Indian Diaspora Backs ‘Fearless’ Bhushan’s ‘Fight for Free Speech’

“India is fortunate to possess a person of his integrity,” said historian Rajmohan Gandhi on the virtual forum.

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Historian Rajmohan Gandhi and human rights lawyer Indira Jaising were among those who joined a virtual forum organised by the Indian-American community in solidarity with Prashant Bhushan.
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“Prashant Bhushan is fearless. He takes up a just cause even if it is unpopular,” said historian Rajmohan Gandhi on 19 August at a virtual forum organised by the Indian-American community in solidarity with the lawyer-activist.

“India is fortunate to possess a person of his integrity and his gifts,” he added.

Indian Diaspora Backs ‘Fearless’ Bhushan’s ‘Fight for Free Speech’
(Photo: Arnica Kala/The Quint)

Days earlier, the Supreme Court had held Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for his two “derogatory” tweets. And, on 20 August, the court gave him an ultimatum to “rethink and apologise”.

In the midst of this, Bhushan has found support in six Indian-American groups who hosted a virtual conference in his support. Apart from Gandhi, keynote speakers included human rights lawyer Indira Jaising, among others.

A screenshot of the virtual conference organised by Indian American groups, with keynote speakers like Indira Jaising and Rajmohan Gandhi.
A screenshot of the virtual conference organised by Indian American groups, with keynote speakers like Indira Jaising and Rajmohan Gandhi.

We Critique Court to Retrieve Its Core Values: Indira Jaising

Speaking of the conviction, Indira Jaising said, “The court says it is an interference with justice. Which comment interfered with justice? We are not told.”

Indian Diaspora Backs ‘Fearless’ Bhushan’s ‘Fight for Free Speech’
(Photo: Aroop Mishra/The Quint)
Indian Diaspora Backs ‘Fearless’ Bhushan’s ‘Fight for Free Speech’
(Photo: Arnica Kala/The Quint)

“In a deliberative democracy, all institutions need to function in a transparent way to gain legitimacy. Accountability of institutions is not negotiable,” she further said.

“The Supreme Court of India belongs to you and me... No individual can scandalise court, only State power can scandalise court. Behind every act of deviance of a public functionary is the guarantee of impunity from legal consequences, and perhaps the promise of rewards. Civil society can offer no rewards.”

‘Miscarriage of Justice’

“We are seeing a complete miscarriage of justice. His tweets do not say anything out of the ordinary, other than what can and should rightfully be permitted to be expressed by the citizens of any country that claims to be a democracy,” said Aminah Ahmed, activist and youth leader of the Indian American Muslim Council, one of the organising bodies of the conference.

Apart from the Indian American Muslim Council, Hindus for Human Rights, Global Indian Progressive Alliance, Students Against Hindutva Ideology, Young India, Inc and Voices against Fascism in India were behind the conference. It was attended by over 100 Indian-American individuals.

“As progressive Indians, we believe fiercely in the rights of people to express themselves, and in exercising their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. To say that we are extremely disappointed by the contempt charges as a follow-up of initiating suo moto criminal contempt proceedings against lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan on mere tweets will be a gross understatement,” stated Manish Madan of the Global Indian Progressive Alliance.

Representing Students Against Hindu Ideology, Vishwa said, “The implications of this decision don’t fall on deaf ears. To be clear, this action is an omen. An omen that sets a dangerous precedent for the conviction of students and activists and creates a chilling effect that will haunt India’s promise of free speech. We stand in solidarity with the students, organisers, and legal community in India who are fighting for the right to peacefully dissent, which is so critical to a democratic and flourishing India.”

Among the organisational representatives was also Suniti Sanghavi, scientist-activist who has been chain-fasting for 175 consecutive days for peace in India.

“On 25 February, I struggled to make sense of the communal violence unfolding back home in India in Northeast Delhi. This, with the support of an extraordinary group of friends, gave birth to a chain-fasting protest that has now clocked over 175 consecutive days and grown to include 28 fasters,” she said.

In a call to action, Sanghavi declared a one-day fast on 22 August dedicated to Bhushan and “in solidarity with his struggle to preserve the sanctity of public opinion in India.”

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