted large-scale condemnation, the fact that the villagers of Sonshi have been denied fresh air and water for so many years due to the ore-transportation witnessed in the wake of the rampant mining operations hardly attracted any sympathy for the villagers from the public at large.
Fearing that pollution from the proposed multinational Nylon plant in Keri near Ponda would destroy the environment and the livelihood of the people in the neighbouring villages, conservationists who campaigned with the people eventually won the struggle after a long campaign but not before a local youth was ‘martyred’ and several others injured in a police firing during the course of the agitation.
Similarly, nearly a decade after the Nylon 6,6 movement, the year-long anti-Meta Strips agitation against the highly pollutant brass sheet project coming up at Sancoale village showed all signs of turning violent towards the end.
While these agitations helped blossom the political careers of the leaders spearheading the movement, future generations of Goans continue to be as much in the dark about such campaigns serving to slip out of the hands of the well-meaning crusaders to attain a political connotation which go on to twist the entire issue out of context.
Of late, such agitations have begun to come under the purview of the State Human Rights Commission.
Human Rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Everyone is entitled to these rights without discrimination.
It is however no secret that India has a dismal track record in Human rights, more so with the ‘advent’ of the Saffron-regime. The beef-related lynchings across the country have stories of their own to narrate.
If the communal ‘incidents’ which question the country’s secular credentials, the comprehensive campaign to silence the media; the crushing of any voice of dissent and intimidation and harassment of organizations considered unhelpful to the regime’s agenda are not India’s abuse of human rights, what else do they purport to be!
Hence, it was indeed commendable to have the state unit of the National Conference of Human Rights Organizations (NCHRO-GOA) espousing the cause of Sanjiv Bhatt, a former Gujarat-cadre IPS officer, sentenced by the Jamnagar sessions court to a life in prison in a 1990 custodial death case, at Margao.
A righteous police officer, he is known for his role in filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court against the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Narendra Modi, concerning Modi’s alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
While one’s heart puffs up with pride at the mere mention of the upright cop, one need not put two and two together to realize that the ‘dishonoured’ police officer is a victim of political vendetta.
While it is not unheard of to have the powers that be conniving to implicate ‘dissidents’ in cooked-up cases to get rid of the ‘pests’ needlessly interfering in their affairs, it needs to be said that the matter of Sanjiv Bhatt and his unceremonious ‘purging’ does not quite gel with the standard norms.
In any case, the matter of a thirty-year old custodial death was effectively used to neutralize the Bhatt-factor which would otherwise have created enormous problems for many of those in the higher echelons of power.
While such cases usually do not attract much public attention, the very fact that the wife of the incarcerated cop is no mood to take things lying down has prompted a national outcry with many coming forward to express solidarity with Sanjiv Bhatt and his family.
The apprehension that if a highly-ranked officer could be handled so very terribly by the system, the ordinary citizens then stand no chance of an unbiased treatment from the authorities seems to be the unifying factor.
The active involvement of the civil society has further revived hopes of a fair trial to the ‘framed’ officer.
It is however encouraging that the docile demeanour of Goans has temporarily taken the back seat to see the emergence of a new corps of rebels who have started to stand up for their rights. However, ignorance about myriad issues has hampered the effectiveness of these people’s protests.
In order to grasp the severity of any issue, a general awareness about the basics plays a key role. Realizing this, the NCHRO-Goa Unit has attached much importance to the dictum: “Catch them young!”
It has always been maintained that the youth is the future of the nation. Keeping this in mind, members of the organization have been approaching various colleges in the state to acquaint the students with human rights issues and how they, as the future assets of the country, could evolve steps to set right the anomalies.
As a common platform of various organizations and individuals committed to the cause of human rights in India, the pioneering work in Goa needs to be appreciated considering that it is the only unit of NCHRO in the country advancing youth as human right defenders.
Citizens coming out in large numbers to decry the authoritarian ways of the government are healthy signs of a functional democracy.
But having said that, it would be a waste of time if members of various organizations and groups come together only on commemorative days to observe such shows of defiance.
Protests should always lead to a logical conclusion lest they end up as mere ‘formal’ shows!
Paradoxically though, in a state like Goa where, as prominent a constitutional rights body as the GHRC continues to remain headless leaving several applicants in a lurch unsure of whom to approach with their grievances for well over two years, the agony itself would tantamount to a violation of the human rights of its citizens.
(Published on 05th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 32)