Remembering Comrade Sridhar


18th August 2017. Two years since Comrade Sridhar passed on. Over a period of almost forty years Sridhar Srinivasan contributed in a variety of different ways to the revolutionary movement.

Though no longer with us, he lives on – in his writings and in the countless memories he has left behind. He continues to be the inspiration he always was. Many is the occasion, when confronted with an organisational or political issue, one has tried to measure up to it by a Sridhar yardstick – trying to figure how Sridhar would have looked at it or tried to solve it.

A small example of the Sridhar way is the letters he wrote from jail. Even a simple communication to his lawyer regarding a legal issue could become for him an opportunity to bond politically.

Adv Dhairyasheel Patil, Sridhar’s trial court lawyer, is not only one of the seniormost in the legal profession – he has served as Chairperson of the Bar Council of India; he is also one who keenly and actively participates in the political events of the day.

Sridhar’s letter below to Adv Patil, written in 2010 from Nagpur Central Prison, illustrates a connect somewhat beyond the normal political prisoner-lawyer relationship. Apart from the political commentary, the spirit of the letter has in it the potential to inspire, not only its recipient, but also those of us who read it several years later. A reading and re-reading provides many a lesson.

Dear Mr.Patil,

Here’s to hoping that 2010 will see the people’s struggles rescue Indian Marxism from the hole that the mainstream Marxists have pushed it into.  Just a few minutes ago, the transistor blaring in the corridor outside our cell reported the demise of Jyoti Basu.  It was depressing the way the worst reactionaries heaped encomiums on him.  Depressing because it once again brought home forcefully the abysmal depravity of these ‘Marxists’  who reduced the most  rebellious and radical ideology that man has created into a tame lap dog of the ruling classes.  Praise from Chidambaram and Arun Jaitley – any respectable human being should have been revolted, but I am sure Jyoti Basu  and also those of his ilk would have probably rejoiced as if it were the crowning glory of their lives. (Jyoti Basu from wherever people like him go to when they depart this world). 

There is probably some metaphorical significance in that this icon of defanged, truncated Marxism leaves this world just as the people of Lalgarh have begun to reclaim and resurrect Marxism to its pristine and exhilarating essence. It probably symbolises the process of the old and putrefying giving way to all that is fresh and fragrant.  There is this hint of a unique process of regeneration discernible in India.  In the history of Marxism it has often required the brilliance of individuals like Lenin and Mao to extricate Marxism from the abyss of revisionism and restore it to its rightful place in the van of the proletarian struggle.  But here in India the most advanced social science finds its saviour in the most ‘backward’ tribal people.  Marxism is being expounded and elaborated, not in a rich intellectual polemic or in studied treatises, but by the collective practice of an illiterate peasantry in the forests and mountains.  You may think I am romanticising things extravagantly (maybe so).  But then how else to view these movements in Lalgarh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh which are raising the most credible challenge to the ruling classes in the last 60 years.  And their challenge is not just a knee jerk reaction to deprivation but poses an alternative.  Implicit in the practice of this movement is the reassertion of all the fundamental principles of Marxist thought.  In the dialectic between theory and practice, here we find praxis leading theory by the nose.  Traditional and establishment Marxists are unable to grasp the character and essence of the movement and run behind flailing their hands, muttering inanities about violence, democracy, futility of armed struggle etc.  This movement has posed such questions which have confounded these intellectuals.  In the internet websites and columns of magazines like EPW you will find so many of these ‘wise’ men panicking at the way this movement has rendered them irrelevant and without a constituency (except for themselves). 

Undoubtedly the present people’s movement is not just some spontaneous upsurge, but the result of decades of work of a party whose hall mark has been an unswerving dedication to Marxist principles, determination to inseparably link themselves to the people and limitless capacity for sacrifice.  This party brought the theory to the people; now the people have owned it and surged ahead.  Theory now needs to keep pace with the praxis.  Maybe even the party which made all this possible too has lagged behind on drawing the correct theoretical lessons of successes and failures in this practice.  Very few of the Marxist intellectuals seem to be able to grasp or even sense the questions and challenges the movement faces or is itself raising.  Among a few who do attempt to grasp the issues or try to articulate it with some depth is one Saroj Giri.  Attached is another recent article of his which we found interesting especially since he has theoretically tried to present issues which the movement has raised in practice.  Hope you also find it interesting. 

To what extent the peoples movements will reclaim the Marxist heritage and render irrelevant the revisionist version will depend on how well the state’s offensive is repelled.  Chidambaram has wisely decided to disassociate himself from the operational name of his offensive.  He disclaimed any knowledge of ‘Green Hunt’.  He is not sure of a clear and decisive victory – so he talks of a long battle, that all those 70,000 troops are deployed to ensure ‘development’ etc.  He will not like to be burdened with a defeat or a festering war associated to him.  But unfortunately the current offensive has been irrevocably linked to him and he will not be able to wash his hands so easily.  However the balance in military terms is tilted in his favour.   However if he does not achieve significant military success in reasonable time the political initiative may tilt away from him. The consensus he has built behind him will slowly begin to crack. There are small hair line fractures already visible which seem to be coming from below.  Reformist social movements (who are essentially system status quoists), who always viewed the Maoists with anathema are more keen to distance themselves from the repressive state than from the Maoists. (A small but visible reversal of earlier trend).This was the situation a couple of years back.  Should these embryonic fault lines develop into a full blown fissure, spreading from below into the ranks of the ruling elite, then Chidambaram’s military advantage will be of no avail to him.  History shows that if asymmetric wars are stretched out over a long period then it is politics that will determine the outcome and not just military strength.  This is true even for the Maoists – something they should factor into their strategy and tactics. 

Any swing in the political balance of forces in favour of the movement cannot be easily achieved if the movement remains confined to tribal pockets.  Here in lies the Achilles heel of the Maoist movement – its immense weakness in the developed areas and urban centres.  If the Maoists succeed to build their movement in these areas it will strengthen them immensely and make it difficult for their enemies to defeat them.  All those who desire the flowering of Revolutionary Marxism in the country have no alternative but to pitch in and defend this movement from Chidambaram’s offensive.  Hope that 2010 will prove beneficial for the cause of revolutionary Marxism and democracy.

Now that we are ensconced in Nagpur jail we have been able to prod our cases along.  There has been some semblance of progress in this front.  Cases are getting committed to Sessions court and charges are being framed.  These sorts of things should have taken place as a matter of course much earlier.  But our worthy judicial system has the uncanny ability to make even these simple automatic steps in the trial of a person into occasions worthy of much rejoicing.  And jail instils a sense to appreciate small mercies.  But on the whole, things are undeniably slithering forward and who knows, in about 6 months, we may even have the first of our acquittals.  Insha’Allah.  

There is a bit of good news in the Mumbai matter.  An RTI enquiry has yielded a useful response.  It helps to establish the lie regarding the alleged seizure of explosives etc on the day of our arrest.  Attached is a copy of the reply.  Please inform as to what follow up needs to be done and also how we should use it to bring this evidence on record. 

Should we apply for bail in the Mumbai case?  We were thinking of applying for bail in cases here after achieving some acquittals. 

Earlier I had sent you a note regarding the matter of rearrests and foisting of cases after long periods of incarceration or at time of release after acquittal in all cases.  Can you suggest some ideas as to how we could challenge this in the higher judiciary? 

Hope you and your family are in good health.

Yours sincerely, Love Sridhar

17/1/2010

Saibaba, Maruti Suzuki and Aseemanand rulings: Burden of ‘development’ and Hindutva


Judiciary leans to favour a corporate development narrative; NIA remains soft on Hindutva terror.

“Saibaba ko phaasi do” was the slogan that greeted members of human rights organisations from across India assembled at Nagpur on April 8, 2017, for a meeting on “Repression on Social Movements and the Judiciary”. It was a demonstration outside the meeting venue by a clutch of self-styled anti-Naxalite organisations, led by the recently formed Bhumkaal Sanghatan.

‘Mastermind’ Saibaba

The demand of death sentence was for 90 per cent disabled Delhi University professor Dr GN Saibaba who, along with four others, had just a month earlier been sentenced to life imprisonment by the Court of Sessions of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, for membership and support of the Maoist party.

The demonstrators told the press that their demand was justified, as Saibaba was the “mastermind” of Naxalite violence.

It may seem ridiculous that anyone could think it possible that somebody who is wheel-chair bound, with full-time teaching responsibilities at Delhi, over a 1,000km away, could be the mastermind of the Naxalite movement in central India. But think again before writing this off as the fevered rants of fringe elements.

In fact, these demonstrators were only echoing the outpourings of the ANO (anti-Naxalite operations) police cell. It is the ANO that had, through a press statement within a week of the Saibaba judgment, indirectly criticised the Supreme Court for ordering the release of Saibaba, by claiming that he was the mastermind of 72 violent offences that had been registered while he was out on bail.

This mastermind storyline was widely publicised in the media. Saibaba was in hospital for most of his bail period, but no one asked the ANO how he could direct violent operations over such a distance from his hospital bed. More importantly, no one thought fit to question the police why none of the 72 FIRs registered had even named this so-called mastermind.

justice_041017051839.jpg

A fraudulent development narrative

This casual distortion of logic and truth has been a hallmark of much of what such agencies have spouted in recent years. Such stories aim at shoring up a fraudulent narrative that development – a nasty euphemism for big industry projects that displace and destroy local lives – is being held up by violent resistance devised and even directed by “white collar Naxalites” in far-off metros.

Organisations that are closely linked to security agencies would naturally be expected to remain faithful to this official “development” theme. Journalists are supposed to be more discerning, however, but even that is too much to ask of large sections of today’s mainstream media.

The problem however acquires disquieting dimensions when trial court judges start buying deep into this narrative. This can be seen in the judgment of Judge Shinde, the principal district and sessions judge of the Gadchiroli court.

The judgment seems to be gripped with a desire to see a particular type of “development” in Gadchiroli. Opposition to an iron and steel project at Surjagad is considered proof of being anti-development, and possession of a pamphlet against it is considering incriminating. Such is the judge’s fascination with this project that Surjagad is mentioned no less than 11 times in the judgment.

This despite the project itself being of dubious legality. Seventy gram sabhas in the area have voted against the project and without their approval, the project itself is rendered illegal as per the provisions of PESA (Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act).

Life sentence not sufficient

This however does not stop the judge from giving his understanding of development (or lack of it) a central place in his judgment. Even at the stage of pronouncing punishment, he says, at Para 1013 “…the situation of Gadchiroli district from 1982 till today is in a paralysed condition and no industrial and other developments are taking place because of fear of Naxalite and their violent activities. Hence, in my opinion, the imprisonment for life is also not a sufficient punishment to the accused (emphasis added by us) but the hands of the court are closed (sic)…”

He is so enthralled by the development narrative that he feels that the only appropriate punishment for those standing in its way is a death sentence – the only sentence harsher than life imprisonment. Since there is nothing in the charges, chargesheet or judgment that even alleges (leave aside proves) that any of the accused have engaged in violent activities, it seems that even non-violent opposition to big project “development” is a capital crime.

This bias is amply evident throughout the judgment. It ensured an undeserved conviction and an unjust sentence.

Maruti Suzuki: where unionisation becomes a criminal act

Another case decided around the same time was the Maruti Workers Union judgment decided by the Gurgaon (Gurugram) Sessions Court, Haryana. The case was vastly different and the socio-economic conditions of the two places too are vastly different – Gadchiroli is a forested, unindustrialised district, while Gurgaon is one of the most modern enclaves of the country.

However, here too the same development narrative, albeit another version, was being played out before the courts during the course of the trial.

In this case, an astonishing 148 workers had been implicated in the death of a manager who had been burnt in an unexplained fire during a protest at the Maruti Suzuki plant at Manesar, Gurgaon, in July 2012. They had all been kept in prison for long periods, many throughout the trial, which lasted four years and eight months.

Finally, 13 workers got a life sentence, 18 got imprisonment for various terms and 117 were acquitted. The workers’ actual crime was that they had formed a union of their choice and had demanded the regularisation of the contract workers in the plant.

This “crime” of fighting for their rights resulted in them being denied bail for years despite none having any previous criminal record and there being no substantial reason for keeping them behind bars. Courts at various levels who refused bail seemed to be bending backwards to satisfy big Indian and foreign corporates who wanted to crush the labour movement.

Clearing the way for foreign investors

The development narrative here was one of attracting foreign investment. It was voiced most articulately by Justice Puri of the Punjab and Haryana High Court who, while rejecting bail observed: “The incident is a most unfortunate occurrence which has lowered the reputation of India in the estimation of the world. Foreign investors are not likely to invest money in India out of fear of labour unrest.”

He thus apparently felt that it was the duty of the court to teach the workers a lesson and satisfy foreign investors so that they would be attracted to put their money in India.

Even at the time of sentencing of the workers, the special prosecutor demanded a death sentence by invoking these same words of the high court. He too, like the Gadchiroli sessions court, felt that standing in the way of “development”, here foreign investment, deserved death by hanging. Fortunately, here the court did not accede to this demand.

Nevertheless, the earnestness of the government to somehow bolster their “development” narrative by obtaining a conviction and stiff sentence was a constant pressure on the court throughout the trial. A special public prosecutor was specially appointed for this case who was assisted by a battery of lawyers, including a designated senior counsel.

The case was based on the false evidence of labour contractors, who were interested parties, interested in preserving the contract system that the union sought to abolish. The investigating police officers were in constant attendance to ensure that the witnesses were tutored to parrot before the court the stories that had been cooked up.

NIA shields Aseemanand

Contrast this with the approach of the investigating authorities in the Ajmer bomb blast case that was decided in the same week as the above two cases. Here, the prime investigating agency of the country, the National Investigating Agency (NIA), had worked to ensure that the acquittal of the prime accused and former RSS member Swami Aseemanand was a foregone conclusion.

The Swami had voluntarily confessed before magistrates to being behind a number of bomb blasts throughout the country, but the NIA did not make use of this confession at the trial stage.

The prosecutor, Ashwini Sharma, complained that the IO [investigating officer] did not come once for the hearing, even when he was called and said the witnesses are turning hostile. This attitude of the NIA seems to be their policy in bomb blast cases involving Hindutva accused, as can be seen in the disclosures in 2015 by Rohini Salian, prosecutor in the Malegaon bomb blasts case, that she had been told by the NIA to go soft on the accused.

Now the Hyderabad NIA officers who wanted to appeal against grant of bail to Aseemanand have been refused permission by their top brass in Delhi.

Thanks to the NIA, Swami Aseemanand, a self-confessed bomb blast mastermind, now roams free. Other Hindutva-inspired terror accused like Sadhvi Pragya Thakur are soon expected to follow suit.

Unlike Prof Saibaba, who opposed the displacement of the poor by big projects and the Maruti trade unionists, who stood against the contract system that foreign investors love, their terror acts pose no threat to the dominant “development” narrative of the ruling classes.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/saibaba-aseemanand-maruti-suzuki-judiciary-hindutva-terror/story/1/16614.html

Let justice take its course


The Gadchiroli court verdict in the Saibaba case shows disdain for established law and judicial principles.

On March 7, 2017, the Sessions Court of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, pronounced a life sentence on Delhi University professor GN Saibaba and four others, and a 10-year imprisonment on another. Many are now questioning the wisdom of handing life sentences to persons who had no accusation of violence against them and had, at the most, been charged only with sympathising with and supporting the Maoist movement. The security agencies, in their turn, attempted to justify the court’s verdict through press statements that painted Saibaba as a “mastermind of many arsons, murders, and abductions”. The Maharashtra Anti-Naxal Operations (ANO) office even seemed to criticise the Supreme Court for granting him bail earlier, stating that “72 offences were registered during this period [when Saibaba was out on bail], which included the murder of two policemen in explosion and encounters, 15 other murder cases and other offences”.

Many in the mainstream media were quick to pick up the ‘mastermind’ angle, without pausing to ask how a person with 90 per cent disability, who spent much of the period in question in Delhi hospitals, could direct violent operations 1,200 km away in Gadchiroli.

Some did point out that the ANO statement conveniently did not specify whether the cases were registered against the professor after his release on bail in April 2016; 72 registered crimes “masterminded by Saibaba”, but without a single FIR in his name!

What’s more worrying is when trial court judges start buying into this narrative of “violent resistance directed by ‘white-collar naxals’ in far-off metros”.

The 827-page judgement of Suryakant S Shinde, the principal district session judge in Gadchiroli, displays a reasoning that runs counter to the maxim “Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.”

‘Not harsh enough’

In para 1,013, the judge says, “Hence, merely because the accused no.6 Saibaba is 90% disabled is no ground to show him leniency and though he is physically handicapped but he is mentally fit and he is a think tank and high profile leader of banned organization CPI (Maoist) and its frontal organization RDF and by the violent activities of accused nos. 1 to 6… the situation of Gadchiroli district from 1982 till today is in paralyzed condition and no industrial and other developments are taking place because of fear of naxal and their violent activities. Hence, in my opinion, the imprisonment for life is also not a sufficient punishment to the accused but the hands of the Court are closed (sic)…”

The judge makes it plain that he personally feels the accused deserved the only harsher sentence available in Indian law — death by hanging. The law restricts death sentence to only the rarest of rare cases when aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating circumstances. Shinde, however, offers no convincing basis for his assertion in favour of a death sentence.

His mention of “violent activities of accused nos. 1 to 6” is without basis, as there is nothing in the charges, chargesheet or judgment that alleges (let alone proves) this charge against any of the accused. There is also no evidence linking the development of Gadchiroli, or lack of it, to naxal violence.

These assertions are merely the judge’s personal opinions, which have limited weightage under the Indian Evidence Act. They would, however, certainly have served to prejudice him in favour of conviction and the harshest possible sentence. This bias is also seen in the rest of the judgment, particularly during the crucial evaluation of evidence.

Rules bypassed

The case rests heavily on the authenticity of the electronic evidence — memory chips, hard disks, pen drives and the like — shown to be seized by the investigating authority. As it is easy to tamper with electronic evidence, the law is stricter on its admission. The essential requirement of a certificate under section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act has been bypassed under the pretext that “prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that at no point of time there was any alternation (sic) or manipulation in the electronic data contained in electronic gadgets.”

A trial court cannot waive the statutory requirement, but Shinde just brushed it away.

Biased evaluation

Eighteen of the 23 witnesses examined were police or government officials, and most others were professionalpanchas(apanchais a person called to witness and check the truthfulness of a police action), who had been used by the police in several cases, and included one who was a home guard and another employed to clean the police station. Among the most crucial witnesses was Jagat Bhole, thepanchfor the search-and-seizure at the Delhi University home of Saibaba. Illiterate, he had been specifically picked by the police over the numerous professors and students present there at the time — possibly because they felt he would be more amenable to manipulation.

Bhole, however, told the court that “the police kept myself and Saibaba out of the house and locked the door from inside while the search was going on”. This obviously rendered thepanchnama(a record of the search) unreliable, as it violated the provisions for searches and evidence gathering.

Judge Shinde got around this by simply rejecting this part of the witness’s evidence. His logic: “It is to be noted that this witness is illiterate witness. He cannot read and write English language and his cross examination was held in whole day that too by eminent lawyer having standing practice of more than 25 years and this witness might have frightened because of Court atmosphere.”

But the judge did not use the same yardstick for other crucial evidence — for instance, the confessional statements of accused 1 and 2. Both young Madia and Gond tribals, they retracted their confession after alleging that it was extracted from them in police custody through torture and intimidation.

Judge Shinde chose to disbelieve the complaint of ill-treatment and used an unbelievable leap of logic to assert that Marathi, the language in which the confession was recorded, was known to the accused. He states that the confession was retracted through an “application in Hindi language and… accused no.1 Mahesh and No.2 Pandu also signed in Marathi language”. Since Hindi, Marathi and even Gondi (the mother tongue of the accused), all use the Devanagari script, it is meaningless to conclude that the “accused were well conversant with Marathi and Hindi” from their Devanagari signatures.

Contrast this with the confessions of Swami Aseemanand, a blast accused, that were made well after he was out of police custody and in jail. His subsequent retraction was accepted, leading to his acquittal.

Going bananas on evidence

The court uses the flimsiest of reasons to convict Prashant Rahi and Dilip Tirki. It says, “Finding of incriminating article i.e. Yatri card (Art.126) shows that accused no.4 Prashant Rahi was going from Delhi to Raipur and finding of newspaper with him which was usually used by the members of CPI (Maoist) and its frontal organisation RDF as identification code to recognize each other shows that he was going to forest area to meet underground naxals as alleged by the prosecution.”

The court arrived at this conclusion based on an article by award-winning Hyderabad journalist C Vanaja, who once reported how she established contact with Maoists by using a particular newspaper and bananas as identification codes. This article was shown to have been found on Saibaba’s computer and used as evidence at the trial — a bizarre reasoning that was considered sufficient to grant Rahi a life sentence.

Saibaba has been the joint secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF). In trying to establish that it is a terrorist organisation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the judgment attempts to take upon itself powers that only the Central Government has. Its logic: “there is photo of accused no.6 Saibaba and there appears a meeting under the head of banner “Release all political Prisoners unconditionally”… Saibaba is addressing to the people. This shows that accused no.6 Saibaba is the active member of banned organization.”

Similarly, elsewhere it states, “Slogan “Lal Salam” is used by naxals and members of banned organisation RDF and hence it is clear that accused no.6 is a member of banned organisation CPI (Maoist) and its frontal organisation RDF and inciting the people with slogans Lal Salam Lal Salam.”

The Supreme Court has often held that the implementation of procedural provisions must be more rigorous in the case of special and stringent laws such as UAPA. In a similar case involving writer-activist Sudhir Dhawale and eight others, the Gondia Sessions Court had acquitted all on the grounds, among other things, of the non-fulfilment of provisions under the UAPA. The State appealed against the acquittal, but was rejected outright by the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court. In an order passed just seven days after the Gadchiroli judgment, the HC gave prime importance to the sanction order showing compliance with the mandatory provisions of law, such as an independent review within the time limit, and that the sanctioning authority was aware of material that would constitute an offence punishable under the UAPA.

Overlooking basic principles

In contrast, the Gadchiroli court has been lenient to the prosecution, holding that the relevant sections of the UAPA were non-mandatory, and non-compliance did not vitiate the proceeding. Another important provision of law was given the short shrift.

In a criminal case, the proof should be beyond reasonable doubt — that is, no other explanation can be derived from the facts except that the accused committed the crime. A civil trial, on the other hand, simply requires a preponderance of probabilities — that is, its version of facts is more likely than not the correct version, as in personal injury and breach of contract suits.

At several points the judgment has dispensed with the principle of proof beyond reasonable doubt. On the other hand, it seems to be applying the civil trial principle in what is clearly a criminal proceeding. “According to the defence, the newspaper Sahara dated 19-8-2013 was found in possession of accused no.3 Hem Mishra and newspaper Lokmat dated 20-8-2013 was found in possession of accused no.2 Pandu Narote. This shows that accused were arrested on 20.8.2013. However, merely because the accused persons were found in possession of newspapers dated 19-8-2013 does not mean that they were arrested on 20-8-2013. According to the prosecution, newspaper is used as identification code by the members of banned organization… Hence, the version of the prosecution appears to be more probable than the defence”.

Similarly, the principle of adverse inference — “evidence which could be and is not produced would, if produced, be unfavourable to the person who withholds it” — has been turned on its head. The prosecution admitted to obtaining the CDR (call details report) of accused 1 and 2 but withheld it despite the defence asking for it to be produced, as it would prove false the prosecution’s arrest story (according to the prosecution, the accused were arrested along with JNU student Hem Mishra on August 22, 2013, from Aheri, whereas the defence contends they were picked up from Ballarshah on August 20 and their phone SIM were removed. The CDR would have settled the question and, had the defence been found right, proved the falseness of the very FIR on which the whole case is based).

Judge Shinde blames the defence for not obtaining the CDR on their own, overlooking the fact that such information can be shared by a telecom company only on the orders of a court. The judgment abounds with numerous such transgressions. The defence plans to appeal before the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court at the earliest, given the fragile health of Saibaba.

Apart from his disability and cardiac and orthopaedic problems, Saibaba is suffering from acute pancreatitis, for which he was hospitalised in Delhi for four days just ahead of the judgment. Amnesty International has raised the issue of the alleged denial of medical treatment to him in jail.

Saibaba the human rights activist, however, is more pained by the misinformation shrouding the case.

In a letter to his lawyer from prison, he says, “We are deeply pained by looking at the false and defamatory and negative propaganda stories in newspapers… targeted for exerting pressure and influencing public opinion, in turn seeking to affect the legal process.”

Several civil liberties activists and organisations have raised their voice against the judgment. Two members of the European Parliament from Spain and Germany have written to the European Commission, calling for measures to ensure “all legal guarantees are respected under the highest human rights standards for him and the rest of prosecuted people”. Saibaba and his co-convicts can only hope that, whatever be the views on the bench, they will not be permitted to stand in the way of justice.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 8, 2017)

How Unlawful Activities Prevention Act has eaten up fundamental rights and freedoms


The repeal of POTA was indeed an eye-wash.

Soon after its adoption, the Constitution of India was amended in 1951. At the time, several progressive judgments (Romesh Thapar versus the State of Madras, 1950; VG Row versus the State of Madras, 1950; and the AK Gopalan case, 1950) by the judiciary held that laws which curb fundamental rights are essentially unconstitutional and fundamental freedoms could only be curbed in the most extreme of cases.

The First Amendment countered this by amending Article 19 to add the word “reasonable” before restrictions and to add “public order” as being one more ground for abridging fundamental rights.

The evolution of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) has to be seen in the background of this gradual but steady constriction of Article 19 which guarantees the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association, etc.

The UAPA, 1967

The next major step in the abridgement of freedom of expression, assembly and association occurred in the shape of the 16th Amendment in 1963. Further “reasonable restrictions in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India” were amended to Article 19 (2).

This amendment occurred in the immediate wake of the Indian Army’s defeat in the Sino-Indian War, as well as the threat posed by DMK’s contesting elections in Tamil Nadu with secession from India being part of their manifesto.

It was in this background that UAPA was enacted on December 30, 1967 – to satisfy the need of the Indian State to declare associations that sought secession from India as “unlawful”. In this way, UAPA 1967 gave powers to the central government to impose all-India bans on associations.

The process of banning associations could simply be done by the government announcing them as “unlawful” and hence banned (Section 3). Though the original 1967 Act too had provisions for a tribunal to review or to hear an appeal against the ban, this remained a mere farce as seen in the case of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

2004 Amendment

In 2004, amid public outcry against the misuse of POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act), the government repealed the Act but majorly amended the 1967 version of UAPA at the same time. The repeal of POTA was an election promise of the then newly elected Congress government.

The amended UAPA made substantial changes to the definition of “unlawful activity”, included the definition of “terrorist act”, “terrorist organisation” from the repealed POTA, and also introduced the concept of a “terrorist gang”. In fact Chapters IV, V and VI dealing with “punishment for terrorist activities”, “forfeiture of proceeds of terrorism” and “terrorist organisations” respectively, were heavily borrowed from the repealed POTA. The Schedule to the POTA Act of “terrorist organisations” too was incorporated into UAPA verbatim. A sunset clause that was earlier part of so-called anti-terror acts like TADA and POTA was done away with.

Even if one were to buy the “desperate times call for desperate measures” logic, where a restriction to fundamental rights is reasonable given the extraordinary situation of a threat of terrorism, one cannot justify the absence of a sunset clause in the UAPA.

In fact, the justification to the inclusion of a sunset clause in previous extra ordinary acts like TADA is that when there is a drop in the perceived threat, there would be no need of the legislation.

2008 and 2012 Amendments

On December 17, 2008, another amendment of the UAPA was moved and adopted following the attack by armed gunmen in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. More provisions similar to POTA and TADA regarding maximum period in police custody, incarceration without charge-sheet and restrictions on bail were incorporated into the UAPA.

The 2012 amendments to the Act further expanded the already vague definition of “terrorist act” to include offences that threaten the country’s economic security.

What is a crime and who is a criminal?

Like earlier anti-terror laws such as TADA and POTA, UAPA too, criminalises ideology and association. By virtue of declaring an organisation “unlawful” or/and “terrorist” and banning them, these Acts have de facto criminalised their ideologies.

Hence, mere possession of any literature of such an organisation or even upholding an ideology common to that organisation in the absence of any violent act is construed as an offence. On the other hand, mere membership or association with such an organisation too becomes an offence.

It is by this logic, that very often, organisations advocating the rights of a certain minority community or that of oppressed sections are easily labelled as fronts of a proscribed organisation under the Schedule of the Act. Their activists or members get arrested and remain in prison for years, denied bail.

Repeal of UAPA

If UAPA 1967 made anti-secession law a permanent requirement, UAPA 2004 made anti-terror law permanent. After it effectively substituted POTA in 2004, the UAPA has been used by all law enforcement agencies throughout the country as the foremost anti-terror law. The repeal of POTA was indeed an eye-wash.

(Many states have their own anti-terror laws, such as Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999 (MCOCA), Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 (CSPSA), Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978; Andhra Pradesh Public Security Act, 1992, etc. These local laws are sometimes as draconian if not more, and are used by state prosecution agencies in addition to UAPA.)

In the absence of any sunset clause or provisions for mandatory periodic review, the repeal of UAPA will depend on a mass movement. However, merely mentioning its misuse or low conviction rate may eventually lead to another eyewash, as in 2004.

A movement against UAPA should hence clearly stand for its repeal and that of all other state anti-terror laws with similar provisions.

Draconian provisions of UAPA in a nutshell

– The Act introduces a vague definition of terrorism to encompass a wide range of non-violent political activity including political protest.

– The Act empowers the government to declare an organisation as “terrorist” and ban it. Mere membership of such a proscribed organisation itself becomes a criminal offence.

– The Act allows detention without filing of a charge-sheet for up to 180 days, police custody can be up to 30 days.

– The Act creates a strong presumption against bail and anticipatory bail is out of the question. It creates a presumption of guilt for terrorism offences merely based on the evidence allegedly seized.

– The Act authorises the creation of special courts, with wide discretion to hold in-camera proceedings (closed-door hearings) and uses secret witnesses.

– The Act contains no sunset clause and provisions for mandatory periodic review.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/terrorism-uapa-indian-constitution/story/1/16081.html

Why Bombay HC granting bail to Hindu Rashtra Sena men in Mohsin Shaikh murder case is worrisome


The court’s logic for favouring bail in religious hate crimes will help heighten the existing communal bias of state agencies.

Proceedings in Justice Mridula Bhatkar’s courtroom at Bombay High Court are conducted briskly, even brusquely. A speedy pace of case disposal leaves scant cause for complaint due to delay.

However, one of the cases disposed in January 2017 has been the subject of much comment and criticism by the legal fraternity and other sections of civil society. A group of lawyers from Pune has even petitioned the Chief Justice of the court to take suo-moto cognisance and quash the order, which they feel gives sufficient ground for doubting the court’s religious impartiality.

Bail is welcome, but crimes claiming religious provocation cannot be entitled for favoured treatment

The court had granted bail, an act normally worth commending in a country where courts often do not implement the principle of “bail not jail” laid down 40 years ago by the Supreme Court. It was not the fact of grant of bail but the reasoning given by the court that was at issue.

The accused were three persons of the Hindu Rashtra Sena, charged with the murder of a Muslim engineer, Mohsin Shaikh. It was in the nature of a hate crime, with the religion of the deceased being the only reason for his killing. However Justice Bhatkar’s reasoning was that the religious motivation for the crime was a factor in favour of the accused, which entitled them to bail.

To quote the order,

“The applicants/accused otherwise had no other motive such as any personal enmity against the innocent deceased Mohsin. The fault of the deceased was only that he belonged to another religion. I consider this factor in favour of the applicants/accused. Moreover, the applicants/accused do not have criminal record and it appears that in the name of the religion, they were provoked and have committed the murder. Under such circumstances, I allow the Bail Applications.”

The court thus quite clearly seems to lay down that those murder accused who have religious hate motives against the person/s they have killed deserve more favourable consideration than accused having personal enmity motives. It also suggests that being provoked to murder in the name of religion can be claimed as a mitigating factor.

Unconstitutional and perverse reasoning

inside1_020317040523.jpg

The logic of this judgment has come in for all-round criticism, with former Supreme Court Justice PB Sawant even calling it unconstitutional, as it went “against the principles of secularism as well as equality”. He even argued that under such perverse reasoning one would also have to release jihadis accused of murdering people on the ground of religion.

There is however scant possibility of Justice Bhatkar applying her logic of religious provocation in the reverse direction – where the accused is Muslim. She in fact had, during her stint in the Bombay sessions court, faced protests of bias from the Muslim accused in the 2006 train blasts case.

They had even demanded that their case be transferred to another judge as they believed she was influenced by her husband Ramesh Bhatkar, who was purportedly linked to underworld don Chhota Rajan, known for several murders of lawyers and accused in terror cases.

Going by the trend in bail in cases concerning Muslim terror accused, the possibility of the Bhatkar judgment being of use to them to attain liberty is remote. The bias in the criminal justice system against Muslims framed as terrorists has been well documented in books such as Kafkaland and Framed as a Terrorist. The latter is the story of Amir Khan who had to spend 14 years in Tihar jail before being set free.

Jurisprudential opening for hate crime perpetrators to escape punishment

The real danger of this judgment lies in the jurisprudential opening it gives to those in the criminal justice system who are already using all present loopholes to ensure that Hindutva-inspired perpetrators of hate and terror crimes escape punishment.

Maya Kodnani, convicted of mass murder of over 90 Muslims during the Gujarat riots, is roaming free after serving less than two years of a 28-year sentence; her co-accused Babu Bajrangi has, in the space of just four years of his sentence, been released on temporary bail 14 times for periods extending from seven days to three months.

During the weeks after the Bhatkar judgment, the Bombay High Court was witness to repeated attempts by the NIA (National Investigation Agency) to facilitate bail for terror accused Sadhvi Pragya. The agency first gave a “no objection” to her bail plea and then dubiously claimed ignorance regarding crucial evidence against the accused.

They are only continuing along a path made clear when they moved to shunt out special public prosecutor Rohini Salian from this case, when she refused to play ball with their plan to go soft on the terror accused.

The NIA policy of softness towards such accused has already notched up its first “victory” on February 1, 2017, with the complete acquittal of Sadhvi Pragya and all her co-accused in a murder case in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh.

The NIA blatantly contradicted the earlier police evidence that implicated the Sadhvi and her group. “The contradictory evidences by the police and NIA in the case raised serious doubts in the whole case,” is what the additional sessions judge observed, leaving him no option but to acquit the accused.

Deeper malaise of religious bias of the Indian state

As has been pointed out earlier in these columns, these moves are emblematic of a deeper malaise of the religious bias of the Indian state. Thus far many judges, at both the lower and higher levels, have refused to cooperate with the designs of the investigative and prosecuting agencies. The Bhatkar judgment provides just the judicial opportunity that such agencies have been waiting for.

Faizan Mustafa, vice chancellor NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, has, while drawing attention to the shocking and dangerous way in which the order rewrites the jurisprudence of provocation, naively suggested that it be used to rewrite “our law on bail… to make bail a rule, jail an exception”.

But the harsh reality of long years of bail resistance of the courts, despite extreme overcrowding of jails with undertrials, does not indicate a possibility of liberal change anytime soon.

Rather, there is a distinct possibility of other courts selectively advancing along the jurisprudential direction indicated by Bhatkar, to provide succour to those involved in similarly inspired hate and terror attacks. The devilish consequences for our society and polity can well be imagined.

Justice Bhatkar is a published poet. Her collection of poems Kavita Manatlya- Kavita Courtatlya (poems from heart, poems from the court) was released last year. One of her “poems from the court” is Nirnay (ruling).

In it she asks,Tula maahit aahe ka?/Nikaal zari tujha asla tari nirnay maajha asto/Krus zari tujha asla/tari khaanda maajha asto (Do you know? The decision may affect you, but it’s always “my” ruling/The cross may be yours to bear/ But the shoulder’s always mine.)

It will need more than strong shoulders to bear the cross of this ruling.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/mridula-bhatkar-judgment-hindu-rashtra-sena-mohsin-shaikh-maya-kodnani-nia-jihadis/story/1/15465.html

How political dissenters end up languishing in jails without bail


Deliberate delays and denial of bail has amounted to sentencing without trial.

Activists of the Kabir Kala Manch, perhaps one of the best known progressive cultural troupes of Maharashtra, heaved a sigh of relief on January 3 when three of their members finally walked out of jail after three-and-a-half years. A Supreme Court bench granted bail to Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaychor and Sachin Mali.

The apex court’s bail order pointed out that though the state had told the Supreme Court in July 2016 that the trial would be completed within six months, it had, till January 2017, only partially completed the examination (leave aside cross examination) of just one of the 147 witnesses it proposed to examine. Such a rate of progress in trial would have meant a lifetime of waiting for its completion. The bench ordered their release.

Method in the madness of trial delays

While it has become customary to blame the backlog of cases in courts for these seemingly crazy delays in trial, there is at the same time a method in the madness that is quite clearly at work, particularly when in comes to political dissenters.

The delays are often the fruit of a deliberate dalliance between police and prosecution to postpone service of summons, hold back witnesses, neglect bringing the muddemaal or physical evidence to court and other such means to ensure that the trial process is effectively paralysed.

This strategy is deployed because the prosecution is aware that most cases against political detainees are weak and often falsely fabricated by the investigating authority and likely to end in acquittal. These “political” cases are normally instituted under harsher laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Public Security Acts of various states. Such laws allow arrests on vaguely defined charges with insubstantial evidence. They also prescribe bail norms which render it difficult for courts to grant bail.

Inordinate delays then become the prosecution’s means for imposing a “sentence” of long years, which entails rotting in jail as an undertrial without bothering to go through the hassle of obtaining a conviction. Thus, though the accused are finally found to be innocent, the judgment offers small comfort for someone who has already spent almost the maximum possible sentence as undertrial.

arun-panel_011117043044.jpg
Inordinate delays then become the prosecution’s means for imposing a ‘sentence’ of long years rotting in jail as an undertrial without bothering to go through the hassle of obtaining a conviction.

Protection for the perpetrators

Such tactics, while being criminal, neither hold consequences for the investigator or the prosecutor; nor are there any redressal for the victim. A classical case in this regard was related to the Akshardham Temple terror attack of 2002. Six accused in the matter remained in custody for 12 years before being finally acquitted in 2014 by the Supreme Court. The judgment, quoted then in DailyO, explained how the case had been fabricated and the accused framed through concocted statements.

The accused then filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court asking for redressal and compensation for the years lost. Despite the unequivocal observations of the 2014 SC judgment indicating that the accused had been falsely implicated, the same court refused to either punish the perpetrators or compensate the victims. If, in a case which the SC itself has held to be fabricated, there is not scope for recompense, there is obviously nothing much the judicial system can offer by way of righting such wrongs committed by the police-prosecutor combine.

Laxity of the courts

In fact it often seems that the bench too is, unwittingly or otherwise, part of a system that ensures that political dissenters are “punished” without trial. In the case of the KKM members too, though the SC granted bail, almost half of their period spent in custody was during the pendency of their application before the same court.

In another similar case of a political prisoner from Maharashtra, Sudhir Dhawale, editor of the magazine Vidrohi, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court rejected bail, but ordered a timebound trial within a period of six months — only to extend this period three times over, while each time rejecting Sudhir’s bail. He was finally declared not guilty — but only after serving a “sentence” of 40 months as an undertrial.

Reluctance to grant bail

The irony is that, even where the duplicity of the investigating agency is prima facie quite apparent, the courts have been reluctant to exercise their power to grant bail. A recent case is that of the team of lawyers and human rights activists from Telengana who, in December 2016, were on a fact-finding mission to Chhattisgarh to probe accusations of police atrocities in Bastar. Though they were arrested in Telangana they were taken across the border to Chhattisgarh so that they could be charged under the severe Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. The basis shown for arrest was the purported seizure of demonetised notes of one lakh, which they were allegedly taking to “help” naxalites in Bastar.

Despite the illogicality of the argument of lawyers carrying demonetised notes from Telangana to naxalites in Bastar, despite the notes being obviously planted and despite there being no law or rule in force prohibiting the possession of one lakh of demonetised notes, the bail applications of the team members were denied first by the magistrate’s court of Sukma and then by the sessions court of Dantewada. The Dantewada court felt that it was premature to grant bail.

The option of approaching the Chhattisgarh High Court in Bilaspur is not only cumbersome but also, considering the delaying tactics of the prosecution, likely to be long drawn out. The Telangana lawyers, research scholars and journalists who are part of this team will now have to prepare themselves to eke out a few months, if not more, in Bastar’s jails — a “sentence” being imposed without any realistic case at all.

Death sentence by encounter

But perhaps they should consider themselves lucky. In their very own state of Telangana, the police have taken the lead in taking this practice of delivering prison sentences to their logical conclusion. On April 7th 2015, five Muslim prisoners, who were on the verge of completion of their trial where they expected acquittal, were killed in cold blood while being taken to court. The Telangana police probably decided that they deserved not acquittal but the death sentence. They executed accordingly.

A similar dubious “encounter” killing of eight undertrial accused of the Students Islamic Movement of India whose trial was reportedly approaching acquittal was executed by the Bhopal police on October 31 2016.

Despite widespread protest by human rights organisations, the political establishment has indicated that those who have carried out these killings enjoy its support. Pehaps an indicator of the forms of justice delivery in the days to come.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/chattisgarh-maoists-bastar-kabil-kala-manch-political-dissenters-fake-encounters-cases-trial-delay-jail/story/1/15045.html

What India’s TV wars with Pakistan don’t tell us about our wars without witness


Thousands have died in internal battles waged against its own people in Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and the Northeast.

 There are wars and there are the TV wars and it is the second variety that has been raging over the last few weeks in the media studios throughout the land. The September 18 attack on Uri Army headquarters provided the trigger for TV anchors, ruling politicians and sundry other warmongers itching to declare war on Pakistan.

The luminaries of the political and defence establishment, who, despite Pathankot, had ignored security and were guilty of facilitating 19 soldiers’ deaths by the gross negligence of lodging them in inflammable tents, escaped all scrutiny. All lapses were well hidden behind a smokescreen of war clouds of their own making.

The shrillness of the war cries yet shows no signs of abating. A variety of war games are being played out on prime time. Many media outlets had, even before the announcement by the Indian Army of surgical strikes, already invented and announced surgical strikes of their own.

As the media sets up televised war rooms complete with maps and digital models, every actual, notional or imagined step of the armed forces is being chalked out and projected – more surgical strikes, Indian fidayeen units, hot pursuit, and implementation of doctrines  of cold start, and even limited nuclear war. The “war” with Pakistan is being fought out in full media glare even before it actually begins.

A make-believe war

An actual war with Pakistan is yet a remote possibility. Military confrontations in these times are usually proxy wars, with one or the other big power backing each of the sides. Both India and Pakistan being well within the same American camp, the likelihood of the US consenting to declarations of war on each other is extremely low. Meanwhile, major military moves contrary to Washington’s wishes are not options either country’s ruling class is willing to contemplate.

But a make-believe war too has its fair share of backers. The party in power can reap a rich harvest of votes; a jingoistic anchor and his channel can rake in the TRPs; a corporate house entering armaments can speed up the contracts.

So, war or no war, the business of warmongering will carry on. Under the camera glare, politicians will thump their chests and anchors will shout themselves hoarse, creating choruses from all corners.

Real and lethal internal wars

But TV wars are not the only type of wars. There are some very real and very lethal wars being waged by the Indian state in various parts of the country. Some of them have been on for decades with death counts far surpassing anything on the Line of Control (LoC). The news of these, however, rarely makes it to the newspaper headlines or prime time TV.

unscbd1_101716011248.jpg
In just the last three months of protests in Kashmir, the casualty count has been 92 dead and over 12,000 injured.

One such war is the one waged against the almost three-decade-long mass insurgency for self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir, which has caused a death toll between 44,000 and 1,10,000 as per various estimates.

In just the last three months of mass protests against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, the casualty count has been 92 dead and over 12,000 injured, including 1,000 blinded in firing and shot-gun pellet attacks by security forces. These figures far outstrip the numbers of Indian citizens killed and injured in all the external conflicts waged by India since 1947.

Another conflict is the five-decade-old attempt by the Indian state to wipe out the Naxalite movement. The toll here too runs to several thousand. While the estimates for earlier years are disputed, government figures for the last 20 years run to around 14,000.

In the last seven months, Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region alone has seen more than a 100 adivasis killed in encounters shown by civil rights groups to be fake.

panel2_101716011317.jpg
Jammu and Kashmir figures in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most militarised zone.

Jammu and Kashmir figures in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most militarised zone. It has seven lakh military and paramilitary personnel in comparison to a population of only 125 lakh giving a soldier-people ratio of 1:18. A similar situation exists in the Bastar division of Chhattisgarh, which has one lakh paramilitary forces for a population of 31 lakh, that is, a soldier-people ratio of 1:31.

A report submitted to the United Nations by the Working Group on Human Rights in India points to similar intensified militarisation in the northeastern states. It has been a conflict zone right since 1947, with many groups fighting for self-determination. Government statistics admit to 21,400 fatalities from these conflicts in the last 25 years.

Wars without witness

As the body counts in such war zones grow grimmer, information flows from these parts get scantier. In fact, there has been a concerted attempt by the state and mainstream media to ensure that news and views on these wars remain highly restricted and are even fabricated.

The recent resignation by Naseer Ahmed, a senior Kashmir journalist with the Ambani-owned TV channel IBN7 brought to light the role of the Delhi-based media centres in fabricating news reports as per state directives and preventing factual reporting of the killings and unrest.

Raids on Kashmiri newspaper offices, Facebook censorship and a ban on the Kashmir Reader newspaper were some of the methods used to curb the local media. Well-known human rights activist Khurram Parvez was first prevented from traveling to Geneva to attend a session of the UN Human Rights Council and then was placed under arrest.

panel3_101716011338.jpg
The wars that the state wages on its own people are kept far away from the media glare.

In Bastar, the tool of arrest has been used rampantly by the state against journalists who refuse to toe the police line. The last year has seen at least four journalists being forced to spend months in jail on cooked-up charges. One of them is yet behind bars.

On October 15, two Mumbai-based writers were picked up from a Bastar jail merely for attempting to meet a woman Maoist prisoner with the jail superintendent’s permission. Lawyers and rights activists too have been systematically hounded and even evicted from the area. Amnesty International India has documented what it calls a near-total information blackout in the state in a report titled “Blackout in Bastar: Human Rights Defenders Under Threat”.

Thus, unlike the jingoistic TV wars with Pakistan, which the ruling classes relish and revel in, the wars that the state wages on its own people are kept far away from the media glare.

These are the wars which lay bare the lie of the democratic credentials of the Indian state. The dark designs of these wars must therefore be planned in secret. Their brutal consequences must be blacked out.

They must be wars without witness.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/india-pakistan-war-tv-media-kashmir-burhan-wani-chhattisgarh-bastar-naxals-fake-encounters-surgical-strikes/story/1/13452.html

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.

caste-11_073116022528.jpg

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.

caste-12_073116022545.jpg

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.

caste-13_073116022603.jpg

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.

caste-14_073116022621.jpg

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.

caste-15_073116022639.jpg

 

by Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/dalits-gau-raksha-dal-caste-br-ambedkar-rohith-vemula-una-hcu/story/1/12091.html