An event organised by human rights organisations and activists in New Delhi, and attended by concerned citizens, lawyers, labour leaders and human rights experts from across the country, was disrupted on Sunday by a group of people opposed to discussions on democratic rights.

The National Convention in Defence of Democratic Rights kicked off at the Malviya Smriti Bhavan in central Delhi on Saturday. Though the venue officials had initially granted permission, they began to express their unhappiness on Saturday that the topics for discussion included repression of dissidents, revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status, and Dalit and minority rights.

“Since yesterday itself the management started saying they are under pressure not to let us hold a meeting in defence of democratic rights,” Communist Party of India (Marxist-Lenninist) Politbureau member Kavita Krishnan told “They specifically said democratic rights was the problem.”

Krishnan was on the convention’s coordination team. She said it was “appalling that leading rights defenders cannot hold a meeting in Delhi without such obstruction”.

On Sunday afternoon, officials from the Madan Mohan Malviya Memorial Trust gave the organisers a letter, cancelling permission for the event. They claimed that the organisers did not “disclose the ideology and ethos of the organisation and the nature of seminar” and misled them.

The executive committee members of the trust said the premises “should not be available for the organisation against our ideology and ethos and national interest”. The letter was signed by the trust’s National Treasurer Shaktidhar Suman, and executive committee members Prakash Gautam and Santosh Tiwari.

Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy General Secretary Vijayan MJ said he talked to the officials and pointed out that the letter the organisers had submitted clearly mentioned that the convention would be on democratic rights. “The trust officials told me, ‘No, cannot allow democratic rights convention, your speakers spoke about Article 370 yesterday and that is against the interests of India’,” Vijayan said. “Who decides the interests of Indians?” The activist also pointed out to the officials that their organisation was a public trust.

Soon after, a group of people arrived at the auditorium and raised slogans in protest against the human rights activists. Asked who these people were, Vijayan claimed that they were members of the Malviya Trust and added: “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh mobilisation was involved.”

According to him, the local branch of the Sangh, to which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is affiliated, complained to the trust. “They [the trust] wanted to be more loyal than the king,” the activist said. “There were all sorts of people from nearby RSS shakhas, and ABVP people from JNU who are recognisable by face.” The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, or ABVP, is the Sangh’s student body.

Krishnan said the protestors left after the police arrived. “Meanwhile, we concluded our convention successfully,” the activist added. “We didn’t manage to hold our plenary, that’s all.”

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