Civil society groups and international organisations have once again started voicing their concern at the Ministry of Home Affairs’ decision to cancel the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) licence of the advocacy group Lawyers Collective.
Lawyers Collective had a few days ago contended that the decision of the home ministry to revoke its ability to receive foreign contributions was “only a continuation of the harassment and persecution of the organisation, especially of its two trustees, Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, senior advocates, perpetrated by the (Narendra Modi) Government, over [the] last one year.”
The MHA took the decision to cancel the organisation’s FCRA licence on November 27. The cancellation order had stated that Lawyers Collective had “violated the terms and conditions of its registration as [specified in the] certificate, violated the provisions of the FCRA, and most importantly, acted against ‘public interest’.”
Expressing “shock and consternation” at the manner in which the union government has gone after the advocacy group, cancelling their FCRA registration with scant regard for the years of hard work they have put in to support both the people and the government in strengthening constitutional propriety and addressing and preventing human rights violations against women and marginalised sections of society, several rights groups have spoken against the decision in a joint press statement.
Anjali Gopalan, executive director of Naz Foundation and a petitioner in the PIL case on section 377 in Delhi high court, said, “What is shocking about the order served on the Lawyers Collective is the statement that they have done nothing for women’s development and empowerment.”
Gopalan said she, as as the key petitioner seeking decriminalisation of homosexuality and re-examining the outdated Section 377 and as someone who has been working for many years with communities affected by HIV, “can vouch that without the untiring work of Lawyers Collective none of the gains and breakthroughs we have made on the rights of the community would have been achieved.”
Echoing the sentiment, social activist, researcher, trainer and writer Lata P.M. said she had “always found Jaising and Lawyers Collective providing solid support to all grassroots level activists to do effective advocacy with judiciary and lawmakers.” Similarly, Sabina Martins of Bailancho Saad, Goa said she has always appreciated “the work that Lawyers Collective has been doing on legal rights and the empowerment of women.”
Senior journalist Pamela Philippose in the statement described Jaising as “a thorough legal professional, and a defendant of human rights”, and recalled how she has associated with some of the country’s landmark judicial verdicts and legislative processes. “The manner in which she and her organization, the Lawyers Collective, have been targeted, and the way in which the reputation of Jaising and her husband, Anand Grover, has been sought to be mired by the government is completely and totally unacceptable and is a black mark on India’s democratic credentials,” said Philippose, who is also the public editor of The Wire.
Elaborating on the point that the action of the government betrays a deliberate effort to undermine the democratic processes, Geeta Seshu, independent journalist from Mumbai, claimed that the order was really an attempt to silence and defame and discredit the voices of dissent. “By releasing information in the mainstream and compliant media about irregularities and corruption and what not, they are trying to suggest that Lawyers Collective and NGOs are under a cloud,” she added.
Uma Chakravarti, eminent historian and leading social activist, termed the move by the government a “new witch-hunt of our times” and went on to add that the government has chosen strong women “to try and shut them up but we know they won’t.” This was endorsed by Ritu Dewan, president of Indian Association for Women’s Studies, who ironically remarked: “Maybe we should also see it as a compliment that such strong and committed organizations are being targeted.”
Finally, expressing complete solidarity with Lawyers Collective, Ayesha Kidwai, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, lauded the organisation for the “resolute fight for justice they have put up through the years” and wished them “more power in these difficult times.”