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'People should wake up from their perpetual slumber'

Thursday, August 30, 2018
Photograph by Azad Shrivastav

He is no new person in the field of activism in Mumbai. He has been in the forefront of all fights against oppression, communalism, freedom of speech and human rights. Dolphy D'Souza dons several hats in the field of activism including being the former President of the Bombay Catholic Sabha  (BCS), former National Vice-President of All India Catholic Union (AICU), present convenor of Police Reforms Watch, member of the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) and spokesperson of Save Our Land (SOUL). Dolphy meets Philip Varghese for a discussion at the Mumbai Press Club, minutes before a joint press conference called by civil society organisations to condemn the simultaneous raids by police on the premises of prominent human rights and civil liberties activists and public intellectuals.

Simultaneous raids were conducted by Police on the premises of prominent human rights and civil liberties activists and public intellectuals - Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj (National Secretary, PUCL) in Faridabad, Father Stan Swamy in Jharkhand, Senior Writer and Poet Varavara Rao, his two daughters - Anala and Pavana, 'The Hindu' journalist KV Kumaranath, English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) Professor Satyanarayana, 'Namaste Telangana' journalist Kranthi Tekula - all in Hyderabad, Anand Teltumbde (General Secretary, CPDR) in Goa, Gautam Navlakha (founder member, PUDR) in Delhi, Arun Ferreira, Writer Vernon Gonsalves and Advocate Susan Abraham in Mumbai, and several of them were arrested on charges under the draconian UAPA law.

“The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) has to go and people should wake up from their perpetual slumber and fight for throwing away this most misused Act,” says Dolphy as he tried to adjust himself for the interview in the hall of the Press Club which was getting rapidly packed to the capacity for the upcoming conference.

“I am not afraid of speaking out on record anywhere about any issues,” Dolphy tells us as we seek his permission to record this interview on an electronic device.   
Speaking on the arrest of the five activists by the Pune Crime Branch on their alleged links with Maoists, he said, “I was shocked when I was told about these raids and arrests of the activists. My first thought was that while mob lynchers were out on bail, defenders of marginalised and voiceless people are in jail. Given the track record of all of them, no body has the business to flout the norms in terms of arrests and other things.”

When asked if he still believes that these arrests were illegal, Dolphy says, “Yes, of course. The one side is that this government does not tolerate dissent. Our belief is very clear that right to dissent or right to voice an opinion, which is contrary to what the government has to say, is my democratic birth right and nobody can take it away from me. It's as simple as that. So why should any government take it personally?”

He further added, “Many of these activists are working with the marginalised sections of the society where dalits, tribals are constantly under an onslaught of an attack from the establishment. These people defend these marginalised section when nobody else wants to defend them. Is there anybody who can escape when they behave in this manner for oppressing the voices of the marginalised?”

According to Dolphy, the government wants to deflect from issues like its own performance in the past five years, for which they are using illegal methods to apprehend 'innocent' people.

“There is an all round failure and because of this we have an unrest on the economic meltdown, joblessness of youth, mob lynching – the atmosphere is completely vitiated. These are things which citizens are getting upset about, the fear psychosis about the said situation that if you speak the government will target you and this is one of the things that if prominent people are targeted, others will fall in line. Agar unke saath ho sakta hai toh hamara kya kaam se (If this can happen to them, then what about us?) - this is one tactic which is being used by the government. I commend the Joint Commissioner of the ATS, who has rightly arrested the so called people of the Sanathan Sanstha who were about to create violence. This has also become a bone of contention with the government on how do you divert attention of the people. All along they would blame only one particular community for terrorist attacks and now suddenly out of the blue there is a different story. That's why it is rightly said that terrorists have no religion. They coloured it as a religious aspect. But we say terrorist have no religion. This also happened in the Congress – NCP government. But till date the culprits are not being nailed. So when you are in power, you are giving them impunity to these elements to do what they want because they feel that there is a patronage from the establishment,” the 61-year-old crusader tells us.

So, does Dolphy feel that the arrests of the activists from across the country is a selective target? “Yes. The police needs to give the grounds of arrest before you arrest anyone. These policemen haven't given grounds of arrests for Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and others on what basis have they been taken into custody.
This means it is the breakdown of the constitutional norms upheld in the rule of law. They have not followed procedures and we are not a banana republic. We are a democratic republic with the constitution and law in place. And if the government itself breaks this, what message are you sending across to its citizens and also to the world.”  

Being the convenor of Police Reforms Watch – an organisation which is working towards reforms for policemen and policing, Dolphy articulates his concerns on the state of 'confused policing' in the country.

“The police and the policing is still controlled by the Executive. That's what we are fighting for. The Executive must have minimum control. We don't mind the legislature having an oversight, but we don't want any minister or Chief Minister to control the police. They are under undue pressure to behave in a particular manner. So, it is difficult for these policemen to uphold the rule of law,” he said adding that there is public awareness on the issue to educate people on their rights who in turn will question the government on their rights.

Dolphy says that the campaign has just begun for making people aware on the attack on constitution. “It is high time that government should realise that it should not underestimate the power of its citizens. If people can elect a government, it can also dethrone the same government. Today, immediately after the arrests of activists Arun, Vernon and others, the PUCL took a lead and was able to muscle in almost 40 organisations within a span of 24 hours. This is an indication of how our people are able to do such a huge mobilisation which is due to the burning desire that democracy needs to be protected,” Dolphy says.

As we wrap our interview, Dolphy gives his message to all citizens and activists. “We must express that nobody should strike on our dissent which is our birth right. And this is also the time for us to tell truth to those in power.”

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