With the state determined to suppress dissent by cracking down on political leaders through arbitrary arrests, state sponsored assault on the freedom of expression and human rights, the season of intolerance is here to stay. Whether dissent is the safety valve of democracy depends on how long this growing season of intolerance lasts.
The recent arbitrary arrest and detention of the secretary of the Communist Party of India, Manipur State Council Laishram Sotinkumar for his peaceful and democratic protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 is not only a violation of human rights of an individual but also a tactical ploy adopted to quell political dissent of any hues.
The CAA has been vehemently opposed by various sections of the people of India. The ruling regime has adopted similar methods in suppressing voices of dissent.
Sotinkumar has been constantly targeted by the state government. It has been reported that the state police visited his house on December 15, 16 and 18, 2019 and intimidated him and his family. All that the CPI leader did was supporting the all India general strike on December 19, 2019 called by the Indian left parties against CAA. The strike went off peacefully and there was no report of any violent incident. On December 20, 2019, Sotinkumar was picked up from his office by a team of City Police without valid reason or issuing any arrest memo as required by law. He was locked up at the Imphal Police Station the same night. The police arrested him and filed an FIR under section 147, 149, 188, 447, 34, 505, 506 Indian Penal Code. Reports said while he was in detention, the police did not provide proper food or medicines to Sotinkumar who was a diabetic patient.
On December 21, 2019, he was produced before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Imphal West and was granted bail. However, a police team picked him up just outside the court premise and whisked him away to Nambol Police Station in Bishnupur District. Later, he was informed that another FIR had been registered against him despite the fact that re-arrest of a person on the same transaction or incident was considered illegal and unconstitutional according to a Supreme Court of India ruling.
Sotinkumar eventually applied for release on bail in the court of the Judicial Magistrate First Class, Bishnupur in which he stated that he is suffering from poor health conditions including blood pressure, kidney problem and diabetics. The court remanded him to judicial custody for 14 days. Later, he was allowed to be hospitalised for proper medical treatment.
However, Sotinkumar’s ordeal did not end there. In the hospital, he was kept in isolation and he was not allowed to move out of his room. Sotinkumar’s health condition was reported to be deteriorating due to stress, mental harassment, confinement and isolation. What is even more surprising is the fact that there were still two more FIRs lodged against Sotinkumar in Porompat Police station and Lilong Police Station. Under such circumstances, it was time for the people to understand that dissent in fact deepens true democracy and the same cannot be equated with uprooting Constitutional commitments.