India: “Provocative speeches” lead to arrests

A World to Win News Service for 31 August 2018 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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India: “Provocative speeches” lead to arrests

31 August 2018. A World to Win News Service. On 28 August the Indian police raided homes in cities across the country and arrested five activists and intellectuals under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The UAPA allows the government to hold someone for six months without any specific charges. Those arrested are law professor Sudha Bharadwaj; Gautam Navlakha, former political editor of the widely respected Economic and Political Weekly; Varavara Rao, the well-known 78-year-old poet and founder of the Revolutionary Writers Association; human rights activist Vernon Gonsalves and activist and lawyer Arun Ferreira. Over the years, the arrested have led lives that put them at the forefront in fighting caste oppression against Dalits (“untouchables”), the communal hatred and persecution of Muslims and the theft of Adivasi (tribal) lands.

The arrests stemmed from speeches they gave at a well-attended conference promoting the rights of Dalits on 31 December 2017, a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Bhima Koregaon, a victorious battle fought by Dalits against a Brahmanical (upper) caste. Those who believe that India should be ruled by a Hindutva (fundamentalist) interpretation of the Hindu religion and maintain the age-old caste system headed by Brahmans, abhor this celebration where Dalits attempt to step out of the humiliating position they still occupy in Indian society. Stone-throwing Hindu fanatics attacked a 300,000-strong march, resulting in one death. After this attack, thousands of Dalit protestors shut down parts of Mumbai. While two of the attackers were charged at the time, now the government is accusing these five speakers and others with “instigating caste violence” through “provocative speeches.”

A previous round of raids and arrests of participants and speakers at Bhima Koregaon took place in June 2018. Police ransacked homes, humiliating family members and seizing books, laptops, pendrives and mobiles (cell phones). The police have unofficially told the media that those arrested in both June and August have links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) which has been waging armed struggle against the Indian government for several decades. They claimed to have discovered a letter about an alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi involving those arrested. A former Indian Supreme Court justice called this accusation preposterous and nothing short of government-sponsored terror. The authorities failed to produce the alleged letter or other evidence in court. A judge ruled that they should be put under house arrest rather than jailed.

PM Modi, who is known for whipping up the most backward religious sentiments and fomenting attacks on Dalits and Moslems in the name of “defending” the Hindu religion and caste supremacy, was formally accused (although not convicted) of being behind a mob attack that killed 2,000 Moslems in Gujarat in 2002, when he headed the state government there. He is a member of a group called the Rashtriya Swayamsevk Sangh (RSS), which is considered the ideological parent of Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Some prominent RSS figures have openly expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and call for ethnic cleansing to purify the “Hindu nation”. As Prime Minister since 2014, Modi has unleashed a Hindu chauvinist lynch mob mentality throughout India. To take just one example, he turned a blind eye when self-styled “cow protection” vigilantes attacked Dalit caste members accused of selling beef. (The caste system assigns Dalits the duty of disposing of the corpses of animals, including cows that have died of natural causes; cows are held sacred by the Hindu religion.) They were beaten, tortured and forced to eat cow dung. Modi said nothing when Hindu fanatics burnt alive 20 Muslims accused of eating beef. Directly, or indirectly with his silence, Modi has encouraged such atrocities, and his government has generally condoned these kinds of activities, with their perpetrators enjoying immunity.

The world-renowned novelist and activist Arundhati Roy gave the following statement to one of India’s leading newspapers: “The events that are unfolding are being fuelled by an intent to do away with democracy and turn this country into a Hindu state. It is an overt statement of intent, now. This, potentially, is more serious and more dangerous than the Emergency [an extremely repressive period in the 1970s]. This time, it is the state itself that is unleashing a law and order problem on minorities, on Dalits, Christians, Muslims and Leftists and anyone else who disagrees — through its proxies in the media, its murderous vigilantes and hate-speech vendors. Everyone who disagrees with a particular ideology is being criminalised, incarcerated or assassinated by shadowy right-wing killers. In the ‘big picture’, the arrests of lawyers, intellectuals and Dalit activists — and the lack of arrests of lynchers and hate-criminals — are a part of a relentless ideological attack on the letter and spirit of the Indian Constitution… While killers are being garlanded and protected by people in high places, anybody who speaks up for justice or against Hindu majoritarianism is being made into a criminal. What is happening is absolutely perilous. In the run-up to elections, this is an attempted coup against the Indian Constitution and all the freedoms that we cherish.”

Many activists and intellectuals in India insist the absurd charges against the five represent a new round of government attempts to crush opposition to rising Hindutva fascism by creating a climate of fear, claiming to find “a subversive in every lawyer and terrorist in every intellectual.” In the last few days protests against the arrests of these five and those arrested in June have been held in Mumbai and Delhi as well as other cities across India.

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