A group of former bureaucrats on Sunday expressed concern over the alleged use of state institutions to punish and intimidate human rights activists and dissenters. Citing three recent cases, the former civil service officers condemned what they said “appears an attempt to govern by fear and intimidation”.

One of the cases the former bureaucrats commented on in their open letter was the Central Bureau of Investigation’s action against advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover. The searches at their homes and offices on July 11 were vindictive and the government had launched the “fresh attack” on the couple to silence them instead of following legal process, the signatories added.

The group denounced “the abuse of authority in harassing human rights defenders”. The two advocates and their organisation Lawyers Collective have been “at the forefront in furthering women’s rights, gender equality, and environmental issues and have been committed to fighting over decades for the rule of law”, the open letter added.

The writers pointed out that Jaising and Grover had been involved as lawyers in politically sensitive matters, especially a case in which Amit Shah, now the Union home minister, was an accused.

‘Urban Naxals’

The former bureaucrats also referred to the labelling of social activists as “urban Naxals” by a wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The wing is “certifying some of India’s most credible leaders of social movements such as Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh as ‘urban Naxals’,” they added. “These are respected persons who have given their life’s efforts in working for the common man.”

The letter also mentioned the case filed by the Assam Police against 10 people, most of them Bengali Muslim poets and activists who are often pejoratively referred to as Miya and whose body of work is known as Miya poetry. “In the tradition of protest Black, Dalit and Queer poetry, these poets have created a new genre of poetry which they call Miya poetry, in which they lament and protest about the suffering of their people as a result of the NRC process,” the former bureaucrats said. “They now are charged with inciting hatred under sections which could keep them in jail for many years of their lives.”

They condemned these attacks on human rights defenders, dissenters and poets. “Dissent and freedom of expression are the life-blood of any democracy,” they added. “We find it intensely worrying that there are crude and ham-handed attempts to intimidate such voices into silence, using the institutions of state authority.”