On 23rd May 2023, Over 500 concerned citizens, democratic rights’ activists across movements, women’s groups, students and academics condemned the misuse of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act(PMLA) against scholars and activists raising constitutional issues and asking for the government’s accountability.
The open letter states that ‘In the course of the last few months, several women scholars and activists have been summoned repeatedly, made to wait long hours, often interrogated without any woman officer present throughout, asked to furnish documents over and over again, in an Enforcement Directorate(ED) investigation.’
The modus operandi to silence any vocal critics of the current government and its policies follow a similar trajectory - they invoke draconian laws to harass and intimidate them into silence. As in the case of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), there are increasing instances of the misuse of PMLA, especially against persons who are vocal critics of the government and its policies, and those who raise issues of the poor and oppressed sections of society.
The signatories noted that, ‘Under the Act, the state is relieved of all responsibility for observing the principles of natural justice, fair trial, due process, protocols for women, and human rights. The investigation agencies effectively exercise police powers and should be obligated to follow the CrPC, but PMLA has an overriding effect in case of any inconsistency with any other Law, including CRPC, etc.
The ED does not have to record an FIR before starting investigations, or inform those under investigation of the specific charges against them at the time of summons or during the investigation. The power to summon is so wide that any officer of the rank of Assistant Director or above can call any person, accused or not, for discovery, inspection, recording statements and producing documents, etc.
While strongly opposing the misuse of PMLA, the letter demands that:
The persecution and witch hunt must stop immediately.
That proper procedures be put in place for the summoning, questioning and evidence gathering from women so that they are not harassed and victimised.
Given the immense powers under the Act, the ED should exercise great responsibility and discernment in the persons and cases where they choose to use PMLA, and certainly not use it to intimidate opponents, activists and intellectuals.
The statement has been endorsed by groups like:
Anuradha Banerji, Saheli Women’s Resource Centre, New Delhi
Aruna Roy (President) and Annie Raja (Gen Sec), NFIW
Arundhuti Dhuru, National Convenor, NAPM
Beena Pallical, NCDHR, New Delhi.
Chayanika Shah and Sandhya Gokhale, Forum Against Oppression of Women, Bombay
Hasina Khan, Bebaak Collective, Bombay.
Kavita Srivastava, PUCL.
Meena Tiwari, National General Secretary, AIPWA
Nisha Biswas, Feminists in Resistance, Kolkata.
Poonam Kaushik, Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan, New Delhi.
R.Manohar, Regional Coordinator, Human Rights Defenders Alert India
Ramesh Dixit, President, Samvidhan Bachao Desh Bachao Abhiyan, Uttar Pradesh.
Ramsharan, Convenor, Loktantrik Rashtranirman Abhiyan.
Seema Kulkari, MAKAAM, Pune.
Subhashini Ali (Vice President) and Mariam Dhawale (Gen Sec), AIDWA
Shabnam Hashmi, ANHAD, New Delhi.
Subhash Gatade, New Socialist Initiative, New Delhi.
V. Saldanha, Indian Christian Women’s Movement.
Vidya Dinker, INSAF
Prominent individuals like:
Aditi Mehta, Retd. IAS
Brinda Karat, CPI(M)
Farah Naqvi, New Delhi.
Jawahar Sircar, Member of Parliament.
Jayati Ghosh, Economist.
John Dayal, Writer and Activist, New Delhi.
K. Lalitha, Writer.
K.P Fabian, Retd. Ambassador of India to Qatar.
Kalyani Menon Sen, Researcher and Activist, Coimbatore.
Mary E. John, New Delhi.
Maya Rao, Theatre Artist.
Mridula Mukherjee, Retd. Professor.
Murali, Retd. IAS.
Nandini Sundar, Sociologist,
Nikhil Dey, MKSS.
Nivedita Menon, JNU, New Delhi.
Pamela Philipose, Journalist, New Delhi,
P K Sreemathy, Former Member of Lok Sabha.
Prashant Bhushan, Lawyer.
Ruth Manorama, Women’s Voice, Bangalore.
Sundar Burra, Retd. IAS.
Smita Gupta, Economist and Activist, New Delhi.
Yogendra Yadav, Political Activist, Swaraj India.
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