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All are entitled to freedom of expression

The police raid on the Nehru Place office of FORWARD Press is a deplorable attack on freedom of expression. FORWARD Press, a progressive magazine aimed at marginalised and underprivileged sections of India society, had focussed on Bahujan-Shraman (roughly meaning the majority that lives off its labour and not by exploiting others) traditions

I ntellectuals and organizations from all over the country condemned the police action against FORWARD Press. Excerpts follow.

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Hong Kong

The police raid on the Nehru Place office of FORWARD Press is a deplorable attack on freedom of expression. FORWARD Press, a progressive magazine aimed at marginalised and underprivileged sections of India society, had focussed on Bahujan-Shraman (roughly meaning the majority that lives off its labour and not by exploiting others) traditions. Raiding the office of a reputed magazine and confiscating its latest issue without any court order reveals the increasing threats to the tolerant culture that allows intellectual debates. It shows that the government is planning to muzzle all dissent with force. AHRC strongly condemns the raid and vandalism, as well as the arrest of FORWARD Press staffers. It is also concerned for the security of the Consulting Editor and the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine.

Janwadi Lekhak Sangh

The police raid on 9 October at the Nehru Place office of FORWARD Press and confiscation of the copies of the October issue of the magazine, which was a Bahujan-Shraman tradition special number, is condemnable. The Janwadi Lekhak Sangh flays the police action and urges all secularist and democratic forces to unitedly oppose it. We demand that the government should protect the freedom of expression of FORWARD Press and that the illegal police attack on it should be thoroughly probed.

Journalists’ Union For Civil Liberties

Journalists’’ Union for Civil Liberties (JUCS) strongly condemns the police raid on the Delhi office of FORWARD Press by the Vasant Kunj police on 9 October. Describing the seizure of the copies of the October 2014 Bahujan-Shraman tradition special number by the police as an assault on the freedom of expression, JUCS leaders Laxman Prasad and Anil Kumar Yadav said that the incident indicated that fascism was knocking at the doors of the country. The two leaders said that the Constitution of India guarantees the fundamental right of freedom of expression to every citizen of the country.

Revolutionary Cultural Front

On 9 October, the special branch of Delhi police brazenly attacked and vandalized the Delhi office of FORWARD Press magazine, a Hindi-English bilingual monthly of Dalits and Bahujans, and forcibly seized copies of their October special issue on Bahujan Sramana Tradition. The point is that it is not the adherence to a particular ideology or the use of violence that this state suppresses; it attacks and attempts to suppress all democratic voices of dissent even when they follow the politics of parliamentary democracy and Indian constitution. The attack on FORWARD Press magazine only exposes the true character of the Indian State in cahoots with the oppressive agenda of Hindutva. We condemn the police crackdown on the staff of FORWARD Press in the strongest terms.

Virendra Yadav, critic

The copies of the October issue of FORWARD Press have been seized and the police are tragetting its editors. This is an assault on freedom of expression and popular opinion must be built against it. This deserves outright condemnation and we need to unite against it.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association

It is shameful that the police raided the office of FORWARD Press for publishing a story on Bahujan Mahishasur myth while no action was taken against the ABVP activists who used violence to stop a public meeting at JNU. In India, some oppressed castes worship Ravana and Mahishasur. The violent action of the ABVP activists and Delhi police was not against a magazine or a public meeting but it represented an attempt to deny the existence of backward communities. How can propagating an alternative myth or tradition be a crime in a diverse country? FORWARD Press is being described as inflammatory for publishing the alternative myth of Mahishasur vis-a-vis the established myth of Durga. On the other hand, Panchjanya and Organiser are not considered inflammatory.

Uday Prakash, story-writer

If we are civilized, we should stand up for Dalit identities. If we believe that we are civilized, modern and democratic, then we should all stand up for the oppressed groups.

Giriraj Kishore, novelist and Gandhian writer

Any assault on freedom of expression is an anti-thesis of democracy. It is a display of a dictatorial mindset.

Veer Bharat Talwar, critic

The suppression of FORWARD Press is roundly condemnable. The attempts to silence the voice of the Bahujans and the oppressed have a long history. In ancient India, Buddhist, Aajivak and Jain religions were suppressed through violent means with the aid of state power. Many attempts to muzzle ideologies were made during the medieval era. The history of the oppression of revolutionary movements and thoughts during the British rule is well-documented. The ruling and dominant classes have always tried to present a distorted view of history and contemporary events to serve their interests and to suppress the views of the oppressed and subaltern sections. It is natural for the elite and the ruling class to do whatever it takes to protect their interests. The attempt of the Bahujans to re-write their history will not succeed without a sustained struggle. The struggle to establish the truth lasts for centuries. The coming generations take the truth as granted but they are not aware of the difficult battle waged to establish it.

Kanwal Bharati, Dalit writer

In democracy, no matter how hard they try, the Hindu fascists would not be able to establish their dominance with the aid of the powers that be. The Dalit and Backward classes are awakening. They have every right to know their history and attempt its re-rendition. Although I am not a supporter of the concept of Mahishasur, I do not support Durga Puja either. In this ideological battle, I am with Pramod Ranjan. We will not allow fascism to have its way in democracy.
Kumar Prashant, Socialist writer
I am with you in the battle against the satanic attack on you. The new wielders of power in India have inherited all the evils of the earlier dispensation. In addition, they are narrow-minded and intolerant too. What is regrettable is that almost everyone is keen to jump on their bandwagon – whether they are so-called Dalit forces or Brahmanical ones. If we are able to learn the truth of Indian society and draw appropriate lessons from it, this crisis will be a blessing in disguise.

Shivanand Tiwari, former MP, JDU

Freedom of expression is a Constitutional right. It is available to Bahujans and Alpajans both. The ban on FORWARD Press is a violation of the constitution. I have read all the articles published in the controversial issue. The fact is that those who are opposing it do not have an understanding of history. India is not only a country of social diversity. It is a land of cultural diversity as well. Those who have dominated our society for centuries seem to believe that only their culture is “Indian culture”. Such people must begin by reading Dalit literature and especially Kancha Illaiah’s Why I am not a Hindu?. Thrusting one’s beliefs and cultures on the people are not in the national interest.

Pappu Yadav, MP, RJD

In India, freedom of expression enjoys constitutional protection. We are free to express our thoughts, opinions and beliefs. Analysis of traditions, beliefs and myths is a part of freedom of expression. FORWARD Press has begun the process of the analysis of our cultural beliefs afresh. This analysis differs from the dominant beliefs and some people may be uncomfortable with it. But banning the distribution of a magazine just to appease some people is not justified. We believe that the BJP government at the centre wants to demolish democratic norms and traditions. This is part of the BJP’s ideology. FORWARD Press has been trying to defend the Bahujan interests and to stand up for them. It has been facing resistance but it is moving on its chosen path undeterred. I congratulate the entire FORWARD Press team for this and assure them that I will always stand by FORWARD Press in defence of the right to freedom of expression.

Published in the November 2014 issue of the Forward Press magazine

Forward Press also publishes books on Bahujan issues. Forward Press Books sheds light on the widespread problems as well as the finer aspects of Bahujan (Dalit, OBC, Adivasi, Nomadic, Pasmanda) society, culture, literature and politics. Contact us for a list of FP Books’ titles and to order. Mobile: +917827427311, Email: info@forwardmagazine.in)

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