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The woman, who was known for her activism to protect wildlife and the environment, had complained about receiving threats from a police officer
"Gandhi: the purpose of civil resistance is provocation. Anna has succeeded in provoking the government and the opposition. Hope he wins us freedom from corruption. Meet at 2pm Boat Club Bhopal." Thus reads the latest note on the Facebook page of Shehla Masood. It was also the last noting by the Bhopal-based activist who was murdered outside her residence in broad daylight on Tuesday.
Ms Masood had just got out of her house to attend the demonstration called to support Anna Hazare when she was shot dead by unidentified attackers.
Shehla Masood, known for her initiatives under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and wildlife activism, had allegedly been harassed and threatened by police officer Pawan Shrivastava and had lodged a complaint, but no action was taken on it.
In a letter dated 19 January 2010, addressed to the director general of police in Madhya Pradesh, Ms Masood wrote, "One and a half year ago, I had filed a complaint against IP officer Pawan Shrivastava for making threatening calls to me while he was on deputation as director cultural department. I had lodged (a complaint) at Maharana Pratap Nagar Police Station in Bhopal. I had also met the then DGP of MP, Mr Puwar, on 27/02/2008. I had provided the evidences, but till now nothing has been done."
Ms Masood was also involved in issues of good governance, police reforms, the environment, 'Save the Tiger', women's and minority rights, and transparency. She was also active on many blogs where she discussed issues like anti-corruption, women's empowerment and progress. Her recent blog updates on scratchmysoul.com are on corruption.
In her letter to the director general of police, Ms Masood had expressed her fear that Shrivastava being a powerful police officer could implicate her in false cases. Interestingly, the Madhya Pradesh home minister had announced that the state would be the first state to treat all complaints as FIRs. However, "nothing has been done on my complaint," Ms Masood wrote in her letter.
Ms Masood's letter also had a note by the inspector general of police, Bhopal, that "legal action or departmental action may be taken as deemed fit."
Reacting to the news of the killing of Ms Masood, noted environment activist Sumaira Abdul Ali, said, "Activists are murdered every now and then. Despite making repeated assurances nothing has changed. The message is clear that the government doesn't mind such things. Shehla was very active in taking up environment issues, particularly mining, which is very risky and a lot of politicians have vested interests in it. It continues to flourish. It is also very clear that we are not safe."
Describing this as a sad incident, Mumbai-based activist Mukta Shrivastava said, "We don't know who is behind her killing. She was very much part of the anti-corruption movement. Her killing has once again raised the issue of safety of activists. In Maharashtra farmers protesting silently have been killed. It's an emergency-like situation and democracy is at stake. Such acts show the reality of state repression and the sorry state of affairs."
Ms Masood is the latest victim in the list of such attacks that also claimed the lives of whistleblowers and RTI activists Satyendra Dubey, Shanmughan Manjunath and Shashidhar Mishra.
Gandhian, along with close associates, remanded to judicial custody for seven days. Parliament adjourned after uproar by opposition parties describing police action as undemocratic
New Delhi: True to his word, Anna Hazare today revived his hunger protest for a strong Lokpal, and even the Delhi police detaining him in the early hours of Tuesday did not deter the 73-year-old Gandhian in his non-violent struggle against corruption.
Mr Hazare was picked up by police at about 7.30am from a residence in east Delhi for "intending to defy prohibitory orders". Late afternoon, he was produced before a special executive magistrate. But he refused to sign a personal bond to be allowed to get out on bail and was remanded in judicial custody for seven days.
Within hours of his detention, a spokesperson for Team Anna said that the Gandhian had begun his hunger protest while in police custody and that he was not accepting even water to drink.
The arrest of Mr Hazare and some of his close associates, set off a groundswell of protests across the country and this appeared to be spreading quickly. The arrest was condemned by political parties, the chief ministers of some non-Congress ruled states, non-government organisations and even parliament did not transact any business after an uproar on the issue forced an adjournment for the day.
As protests built up in several cities and towns over the arrest, Prashant Bhushan, one of Mr Hazare's key associates, announced a march from India Gate to Parliament House on Wednesday to protest against the police action, which he described was taken at the behest of some cabinet ministers. "There is no freedom for Delhi police. It has become a puppet, an ornament in the hands of the central government," Mr Bhushan said. "This is a kind of detention under Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA)".
Delhi police commissioner BK Gupta said that the police was not keen that Mr Hazare be sent to judicial custody. He said police was prepared to release him on a personal bond if he would have given an undertaking that he would not defy Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code which prohibits the gathering of five or more people and ask his supporters not to do so also.
Mr Hazare is likely to be taken to Tihar jail where he will spend the time in judicial custody. Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal and Manoj Sisodia, three other leading activists of team Anna, have also been sent to judicial custody on similar grounds.
"This is a return of emergency without official proclamation. What crime did Anna commit? Unless we unite, we will be imposed by a defective Lokpal which protects corruption. We now need solutions not statements of intentions," Kiran Bedi, one of the key associates of Mr Hazare, told the Press Trust of India.
In a message released after his detention, Mr Hazare said this was the beginning of the "second freedom struggle" and he called on people to participate in a "jail bharo" agitation. "My dear countrymen, a second freedom struggle has begun and now I have also been arrested. But will this movement be stopped by my arrest. No, not at all. Don't let it happen," Mr Hazare said.
Opposition parties, peeved over the attitude of the Congress in parliament, said they would meet later today to decide on the course of action. Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta said he had proposed a boycott of parliament for three days.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat described the arrest as "a strong attack on democratic rights. ... I believe it also reflects the Congress party's refusal to tolerate any movement against corruption. One can ask, why is the Congress leadership taking this decision? Clearly because its own government is steeped in corruption," she said.
Senior Bhartiya Janata Party leader LK Advani said he was not surprised at the detention of Mr Hazare and he charged the government with looking for scapegoats and stopping peaceful protests instead of fighting corruption. "I am not surprised at this development. This is the direction in which this government is moving. Instead of dealing with the problem of corruption and owning responsibility it is trying to find scapegoats and stopping peaceful protests," Mr Advani told the Press Trust of India.
Arun Jaitley, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said, "I think it is a very sad day for Indian democracy. You cannot take away the right to protest and the right to dissent... this we have never seen earlier. This is completely unprecedented."
In Patna, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar described the detention of Mr Hazare and his associates as a "rehearsal of emergency" which people will never tolerate. "It is a murder of democracy... It is also a rehearsal of emergency which people will never tolerate," Mr Kumar told journalists. "It seems that the people sitting in Delhi don't have the realisation of democratic values... It is sheer desperation of those sitting at the Centre." He said the act reflected that "the central government is afraid of the mass support the movement has."
Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal also condemned the arrests saying that "the Congress has panicked over the movement of Anna Hazare as it is Congress leaders who have stashed money abroad. We are with the movement."
In Chandigarh, Ludhiana and some other places, people from all walks of life, including advocates and academicians, took to the streets-despite inclement weather-to join the protest for a strong Lokpal. Among them were activists of the NGOs 'India Against Corruption' and Awaaz who launched a relay hunger strike. Traffic was blocked at several intersections.
In Hyderabad, Telugu Desam Party president N Chandrababu Naidu said, "Prime minister Manmohan Singh should apologise to the nation for having sent Hazare and other social activists, who are fighting against corruption, to Tihar jail. The arrest of Hazare and his team is the height of despotic rule of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre that is suppressing all civil rights."
In Ranchi, members of the '74 Chetna Manch, a forum of participants of the Jayaprakash Narayan movement, staged a sit-in at Shahid Chowk to demand an 'effective' anti-corruption bill. "Ours is a peaceful show of solidarity to Anna Hazare's movement against corruption. If the Anna team believes that effective Lokpal Bill can curb corruption what is the problem for the Centre to accept it," asked convenor Pramod Mishra.
In Maharashtra, crowds gathered in many cities and towns in response to Mr Hazare's call to court arrest. Thousands poured into south Mumbai's Azad Maidan since early in the morning, in preparation for the 'Jail Bharo' programme.
"Around 50 to 70 people will court arrest every half an hour. We will start from 2pm with women supporters, followed by youth and then the others," said Mayank Gandhi, in-charge of the Mumbai unit of India Against Corruption. Social activist Medha Patkar is co-ordinating the protests in Mumbai.
In Nagpur, a large number of people, including activists Umesh Choube and noted economist Srinivas Khandewale courted arrest in support of the demand for an effective Lokpal. Many people wearing 'Gandhi' caps with slogans 'I am Anna' gathered at the Reserve Bank of India Square, on the busy Nagpur-Jabalpur national highway that runs through the Civil Lines area.
In Pune, protestors gathered at Balgandharva Square from the morning to condemn the police action and his detention in Delhi this morning. They carried placards and shouted slogans in support of a strong Lokpal legislation.
In Nashik, a rally was taken out on the main street in protest against the arrest of Mr Hazare and this culminated in a public meeting in front of the district collectorate. Police resorted to a mild cane-charge to clear the road for traffic. The protestors included several professionals and a large number of women and youth. Protests were also reported from Mr Hazare's native Ahmednagar.
The Gandhian anti-corruption crusader has been arrested and sent to Tihar. A number of concerned citizens have written to us, protesting the draconian action on Team Anna
It was with a sense of disbelief that the nation woke up when news started coming in than the government had made 'pre-emptive' arrests to prevent Team Anna from carrying out its peaceful protest against corruption and the call for a more comprehensive Lokpal Bill.
Here are a few responses that Moneylife has received from various groups of concerned citizens:
1) Forum for Better Visakha (FBV, a coalition of NGOs and concerned citizens, based in Vishakhapatnam): EAS Sarma, former power secretary, and convener of FBV, wrote to us, condemning the government's "action to trample the Fundamental Rights of Shri Anna Hazare and his team." FBV called it an "onslaught on the civil society and the people of India."
The group's observations are:
a) We are shocked and deeply distressed at the manner in which the government and its minions have trampled on the Fundamental Rights of Shri Anna Hazare and his team. It is nothing but a blatant attempt to shield the corrupt and gag the voice of the people of this country against the scourge of corruption and black money in India. The government's motives are clear.
b) It is ironic that those who are corrupt among the ruling elite are allowed to move freely on the streets of Delhi and along the corridors of power in the Central Secretariat and elsewhere, whereas Anna Hazare who has spoken out vehemently against corruption should be arrested and put behind bars in Tihar Jail.
c) When senior persons in authority were prima facie found to have plundered the nation of its natural resources and stashed away their black monies in tax havens all over the world, the same government had treated them with kid gloves and allowed them enough leeway to erase the evidence and cover their tracks.
d) What all Anna Hazare had said was that the Bill in question should have the necessary strength and ambit to allow Lok Pal to be an effective custodian of the people's resources and their interests. Anna Hazare has not asked the Prime Minister for a lucrative portfolio in his Cabinet, as others did, not grabbed the precious spectrum for personal gains as the Prime Minister's colleagues did, not grabbed prime mineral blocks and valuable public lands non-transparently as some in the government allowed their associates to do and not stayed in five-star hotels as some Union Ministers did. By treating Anna so ham-handedly and in such an insensitive manner, the government has literally brought back memories of the Emergency days of 1975-77.
e) It is ironic that this should happen soon after the Prime Minister delivered his resounding speech from the ramparts of Red Fort on the 64th Independence Day that he would combat the evil of corruption with all his might.
f) The public anger against the scams and the scandals that have characterised the government during the last few years is reflected in the demonstrations and dharnas that the people all over the country have organised today to express their solidarity with the national campaign against corruption. On our part, we, the members of FBV too express our support to and solidarity with Anna Hazare's movement against corruption.
g) The government should know that, while the Parliament is supreme, it is the people of this country in whom the Constitution has vested the ultimate authority to determine the country's future. The people of this country are determined to invoke that authority.
h) The Constitution has conferred Fundamental Rights on each and every citizen. These include the right to freedom of expression of views. No government can ever suppress that right wantonly.
i) We appeal to the civil society organisations all over the country to support Anna Hazare, despite differences in perception, if any, as Anna Hazare's struggle against corruption is the people's struggle against the well-entrenched corrupt.
j) We are confident that Anna Hazare will succeed. We are confident that the people of this country will overcome the insensitive attitude of the government and succeed in setting up a durable institutional structure as the bulwark against corruption.
Moneylife has had more responses coming in from across the country, here's a response we received from OP Monga, trustee of Mumbai-based Forum for Fast Justice, whose two trustees have been arrested in New Delhi: "We hereby inform you that Bhagvanji Raiyani and M Venkatraman, Trustees of Forum for Fast Justice, Mumbai, have been arrested in Delhi along with Shri Anna Hazare at Delhi today morning. They were taken to a stadium which has been converted into a temporary jail by the Delhi Government. They were fasting along with Anna Hazare. They had gone to Delhi to support Mr Hazare.
"The Forum for Fast Justice strongly supports the anti-corruption crusade led by Anna Hazare. We are ready to sacrifice anything for this cause."
In a media release from Hyderabad, Lok Satta party President, Dr Jayaprakash Narayan, said that the detention of Anna Hazare was "senseless."
"Through its reckless and senseless detention of Anna Hazare and team, the Union Government squandered away a precious opportunity to build a national consensus on creating an effective mechanism to curb corruption," Dr Narayan said today.
He said there could be honest and legitimate differences of opinion and approach to the creation of the Lokpal, Lokayukta, and ombudsmen institutions between the Government and civil society. Some of the demands of the civil society on the Lokpal institution may be far-fetched, Dr Narayan said.
In such a situation, the Government is obliged to exercise patience and restraint, explain its viewpoint, and convince the public. Instead, Dr Narayan, said, the Government has resorted to the heinous practice of levelling corruption allegations against Anna Hazare and others fighting against corruption. "The Government's conduct is improper, immoral, immature, and counter productive. If there is any substance in the allegations it is making now, why has it not acted earlier," he asked. Instead of strengthening the Constitutional processes, the Government by its vindictive attitude is alienating people, Dr Narayan said.
He said that the Lokpal Bill has now become Parliament's property and the civil society should recognise that Parliament is an institution elected by people. It is time that all sections including the Government, political parties, civil society, and media mount concerted and authentic efforts to curb corruption, he said.
Dr Narayan regretted that the public debate on the Lokpal Bill has ignored corruption at the State and local Government levels. The Government should strengthen investigating agencies like the CBI (Central Bureau of Information) and the ACB (Anti-Corruption Bureau) and insulate them from political interference by bringing them under the protective umbrella of the Lokpal and Lokayukta.
"The need of the hour is mature negotiations and arriving at a consensus, said Dr Narayan and added there is no place for inflexible views in public debate. He appealed to all sections of society to "protest peacefully against the detention of Anna Hazare and others" without "disrupting people's normal life."
The Lok Satta Party is planning mass dharnas throughout the State on 17th August and demonstrations in association with others on 18th August to protest against the arrest of Anna Hazare and his team.
The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has said that the anti-corruption campaign is a struggle for democracy. It also called upon the government to heed this national call, not just for a strong Lokpal Bill, but also for bringing in systemic change against the corrupt, corporatized, communal, consumerist governance and development model. The entity has also called for an unconditional apology to the nation from the Prime Minister and meaningful dialogue with all people’s struggles on the issue of strong anti-corruption legislation and systemic reforms.
All India Bank Employees Association’s (AIBEA) General Secretary Vishwas Utagi said in a statement on Wednesday, “Release Anna Hazare unconditionally. Don’t curb the democratic right to protest. Remove corrupt people from government. All our unions should hold demonstrations in all cities and towns on these demands.”
Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code is invoked depending on the urgency of the situation, so as to act absolutely—and that the emergent situation must be sudden and the consequences grave.
Did Anna Hazare's peaceful movement warrant such a draconian crackdown? We'll keep you posted as and when we get more responses from citizen groups and concerned citizens.