The practice of ban has been prevalent in India since the time of the British, through the many decades of “Independence”, and it continues to grow with a government driven by the Hindutva ideology at the Centre. There may have been nuances in the exercise of this option between the “liberal” Nehru-era Congress regime, the blatantly authoritarian Indira Gandhi regime in the 1970s, and the present Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led governments. But the crux remains the same.
As the crisis in the present political system is deepening, the Indian ruling class is going for an all-out offensive against every form of dissent. The efforts of present Modi government in stifling democratic voices in educational institutions started in June 2014 (just after formation of Government), when nine students including editor, sub-editor and advisory members of the college magazine of Sree Krishna College in Kerala’s Guruvayur University were arrested for publishing “objectionable and unsavoury” language against Narendra Modi in a crossword puzzle in the magazine. Around the same time, seven polytechnic students along with their Principal in Thrissur were arrested for including Narendra Modi in a list of “negative faces” along with Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, George Bush and a few others in their college magazine. The phenomenon continued with the banning of the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC) in the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IITM), one of the country’s leading academic institutions.
The government moved a step forward in 2015 by declaring total ban on slaughter of all cattle including bulls and bullocks, and a complete ban on transport of cattle out of the state. It shamelessly violated fundamental rights of food and livelihood and in 2017, life sentence for cow slaughter in Gujarat as maximum punishment under the Gujarat Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 2017 has only hastens the decline and demise of cattle ownership amongst farmers across India.
Modi devotedly followed the foot-steps of his Guru Hitler who just months after his appointment as Chancellor of Germany, took the decision to ban trade unions. On December 27th, 2017, the BJP government of Jharkhand banned Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti (MSS), a 30 year old union in the un-organized sector under Criminal Law Amendment Act (CLAA) and filed false cases under the same act on 10 office bearers of MSS. The grounds for banning were that- i) MSS invited Varvara Rao, a renowned Telugu poet to speak on the 100th year anniversary of Russian revolution, ii) MSS is involved in “illegally raising funds” for organizing the program. MSS is a registered trade union in Jharkhand (registered in 1989), established in 1985 by an advocate, Satya Narayana Bhattacharya and the union currently has 22,000 members and they are all in unorganized sector. The members are from the coal mines of Dhanbad, thermal power plant workers, agricultural workers as well as workers who work on the pilgrimage site of Shikharji. The union runs a hospital in Jharkhand which is free of cost for all the workers and tribals in the area and holds the record of participation in tribal movements for the last thirty years.
This is not the first time that a union has been banned in “independent” India. In 1992, SIKASA, the coal miners union in Singareni, Andhra Pradesh was banned. However, this is the first time when a registered union has been banned without any legal basis whatsoever. The formal process of cancelling registration of a union was not obeyed and it violated the basic norms of issuing a two month notice to the office bearers of the union for them to present their defense. The act of cancellation to be persuaded by the Registrar of union, who is usually the Deputy Commissioner of Labour from Labour Department was not involved. This ban no doubt stands against the fundamental structures of the constitution as it questions right to form association and right to free speech. One is reminded of Nazi Germany where onslaught on the working class began by banning trade unions.