The Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) was set up in Mumbai in the aftermath of Emergency like most Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights organisations in India. It is thus one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the country and the oldest in the state of Maharashtra.
The main objective of the CPDR has been to educate people on their democratic rights as provided in the Constitution of India and struggle against violation of civil rights by the state as well as civil society elements. The methodology mainly comprised fact finding into the cases of violation of civil rights, setting of peoples' tribunals on certain major issues related with civil rights, legal battles to restore civil rights of people, organising public meetings, documenting and publishing and campaigning on the significant issues concerned with democratic rights. Significantly, the CPDR distinguished itself from other civil rights organizations by taking up many cases of caste atrocities in the state.
Although it mainly dealt with issues concerning democratic rights in Maharashtra, it has been part of the network of civil rights organization to take up certain issues at the level of country. It was part of an initiative to form Indian Peoples' Human Rights Commission in 1980s along with other fraternal organizations. With the rising incidence of violation of civil rights, a formal network styled as the Co-ordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) was formed in August 2007 of which CPDR has been a part. CDRO meets twice a year and collaborates on activities of common concern.
The CPDR is concerned with the roots of oppression rather than symptoms. This approach marks the main point of distinction between CPDR and other human rights organisations that work within the UN framework of human rights. Hence CPDR openly aligns with mass movements and struggles of Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and generally oppressed sections of society. The significance of democratic rights in the present world stems from its central concern of documenting and highlighting the social, economic and political oppression and repression of the people of India. In the present political and economic scenario, when any criticism of the policies of the state are seen as anti-national and when the failure of peaceful movements has led to increasing violent uprisings against the state, the democratic rights groups which take a decidedly pro-people stand are seen as anti-state and anti-national. However the movement is principally against collaborative politics and is today characterised by its opposition to the neo-liberal policies of the state which are being implemented despite active opposition of the masses of people.
The sudden imposition of the emergency on 25 June 1975 raised the issue of democratic rights and civil liberties before all sections of the people in a manner never raised before.
Looking back it can be seen that a steady violation of the hard-won democratic rights and liberties, especially of the working class, working peoples and peasantry, had begun in an earlier period much before June 1975, and that due to the weakness of a broad-based democratic movement during this period, the state could gradually build up, strengthen and centralise its oppressive apparatus without facing any effective opposition from the people.The emergency marked a significant trend towards greater centralisation of power, when as a result of the inherent economic crises of the Indian economy, coupled with the sharp political crises within the ruling circles at the time, the Congress Party imposed the emergency to maintain themselves and the interests they represented in power.
The most important lesson of the emergency was of how the state machinery (judicial, legal, administrative, police, intelligence, para-military) and the mass media serves the interests of the ruling classes at the cost of the lives and liberties of millions of the people.
The CPDR, therefore, holds that these democratic rights that exist in the Constitution can be realised only by vigilant movements and expressions of the masses of the people.
Even today there remains an alarming divergence between the reality that millions of weaker and deprived sections of the people, both in the cities and villages face, and the so-called sanctity and equality before the law "guaranteed" by the Constitution, whereby democratic rights and civil liberties are supposed to be equally applicable to all citizens of India. The situation particularly for the vast majority of the peasantry, is one in which all democratic rights and civil liberties are denied, where the peasant and his family are enmeshed in an oppressive web of a subservient relationship with the sma11, but powerful section of landlords, moneylenders and traders. This powerful section, through the interweaving ties of tenant farming, bonded labour and recurring indebtedness totally dominate and control the power structure in the village with the help of the state machinery and the naked power of their hired goondas.
Insofar as the meaning of democratic rights for the working class and working people are concerned it means the right to engage in various forms of struggle for their demands, the right to organise in trade unions of their own free choice ascertained through a secret ballot, the right to elect their union representatives at all levels, and last but not least, the right to go on strike, etc. to press for these and any other demands without the intervention of the state. The CPDR is particularly concerned at the attempts of the state to trample upon these rights that have been won by the working class and the working peoples through the course of many years of hard struggle.
The oppressed and exploited castes and tribes are even more so victims to the violation of their fundamental civil rights, as they are not only victims of the economic system, but still more of the social system. Oppressed by age-long prejudices which have in recent years been rein forced by the upper castes maintaining their superior economic position, the oppressed castes and tribes face a dual form of oppression which manifests itself in the majority of them having to constantly live under a perpetual state of "emergency". Those that do attempt to protest against this relentless oppression, face the reality of loosing their lives at the hands of their caste oppressors. while the state, at worst aids and abets in this oppression, at best, engages in token ameliorative gestures.
Despite the promises of equality of sexes in the Constitution, women have always been, and remain socially and economically oppressed
Students confront an undemocratic educational system which serves neither their needs nor those of the masses of the people. Student struggles stemming from this, which demand more democratic educational institutions and an educational system more relevant to the needs of the people is an important part of the movement for democratic rights.
The CPDR also holds that the question of democratic rights is related to the question of safeguarding the economic, political and cultural independence and national sovereignity of our country, as well as those of other countries.
The CPDR holds that the question of oppressed nationalities as well as the question of freedom and equality of peoples, languages and nationalities is also very. much a question of democratic rights. The CPDR views with the greatest concern any attempts to use language as a means of dominating a people and holds that in those cases/situations where disputes arise, solutions should be found by the democratic process of holding a free plebiscite in the area or among the peoples concerned.
The CPDR holds that the struggle of the mass of the people to genuinely participate in the cultural, economic and political forces that affect their everyday Jives constitutes a vital force in the creation and sustenance of a truly democratic society.
The CPDR maintains that every individual should have the right to hold and propaga_te whatever political ideology he/she believes in. The CPDR will constantly struggle against any attempt of the state to encroach upon this right. or victimise any person for holding or expressing their political line or ideology.
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