With Dalits resisting gau rakshaks, India isn’t far from annihilation of caste

A significant feature of the current anti-caste struggle has been the near absence of demands for concessions.

It was VI Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution, who famously said that the indication of a revolutionary situation is when the exploited and oppressed masses refuse to live in the old way and when the exploiters are unable to carry on and rule in the old way.

Anti-caste revolution in the making

A reminder of this came with the scenes of Dalit protests in Gujarat over the last few days against the public stripping and thrashing by gau rakshaks of seven Dalits, who were skinning a dead cow near the town of Una.

Thousands of Dalit protesters took to the streets throughout Gujarat to declare their refusal to silently continue the traditional caste tasks of handling and disposal of dead animals.

Also read: Why Dalits used carcasses of cows in Gujarat to protest

In a vividly inventive agitational move they brought truckloads of dead cattle and dumped them in the grounds and offices at the district headquarters and tehsil centres in various parts of the state. No other action could perhaps be a better assertion of their unwillingness to live and suffer in the old way that the caste laws had laid down.


As hundreds of carcasses lay rotting before government offices, houses of political leaders, on roads and other public places, upper caste organisations and the state machinery were left running helter-skelter in search of a solution.

As the Dalits demanded that those who considered the “gau” (cow) as their “mata” (mother) should undertake the task of performing the dead cows’ last rites, it became amply clear that there were no takers for this task.

Also read: Dalits are seething in Modi’s Gujarat and it will hurt BJP during polls

None of the gau rakshaks or any other of the activists of the Sangh Parivar were seen coming forward to perform this task. As putrefying cow carcasses were left to be torn apart by stray dogs while the upper castes watched helplessly, it seemed as if the oppressors had no means by which they could continue to enforce the law of Manu in the old way.

The events in Gujarat are not the first indicators of such an anti-caste revolution in the making.

Also read: Why caste will never be annihilated in India

The past several months have seen frequent instances of small and large-scale Dalit resistance to upper caste discrimination and oppression taking place in various parts of the country.

A large number of the confrontations have been around incidents of caste atrocities perpetrated by the dominant castes. But, as it has been argued, this rise in conflict is evidently as much about a greater Dalit readiness to resist as it is about an escalation in upper caste violence.


The Rohith Vemula incident

A nodal point seems to have been reached with a pan-India mobilisation around the suicide of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit scholar of Hyderabad Central University (HCU). Vemula’s death, widely seen as a sacrifice, while proving a catalyst for the coming together of students across a very wide spectrum, also provided the rallying point for the numerous forces which have felt the need to stand up against the repressiveness of the current casteist and communal order.

While students were seen at the forefront, there have been a host of organisations belonging to the Dalit and other communities which have been galvanised into action.

BR Ambedkar’s revolutionary call for the annihilation of caste, long forgotten by the established Ambedkarite parties, has become the battle cry of this rebellion.

Joint action committees of students in various cities, formed initially for the purpose of justice for Rohith, soon transformed into joint action committees (of a variety of mass organisations) for social justice, with a definite caste annihilation agenda.

Even states where such committees did not emerge could not remain untouched by this anti-caste wave.

Its effects were wide enough to reactivate long dormant organisations formed during earlier periods of struggle. One such organisation was the Dalit Panthers of Gujarat, which gave a call for Gujarat bandh on July 20, 2016 to protest the Una atrocity.


Resistance with a difference

Some features stand out prominently in the present round of anti-caste struggles.

Very significant has been the near absence of demands for concessions. The subject of reservations, for example, which figured prominently in many earlier struggles has been near absent this time around.

Rather, a key anti-reservation campaigner – Prakash Ambedkar – has been seen at the helm of quite a few of the post- Rohith Vemula battles.

In fact, the agitations erupting independently in various corners of the country have had a distinct focus on issues related to an end to caste discrimination and oppression.

Another key point of departure from previous campaigns is the considerable mobilisation from non-Dalit sections in the present anti-caste struggles.

While Dalit contingents continue to constitute the vanguard, the present movement has seen a wide mobilisation from other castes, which have normally stood on the other side of the caste divide.

The other notable difference has been the conspicuous lack of dependence on assistance from the State apparatus.

Earlier movements have often devoted considerable energies to lobbying with ministers and other ruling class eminences to achieve their demands through administrative or judicial action.

But repeated blatant collusion by a casteist police and a near-zero conviction rate under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 have drastically downsized expectations. The present movement seems to be concentrating on mass mobilisation on the streets to achieve its goals.


But the most important feature perhaps is a near absence of established political parties and their mass organisations in the initiation and leadership of the resistance.

Disillusionment with a discredited political leadership – particularly Dalit party leaders – is widespread.

While many have later on tried to jump on to the bandwagon, some like Ramdas Athawale have even had to suffer the ignominy of being turned away by agitators. Students and youth and lower level activists have often been the ones to launch and lead the struggles. This has given this movement a level of spontaneity not seen before.

It is this spontaneity that is its strength, as well as its weakness. It is indicative of the wellspring of discontent that is feeding and will continue for some more time to feed this anti-caste upsurge.

It shows how wide the feeling among younger sections is that the time has come to topple the centuries-old edifice of discrimination and oppression.

A movement, however, needs to grow a leadership and organisation to take it ahead. Thus far the signs of this emerging are few and far between.

It will require to develop through a more conscious and consolidated process, if the present movement is to prove a great leap forward on the revolutionary road towards the demolition of the caste system.



by Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


What Modi told Cameron about Kashmir’s self-determination

The two leaders have a heart-to-heart conversation on the ex British PM’s last day in office.

On his last day at 10, Downing Street, a gloomy British prime minister David Cameron decides, on an impulse, to personally express his thanks to some heads of government he’s known during his period in office. The calls are short and businesslike.

Not so when it reaches the Indian prime minister. Narendra Modi feels that Cameron needs consolation, but could also do with a bit of advice (it is also easier to advise the leader of a P5 state when he is out of power). After initial pleasantries the conversation goes something like this:

Modi: Brother, I hope you don’t mind it, but I must tell you that calling all those referendums was wrong.

Cameron: What “all” referendums? I had only two – Brexit and Scottish independence.

M: But two is too many bhai. You should only have such things when you are very, very sure to win.

C: Yes, yes, I thought that I would win. That’s why I called the referendum, but something went wrong. But nevertheless, we have to have voting in a democracy.

M: Yes brother, of course, of course. We know that. We are the world’s largest democracy you know. We have elections all the time – parliamentary elections, Assembly elections, municipal and panchayat elections. We even have elections in Kashmir. And if they don’t want to vote our army boys see that they vote. They push the Kashmiris to exercise their democratic right. We make sure that our democracy works.

C: But some issues are very important. You need to have a referendum.

M: It’s there in your constitution?

C: No, no. We don’t even have a written constitution.

M: Then? How can you make such a mistake? See us. Our Delhi CM is asking for a referendum for full powers for his state government. We said nothing doing, not in our constitution. We called him an anti-constitutional anarchist.

Of course, when we wanted to have a referendum to takeover another state, Sikkim, we had a referendum. But at that time we had made sure everything went our way. Our army first took over the king’s palace and put him under house arrest and then, within five days, we had the referendum. No one was there to oppose us, no debate – 98 per cent voted in our favour. You have to make sure in a democracy brother.


C: It’s not the same everywhere Modiji.

M: I know. But the referendums you guys take give us the shivers. I was really tense during your Scottish vote. If it had gone against you, we would have had real problems. Would have given a boost to all our independence lovers here. Demands for a Kashmir vote would have got stronger.

C: But your Nehru promised the UN he would hold a plebiscite.

M: No problem with that. I too would have done that in 1948. The Indian people had been fighting so long for freedom; Nehru had to make a show that we were for freedom for all peoples. I’m sure from the beginning he had no intention of having a plebiscite in Kashmir. He knew we could never win. It was only where he knew we would definitely win, in a place in Gujarat, that he immediately had a vote – only 91 votes went against us.


C: But Kashmir won’t agree so easily. There seem to be massive stone-pelting protests on at the moment – against killing of a leader of the armed struggle there.

M: That? We know well how to deal with that. We just increase the numbers of security forces. It already is the world’s topmost militarised zone. As long as we can convince the Indian people that these protesters are terrorists from Pakistan, we have nothing to bother.

C: But those protesters are not terrorists are they?

M: Did I say they were? You miss the point brother. I said that we only have to convince the Indian people that the Kashmiris are all terrorists… for that we have a good cooperative media who only give the government version. We just have a few troublemakers whom we can set right. On Kashmir even all our opposition parties are good fellows – whatever we do, they won’t say a word against the government.

C: Dozens are dying, hundreds have been injured.

M: Some blood has to be spilt. But nothing to worry. See, I did not even have to cancel or cut short my Africa tour. Even during all the firings and killings in Kashmir, I was busy in South Africa spreading Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence. It is very important for the world to see me as a follower of the Mahatma – you see I still have to get over all those charges on me of mass killings in Gujarat in 2002. There are some human rights wallahs who go on and on after me.

C: I know those types. They have been going on after poor Tony Blair for Iraq war crimes. I don’t know how it will be for me after I’m out of power. I too have a war crimes complaint against me for bombing Syria – by some Scottish independence partymen. After Brexit vote they are demanding a new Scotland referendum and they may win this time. I’m worried.

M: Don’t bother too much Davidbhai. The Americans will have to see that none of their friends face trial for war. We may talk of peace but we need war all the time, at all times. Even the Mahatma recruited soldiers for your wars. War and violence are necessities recognised by all. The important thing is to be on the winning side. Only losers can get punished as war criminals.

C: But Modiji, you better do something about Kashmir.

M: Yes, yes, we have got some good suggestions from the Israelis. We are putting them into practice. We are trying some army settlements and some fortified Kashmiri Pandit settlements – how the Zionists did in Palestine.

If we manage to change the demography then we can definitely go for a referendum for Kashmiri self-determination. We can show that we also uphold the right to self-determination in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which we ratified in 1979.


[The pleasant exchange of views comes to an abrupt end with Samantha reminding Cameron that it is time he left for Buckingham Palace to hand in his resignation.]

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


From HCU to JNU, it’s worrying how Modi sarkar is cleaning up India’s campuses

Teachers come under attack as institutions move to sweep out dissent.

In the wake of the students’ spring that swept the country’s campuses during the last academic year, the Union government is naturally bent on taking steps to stem the tide of unrest.

It was the government, and particularly the HRD ministry, that was at the heart of many of the conflicts with the students – at IIT-Madras, Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), University Grants Commission (UGC), University of Hyderabad (UoH), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and elsewhere – and it is the government that potentially holds the keys to their solution.

However, anyone anticipating a conciliatory approach to meet student demands and resolve the conflicts would be sorely disappointed.

Rather, the government seems to be promising more of the same thing – further appointments of unqualified PM loyalists (like cricketerChetan Chauhan) to head institutions and a proposal on New Educational Policy that wants curbs on campus politics and derecognition of caste- and religion-based organisations (like the SC-ST associations which were active in the movement for Justice for Rohit Vemula).

Political cleansing of ‘Socrates’ who ‘corrupt the youth’

Simultaneously, the HRD ministry, in close coordination with the home ministry and the ABVP – the Sangh Parivar’s student wing – is moving to the next step on its agenda for eradication of all dissent on the campuses.

It looks like a programme for swachh universities, politically cleansed of all divergent ideas. In this phase, it seems that teachers with views against the ruling dispensation will be as much the targets as student activists. The government’s logic appears to be that it first needs to condemn and pluck out the “Socrates” who are “corrupting the youth” against the ruling dispensation.


Indications of these were available in February and March this year. There were police complaints by Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) and ABVP against a speech on nationalism at JNU by Nivedita Menon.

And when Rajesh Misra of the University of Lucknow shared on Facebook an article favouring JNU activist Umar Khalid, he had to face violent ABVP protests and notices from the university administration.

Earlier, Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey was sacked in January 2016 from the faculty of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), and Prof Saibaba of Delhi University was suspended and even physically attacked for sympathising with Naxalites.

As the new academic year commenced in June-July 2016, the UoH moved, on June 13, 2016, to suspend KY Ratnam and Tathagat Sengupta, two professors who had stood with the students fighting for Justice for Rohit Vemula.

They had, in March 2016, been arrested when they remonstrated with the police during a lathi-charge on protesting students. Their suspension met with strong protests by students and teachers in Hyderabad and other centres and the UoH administration was forced to beat a hasty retreat and revoke the suspension.

IB-ABVP combine

Meanwhile, other reports came in of removal of professors at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, another deemed university.

The ABVP has, over the last few months, been repeatedly announcing that TISS was its next target after JNU.

They also met the TISS director S Parasuraman in April 2016 with a list of “anti-social elements” on campus. They even listed to a journalist the leftists in the faculty and boasted of their access to Intelligence Bureau (IB) reports about the activities of TISS fellows.

With such blatantly announced close coordination between central intelligence agencies and Sangh Parivar organisations, pressure on the TISS authorities to remove teachers who were difficult to control was bound to be high.

Bela Bhatia, who has even served on the Planning Commission committee on left-wing extremism, had been edged out in the midst of a course she was teaching in 2014.

Sanober Keshwar, who has taught for seven years and was listed as a teacher in six courses for the new academic year, was abruptly sacked by removing her office phone and blocking her TISS mail access even before telling her, in the second week of June 2016, of her removal. Another teacher, Monica Sakhrani, too has been abruptly moved out.

All of them have been active on democratic rights issues for several years and would be seen as obstacles to the Sangh Parivar plans.

Witch-hunts in academia 

As the ruling party organisations and State organs work in close collaboration to target their ideological rivals in the universities, the stage is being set for witch-hunts in the academia. It is reminiscent of the McCarthy era purges in post-Second World War US which were largely done by the FBI under Edgar Hoover. The spread of the IB on campuses is also being supplemented by surveillance by the local police.

In Mumbai, the police zone that covers the TISS has started a survey of all colleges for student and faculty details. While one college head saw this as police interference which was not required, TISS director Parsuraman said it was the TISS administration that had requested police officials to make the rounds of the institute and its vicinity.

Such methods are bound to face opposition from students and teachers alike. It remains to be seen whether such resistance will be able to preserve the much needed democratic space in our universities.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


Battle for Bastar: Putting down a people’s war

Such repression quite invariably begets resistance of a long term nature.

Mission 2016, launched in October 2015, after national security adviser Ajit Doval and special security adviser (internal security) K Vijay Kumar’s visits to Chhattisgarh, reportedly has its target set for the calendar year – of achieving the objective of wiping out Maoists from Bastar.

An array of instruments has been brought into play, ranging from mass sexual assault carried out by police and paramilitary teams to deploying space satellite imagery by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), with the security forces announcing in May 2016 that they are “expecting to wipe out the Maoists in Bastar area even before the arrival of monsoon season.”


Such expectations have been voiced before. Congress leader P Chidambaram, after assuming charge as home minister in late 2008, had forecast a three-year limit for succeeding in his policy of “Clear Hold Build” to clear the way for corporations that had signed MOUs for exploiting the mineral wealth in the jungles of Naxal-controlled areas.

Again, in July 2010, he set a fresh three year target. By 2014, the new home minister, Rajnath Singh, was rehashing the same policy under a slightly different name – Clear Hold Develop. He too promised quick results, but reports for 2015-16 did not prove him right. Mission 2016 too can be expected to remain unaccomplished.

A brutal war without witnesses

The lack of success, however, cannot be blamed on the lack of attempt. The best military and security brains in the government have continuously been on the job. Successive governments at the Centre have, with ample enhancements of the war budget, dramatically increased the numbers of armed forces and the quality of their weaponry.

Officers like SRP Kalluri, who have a long history of disregarding the rule of law, have been handpicked to lead the fight in this war. Immense cruelties such as gang rape, widespread false encounters andfake mass “surrenders” have become the order of the day. Journalists, lawyers and human rights activists have forcibly been evicted to ensure a “War without Witnesses”.


Use of Air Force and space vehicles

Despite the blatant lopsidedness, the government has not been able to achieve anything near the progress it desires in the war on the ground. This has, in turn, often prompted the planners to seek solutions that would rely on its total monopoly on aerial and other technologies and can be operated from afar.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been introduced as early as 2010. Strafing and bombardment by the Indian Air Force (IAF) have always been considered and now the IAF has a dedicated ANTF (Anti-Naxal Task Force) under an air commodore, which has conducted strafing expeditions in Bijapur in October 2015 and Sukma in April 2016.

May 2016 brings reports of the use of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s space satellites for the war in Bastar.

Air power, with the wanton destruction, misery and loss of life it implies, is rarely used by a government within its own boundaries, against the people it should consider its own. It is now more than fifty years since the IAF was used to bomb Aizawl in Mizoram in March 1966.

The central government, however, seems firm on its decision to repeat this history in Bastar.

Economic and political divide

This decision perhaps exemplifies the antagonism of economic interest and political stance that divides Delhi from Dantewada. Delhi obviously will stop at nothing to show the staunchness of its commitment to the class that wants the forests cleared of the adivasis who stand in the way of corporate super profits.

Dantewada obviously has no option but to fight for survival and against annihilation. More importantly, the seat of power at Delhi cannot obviously tolerate the challenge to its might that the alternative from Dantewada represents.

Airpower and other modern technologies may seem efficient, but have rarely delivered the solutions expected by those who deploy them. The Aizawl bombing did not crush the Mizo people’s resistance in the way Delhi expected.

A guerilla war continued for twenty years until a political settlement was reached in 1986.

Air war versus people’s war

International experience is even more instructive. The USA, with the most powerful technologies on earth at its disposal, has been successful in most air wars against opposing armies and air force, but has singularly failed on the ground when faced with the resistance of ordinary people.

Recent examples are Iraq and Afghanistan. Their technologies were a colossal failure in a place like Vietnam where they faced a People’s Army fighting a People’s War.


The People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA), which the government forces confront in Bastar, also operates according to the classic Maoist principles of People’s War. Though nowhere comparable to the People’s Liberation Armies of China and Vietnam, the PLGA too has displayed considerable resilience in withstanding and growing amidst repeated waves of government attacks in Bastar since 1980.

Its forces in Bastar are composed almost completely of the local adivasi population and have been shown to rely completely on the people.

This force, however, with its limited technologies, cannot be expected to be much of a match against IAF bombardment, drones and ISRO satellites. Its ability to counter when the strafing starts and bombs fall is doubtful. The extent of destruction and human misery that will follow can only be imagined.

But will that mean victory for the government? The history of such wars seems to suggest otherwise. Such repression quite invariably begets resistance of a long term nature.

And if the PLGA were then to adopt the classic guerilla tactic of dispersing its forces to other areas facing the same brunt of corporate-driven “development” policies, there would be the probability of the conflict spreading.

The government will then be faced with the Math question that Arundhati Roy once asked: “How many soldiers will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?”

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


How the State makes Muslims pay for Hindutva terror

The court discharged nine accused in the 2006 Malegaon blasts case, which was an indictment of former ATS chief KP Raghuvanshi.

KP Raghuvanshi, former chief of Maharashtra’s anti-terrorism squad (ATS), was understandably absent from the media glare around the Mumbai special MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) court’s order of April 25, 2016 that discharged nine Muslim accused from all charges in the Malegaon bomb blasts case of 2006.

The retired additional director general of police had led the ATS investigation of the Malegaon blasts as well as the Mumbai train blasts of 2006. Just a few months earlier, in September 2015, he had been prominently present in the MCOCA court at the time of the delivery of the train blasts case judgment, handing out sound bites and interviews to the electronic and print media alike. This time around, however, he was nowhere near the court.

Just three days before the court discharged the nine accused in the Malegaon case, Raghuvanshi had appeared in a lengthy exclusive interview with Times Now’s Arnab Goswami on prime time television (see video below) defending his investigation and implication of the nine accused and expressing confidence in the trial court.

Goswami, in his typical media trial fashion, had even delivered a verdict that he “believed” Raghuvanshi’s version. However, when the actual trial court ruling came, Raghuvanshi was unavailable even to the Times Group. Times of India reported that he was “not available for comment, despite repeated attempts by TOI“.


ATS involved in serious offences

Raghuvanshi’s reticence obviously stemmed from the court’s systematic demolition of his chargesheet and its drawing of conclusions which pointed categorically to Raghuvanshi and his men being involved in a string of actions that actually amounted to serious offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The ATS case rested on the confessions extracted from eight of the accused, one of whom was targeted to be made approver against the rest. When the case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) the confessions were all shown to be obtained under duress, making them worthless as evidence under section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act.

It was found by the NIA that the confessions in most cases could not be true as there was conclusive proof that the accused were actually at places other than they were shown to be in the confessions. Accused number two, Shabbir Ahmad, was actually in judicial custody at the time he was shown in the chargesheet to be participating in actions relating to the blasts. The obtaining of such false confessions, under duress, is an offence punishable with imprisonment up to seven years under section 195A and section 330 of the IPC.

The other important evidence proffered by the ATS was the matching of soil samples from the blast site and the godown of accused number two which was shown to also contain RDX. The NIA verified this and found “that the panchas/witnesses who are shown on the panchanama of lifting soil were not present at the time of collecting the soil samples but present at some other place” (para 59 of the MCOCA court order).

Such a discovery which has been upheld by the court is an extremely serious finding amounting to an offence committed by Raghuvanshi and his investigating team of fabricating evidence with intent to procure conviction for a crime, which is punishable under section 194 of the IPC with life imprisonment. It also raises questions regarding the source of the RDX shown, pointing to possible offences under explosives and terror laws. This would require a separate investigation.

The court also debunked the core of the ATS’ case to be “highly impossible and improbable” and “not a digestible story”. The ATS showed that the accused were making bombs and holding key conspiracy meetings in the godown of Shabbir, accused number two, when Shabbir himself was in custody in a case under investigation by the ATS. Few things could be less believable.

The judge also found the “basic foundation or the object” behind the blasts shown by the ATS to be “not acceptable to a man of ordinary prudence”. He didn’t believe the tale that a Muslim group aiming to stir up Hindu-Muslim riots had targeted a Muslim religious occasion rather than the Ganesh idol immersion that had just preceded the Muslim holy day. He concluded that the nine Muslim accused were innocent and had been made scapegoats by the ATS and therefore ordered their immediate discharge from the case.

Discharge is not justice enough

The discharged accused welcomed the court’s pronouncement with tears of relief and prayers of thanksgiving. When one of the authors (Vernon) spent time with them in jail in 2007-’08 they had come across as simple men who had wrongly been framed.

Though they had been shown to be leading activists of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and operatives of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), they did not show any signs that they shared the ideology and approach of these organisations.

They spent their time in jail trying to be of some help to their fellow prisoners. Shabbir had some knowledge of acupressure and his skills were constantly on call – even by the jail staff. Sridhar, one of the co-accused, had his arthritic knees attended to by Shabbir.

Vernon got advice on management of bleeding piles from accused number five, Farogh, when he met him in prison. Farogh was one of the two unani doctors implicated in the case. Their jail-time simplicity seems to have continued outside and most of them have not asked for anything more than the present court judgment.

But would the MCOCA court judgment suffice? On the day after the judgment, India Today TV’s Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted, “No outrage here? no hashtags/trends? No ‘framing’? Who will give these men back their 10 years?”

Others have called for compensation and punishment of the officers responsible. These calls for justice are correct and will probably go before the higher judiciary.

Deeper conspiracy of the higher-ups

Justice in a courtroom, however, cannot address a problem that goes somewhat deeper and extends much higher than Raghuvanshi and his men. Malegaon in 2006 was after all only one in a series of bombings of Muslim targets during 2003-2006, that included Parbhani, Purna, Jalna in Maharashtra, Modasa in Gujarat, Hyderabad, Ajmer and Delhi and also the attack on the Samjhauta Express.

Most of these were falsely pinned on innocent Muslim men, thus leaving the field open for the actual culprits to continue their terror plans. It was only after the cracking of the Malegaon blasts case of 2008 during the eight-month tenure of slain ATS chief Hemant Karkare that further investigations were made, which made it clear that all these were the handiwork of Hindutva-inspired modules engaged in a deep conspiracy with links to the higher echelons of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and even the state apparatus. As the links started reaching higher there was a definite slowdown in the investigations during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule.

With the coming of the BJP in Delhi, there has been a systematic endeavour to subvert the cases. Investigators, prosecutors and witnesses have been pushed to toe the Centre’s line. The cap was blown on this by the senior public prosecutor in the Malegaon 2008 case, Rohini Salian, who disclosed how she had been told by the NIA to go soft on the pro-Hindu group Abhinav Bharat that is believed to have been a part of the conspiracy.

She was later removed as prosecutor. This plan of going “soft” on the Hindutva terror accused seems also to go hand-in-hand with going “hard” on Muslim accused. This was on display in the discharge of the nine Muslim accused a few days back, and the court order itself referred to the NIA doing a volte face. It had shifted from a “no evidence” stand of 2013 to a “no discharge” stand in 2016.

With such directions from the top to the premier agency investigating these blasts, it should come as no surprise that most of the witnesses are turning hostile in the trials of Hindutva accused and there is only a remote chance of any of them getting convicted. This fixing of the court trials is then being used in recent months to run parallel media trials where the principal accused, particularly Lt Col Prasad Purohit, are beind declared innocent.


Thus the support to these terror accused, which was relatively discreet in the UPA days, is now on open display. It emanates from the highest levels of government and the state apparatus and from significant sections of the media and civil society.

It is the type of support that aims at nurturing “our” Hindutva terror gangs that will supposedly keep the “other” communities in check. It is the type of support that the Pakistani ruling classes displayed for years to “their” terror operatives until things got totally out of hand. It will require more than courts of law to handle this malaise, if we are not to tread the path traversed by our neighbour.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


Prison hunger strikes are part of struggle for azadi and democracy

When the cases are false, the authorities try all means to extend the period of the trial.

Naxalism, Odisha, Prison Reform

It is a battle for democracy and justice, a battle for azadi. It does not have the sound and lights and the cadence of the catchy “azadi” sloganeering of the current student agitations.

But that does not make it less of a fight for rights and freedoms than any of the other struggles that have captured the imagination of the country and its media over the last few months.

It is a silent, grim, almost wordless fight that is going on right now in Odisha, behind the walls of Bhubaneshwar’s Jharpada Special Prison.

There are no marches, no speeches, just a bare statement, by seven prisoners, asking for implementation of the most basic fundamental rights granted by law and by the country’s highest constitutional court – the right to a speedy trial and the right to be produced regularly from prison in order to be present at one’s own trial.

Those raising these demands are undertrial prisoners, mostly tribals and Dalits, implicated in cases of Naxalite violence. But the only violence in this struggle is the violence caused to their own bodies by their chosen mode of protest – hunger strike.

As these words are being written, the ongoing hunger strike of the political prisoners in Odisha, which began on March 30, 2016, is in its third week. This is the stage when the medical condition of the person on hunger strike worsens dramatically and it becomes difficult to even stand.

Two of the seven hunger strikers have already been shifted to hospital. The authorities, however, are not showing any signs of acceding to any of the demands. In fact, the delays in trial are mainly owing to deliberate non-appearance of police witnesses on several dates.

Since the cases are false and mostly end in acquittal, the authorities try all means to extend the period of trial so that the prisoners remain as long as possible in jail as undertrials. The police are in no mood now to give up this strategy.

The experience of the Odisha political prisoners is nothing new. Arun Ferreira (one of the authors of this article) had himself undergone a 27-day-long hunger strike along with 12 other political prisoners at the Nagpur Central Prison in 2008.

The demand of the hunger strike then too was a mere implementation of the law. They were demanding a stop to the illegal practice of re-arresting political prisoners at the prison gates immediately on their acquittal and release in earlier cases.

A recent example was the two-month-long hunger strike in August-September 2015 by 26/11 Mumbai attacks accused Zabiuddin Ansari at the Arthur Road Prison in Mumbai. He was protesting his illegal solitary confinement and non-production in court.

Thus the demands of these and numerous other strikes of political prisoners over the years have mostly been to merely secure implementation of the law and to stop violations of rights guaranteed under the Constitution.


Prisons follow colonial standard operating procedure for hunger strikes

It is, however, rare that the prison and police authorities accede to the demands of political prisoners. The standard practice is to turn a deaf ear to even the most reasonable of demands while ensuring that the prisoners on hunger strike are kept completely cut off, not only from the society outside, but also from the other prisoners. During the present Odisha prison struggle, the striking prisoners have been denied all visits – even by close relatives or defence lawyers.

Meanwhile, while keeping each hunger striker separate, all attempts are made to dupe or tempt them into giving up the strike. If such attempts fail, the next method is force-feeding. This standard operating procedure was laid down during British rule and is still followed in all the prisons of the country. It is mostly successful in breaking a hunger strike without acceding to the demands.

In spite of the low possibility of the administration agreeing to their demands, political prisoners still very often resort to hunger strike. As Arun has explained, hunger strike is often the only option to get basic human rights in prison. This was also the approach of the revolutionary prisoners during the struggle against British rule.

Bhagat Singh launched several such hunger strikes during his period in jail. It was during one such hunger strike in 1929 that the revolutionary Jatin Das gave up his life after going 63 days without food. His death anniversary on September 13 is commemorated to this day by political prisoners in jails across the country. His protest was against the discrimination between Indian and European prisoners and the inhuman conditions in prisons. Soon after his death, some changes came about.

Hunger strikes in prisons increase the democratic space

Even if demands are not immediately agreed to, the mere assertion and determination involved in a hunger strike in prison is an announcement to those who rule that the political prisoner is not one to take things lying down.

This in itself often manages to open up a democratic space where none existed and forces a re-working of the equations of power in jails. When such struggles are repeated by the same prisoners and by future batches of prisoners, the administration is forced to give in to some, if not all the demands.

The results of such repeated struggles can be seen in better prison conditions in places where political prisoners have fought for their rights, such as Punjab, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Struggles have even forced the administration and judiciary to ensure better implementation of the principle of bail as the rule and jail as the exception.

In most states, however, prison conditions continue to be extremely inhuman with the deliberate violation of most constitutional guarantees. It was Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky who said: “The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

By that yardstick, the civilisational standard of our society would be pretty low. But all is not bleak. Struggles in prisons, like the present one in Odisha, are growing. Many of these struggles may not achieve their immediate demands. But they will nevertheless make their own significant contribution to the ongoing struggle for azadi and true democracy.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


Students Spring advances amidst violent State onslaught

Latest phase of student movement draws new centres and sections into ideological battle

Finance minister Arun Jaitley’s latest claim to ideological victory in the nationalism debate seems to have a more timid tone than his earlier assertion of triumph. Earlier, while speaking at the National Convention of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) on March 6, he claimed, rather grandiosely, to have won the “ideological war”. His claim, made just three days after JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar’s release from jail, was based on the Jai Hind slogan Kanhaiya raised and the tricolor that was waved at JNU during his release speech. Interpreting these acts as acceptance of defeat, the BJP ideological general’s proclamation had the degree of finality one normally associates with the adversary signing a document of surrender.

Just 20 days later, Jaitley’s claims had been considerably scaled down. While addressing the Executive Committee meeting of Delhi BJP Jaitley continued to claim “victory”, but this time he merely said that it was the first round that had been won and that the ideological battle would continue. A very significant section to call Jaitley’s bluff was within his very camp.

The lieutenants in his army had been quick to realize that the students’ movement was far from defeated. As Jaitley was speaking to the BJYM, one of its district chiefs had even announced a five lakh reward for Kanhaiya’s tongue; another organisation offered eleven lakh for Kanhaiya’s head. Such calls and the wide applause they received from the Sangh Parivar foot-soldiers on the social media battlefield, could hardly have emerged from victorious ideological warriors. They rather resembled the reactions of the school bully who resorts to strong-arm methods to recover ground lost in an argument.


Violence on students continues and grows

Strong-arm has been and continues to be an inseparable part of Jaitley’s ideological war against the students. In the earlier phase in the University of Hyderabad (UoH), when the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) was in constant retreat in the face of the growing ideological influence of Rohit Vemula’s Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA), the power of government was brought into play to punish the students with a central minister branding them as casteist, extremist and anti-national. Students later protesting for #JusticeForRohithVemula were physically attacked by RSS members in Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and other places. The JNU phase saw a cocktail of coercion: FIRs and arrests based on doctored videos, violence by BJP affiliated lawyers, Sangh mobilisation of surrounding neighbourhoods to attack JNU student residents. The latest upsurge of student agitation following last week’s re-installation of the UoH Vice-chancellor has seen brutal use of police, not only in Hyderabad, but also in Kozhikode, Chennai, Mumbai and elsewhere.

The widespread and growing use of violence by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar organisations, both directly and by deploying the government’s coercive apparatus lays bare the lie of the Jaitley claim to victory in the clash of ideas. No ideological victor needs to resort to armed might to seal an argument from which s/he has emerged triumphant.

It is obvious that the Sangh Parivar and its government is experiencing an unusually high level of insecurity in the face of the rising tide of the students movement and the unsettling stirring of ideas it has generated. Challenges to caste discrimination in academia, outright rejection of Dronacharya and Manu and the audacious dream of annihilation of caste; interrogations of nationalism and assertions of the right of nations to self-determination; determined defence of dissent and radical redefinition and re-imagination of existing premises and promises of democracy are all ideas which have, in the last two and half months, broken free of the narrowness of small group discussion behind university walls and have forced themselves onto the streets and into public spaces in ways they have not done before in recent times. It is this churn that the ruling party and its government are trying to violently put down.


New centres and issues of struggle

The physical violence is viciously one-sided with only one receiving end – the students. The numbers too are definitely stacked up heavily against them, with only a minority in the country being today supportive of ideas of caste annihilation, azadi and dissent. The David-Goliath face-off should have, by all conventional ruling class calculations been a walkover. Something however went horribly wrong (for those in power) and the students succeeded in turning traditional wisdom on its head. Rohith Vemula’s death became a historical rallying point that brought in an extremely wide ranging coalition of forces to demand #JusticeForRohith. While the motives of some supporters like the Congress were largely suspect, the Rohith movement generated genuine, active participation of a wide spectrum of students and youth from various regions, classes, castes and communities who are ready to not only fight against the immediate injustice, but also to carry it ahead towards the goals of social justice and annihilation of caste.

The movement seriously impacted the Sangh Parivar plans to make inroads into Dalit communities and appropriate the legacy of Ambedkar in his 125th Birth Anniversary year. The BJP, whose Central ministers were the prime focus of attack, was thrown on the backfoot and found it impossible to effectively tackle the challenge head on. The Parivar therefore chose the path of diversion by selecting what they thought would be an easier battle-ground – that of nationalism and the question of Kashmir. Their elaborate plan complete with doctored videos by crony media and sedition cases by a compliant police commissioner however had not taken into account the determination of the average JNU student and teacher and of the student and teaching community across the country to stand up in defence of dissent.

Broader and deeper student unity

After some initial “success” in using the bogey of anti-nationalism to divert and divide those standing for #JusticeForRohith, the Parivar plan was beaten back by a student unity that refused to see any difference between the anti-national branding of Rohith Vemula and the anti-national branding of the JNU students who organised the programme on Afzal Guru. At universities across the country, the sight of red flags mingling with blue amidst cries of Jai Bhim-Lal Salaam became the new nightmare of the Sangh Parivar. As azadi became the new war cry resounding at every student protest meet, it became the slogan uniting those fighting for various types of azadi – from azadi from poverty and caste oppression to the azadi to choose one’s own nationalist slogan or not at all. The green flags of Muslim student organisations are also being raised in protest as they join in significant numbers.


The latest phase of this ongoing Student Spring has followed the attempt by the vice-chancellor of the UoH, an accused in the death of Rohith Vemula, to sneak back to his seat in the early morning of March 22. The ones who planned this from the seat of government grossly underestimated the intensity and unity of the resistance to the VC’s return. Despite tough police action and even arrests in Hyderabad, solidarity demonstrations have been a daily occurrence in several universities across the country, often resulting in clashes with the police or Sangh Parivar organisations.

In fact more centres, more universities, more organisations and students have been adding their voices in support. The increase in numbers has also meant wider differences in ideological orientation with an increase in the criticism on each other within the movement. This criticism, often conducted openly on social media sites, does not seem to have however hampered the unity and expansion of the students’ movement. In fact openness of criticism and openness to criticism can actually have helped to cement a more mature and wider unity.

Meanwhile the responses from the other side have been marked by a lack of credibility and coherence. Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu have both recently tried to debunk the ongoing student movement as the work of a handful of ultra-leftists and a few Jihadis or separatists in two-three universities. Considering the impact the student movement has had on the country’s political discourse over the last two and half months these statements seem to be quite an exercise in self-delusion.

Just a week after the BJP National Executive passed a resolution stating that refusal to say Bharat Mata ki Jai was unacceptable, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of its parent organization, the RSS made a statement that the slogan cannot be forced upon the people. These confusions and general disarray in the face of an advancing students’ movement can only be expected to increase in the coming weeks.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira



Sexual violence by armed forces rising, and Modi wants to celebrate Women’s Day?

The more immediate and ongoing tragedy is occurring in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district.

The yearly sarkari tokenism around International Women’s Day reached a new low with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal that this year “only women parliamentarians should speak in Parliament on March 8”.

The stark emptiness of the proposal was provided by the context across the country, where attacks on women and the suppression of their voices have seen no let up and there have hardly been any real steps to remedy the situation.


The harsh irony is most sharply evident in the conflict zones of the country, where it is the government’s forces themselves which have been accused of the worst type of atrocities against women.

Around the time the prime minister was making his suggestion for Women’s Day celebrations, the Kashmir Valley was resounding with protests marking 25 years of awaiting justice for the victims of the Kunan-Poshpora rapes of February 23, 1991. The case against Rajputana Rifles personnel lies pending before the Supreme Court. Manipur’s 12-year-old Manorama rape and murder case against Assam Rifles personnel similarly remains pending before the courts.

Sharp spurt in sexual assaults by police

The more immediate and ongoing tragedy is occurring, however, in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district. There, the paramilitary forces, police and state-sponsored vigilante gangs have over the last few months been on a continuous campaign of loot, sexual molestation and rape.

After a fact-finding visit to the area, Nandini Sundar, professor of Sociology at the Delhi University reports: “Between October 19-24, 2015, 40 women of Peddagelur, Budgicheru and Gundam villages were sexually assaulted, beaten, and stripped by the security forces; two women were gang raped. On January 12, six women from Kunna village in Sukma district were sexually assaulted and between January 11 and 14, 13 women were gangraped in Belam-Nendra village in Bijapur district. In all these cases, the rapes were accompanied by extreme physical and verbal abuse, and the looting of their homes.”


Violence on women and other human rights violations in Bastar by the security forces most often remain unrecorded and unnoticed by the outside world. This time, however, it was somewhat different.

Over the past three years, first with the moving in of three women lawyers of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG) in 2013 and later with the release and return of adivasi political prisoner and activist, Soni Sori in 2014, the villagers of Bastar have been better able to organise themselves to try and reclaim their legal rights and even to protest atrocities through mass mobilisation, often directed at forcing the police to register crimes in this regard.

In 2015, the noted scholar Bela Bhatia and Scroll.in journalist Malini Subramaniam also moved to Bastar. They, too, played a significant role in taking the stories of blatant law violations and repression and torture of the local population to the outside world.

A repressive police machinery is always allergic to the truth. Soni Sori’s leadership through padayatras and demonstrations, JagLAG reports of false implication and incarcerations of hundreds of innocent tribals, Bela Bhatia’s push for registration of FIRs against rapist cops and Malini Subramaniam’s posts on forced surrenders and numerous other unlawful practices all posed a threat to the unquestioned criminal acts of the law machinery.

Forced eviction of activists, lawyers and journalists

At first, indirect threats to fall in line and not oppose the police were given. When these did not have effect, the next step was to apply the brand of Naxal or Maoist on the local population and launch open campaigns against them. Bar Associations under BJP leadership passed resolutions against the lawyers as outsiders and tried to prevent them from practising in the courts.

Organisations propped up by the police with names like Samajik Ekta Manch, Nagrik Ekta Manch, Vikas Sangharsh Samiti, started demonstrating and issuing threats and even resorted to acts of violence like stone-throwing on Malini’s house and car.

The next step was outright eviction. Landlords of the places where the JagLAG lawyers, and where Malini were staying were called to the police station and forced to serve notice on their tenants. They were thus forced to pack up and leave. Soni Sori was told that she did not have proper title to the house she was staying at.

When she did not back down, she was attacked and had some chemical substance applied to her face. With continuing threats to her life, she had to be taken outside Bastar for treatment.

The police under the leadership of Bastar region inspector general, SRP Kalluri, has announced Mission 2016 during which he promises to crush Naxalism in Bastar. This has seen a rapid rise in forced surrenders and false encounters, besides rapes and molestation of women.

Whole villages are being forced out with all young men being detained and tortured in police camps until they agree to fake surrenders. As pointed out earlier in these columns, the stage has already been set for aerial attacks, which could result in even thousands of deaths of Indian citizens.

As Mizoram this week commemorates the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Aizawl – the last time that the Indian Air Force (IAF) was used to attack the people within the country’s borders – it seems that similar operations may form part of Kalluri’s Mission 2016.

When Sri Lanka had launched a similar assault in Mullaitivu in the last phase of its war on the Tamil Tigers, it had been called a “war without witnesses”. Sri Lanka had first ensured that all journalists, human rights activists and observers were thrown out of the area. The similarities in the recent evictions from Bastar carry grim portents.

Bastar’s mothers and daughters in danger


As the dirty war deepens, women will likely face the major brunt. The record of the past few months shows that governments that thrive on slogans of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” have had no compunction in plotting and perpetrating sexual assaults and violations of the matas and daughters of Bastar. As the days grow darker the need to bear witness to the darkness and stand in opposition will be felt all the more. It is in this context that the absence of the activists recently ejected will be felt all the more.

The evicted activists have, however, vowed not to give up. The JagLAG members, in an interview, have said that though they have now been forced out of Bastar, they want to go back. Though severely scarred by the chemical attack, Soni Sori has declared that she will not bow down.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, she is even scheduled to address the students of JNU, some of who may well be inspired to rise in her support. The state, by clamping down, may actually be giving birth to new forces in opposition to it.

by Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira