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Home > 2020 > Letter to the Readers - Mainstream, October 10, 2020 | Lockdown Edition no. (...)

Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 43, New Delhi, October 10, 2020

Letter to the Readers - Mainstream, October 10, 2020 | Lockdown Edition no. 29

Saturday 10 October 2020

We live in a very violent, callous and brutalised society. We didn’t become a violent country only after the arrival of the Right-wing conservative government of the BJP led by Narendra Modi in 2014. There is a long pre-history of everyday violence, deep sexism and misogyny in our homes and outside. Every violent moment has sexual undertones in India. The violent crime and the state response in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh (UP) is just one instance in a long series.

Where do we begin? But just to refresh memory, people should connect the dots with Unnao (the 2017 rape and murderous intimidation of a 17-year-old girl and her family by a Member of the UP State Assembly, Kuldip Singh Sengar, and that it took 2 years for action to be taken), Kathua (the 2018 rape and killing of an eight-year-old shepherd girl at a temple in Kashmir), and then the ghastly violence and attempt to murder in a Hathras village in Uttar Pradesh — all three hair-raisingly violent events. In all the three, the leaders of the BJP (but they could have been from any other political party, do people of the Left recall Nandigram and Singur in West Bengal) came out standing loud and clear to defend the alleged rapists and murderers or those that have been complicit. The victim’s family has been intimidated and defamed in each instance. The incident in Hatras has taken us to new heights, the media was prevented by the administration in UP from speaking to the family for a long time; people from the Opposition protesting and demanding action were prevented from visiting Hathras and have now been tarred with a brush of being part of a conspiracy.

Citizens with conscience that is still left have been stirred by this heinous crime in Hathras, it is natural that in any democracy there should be protests. But the UP police has gone on the offensive against protesters and journalists by lodging multiple FIRs – including on charges of sedition and under the anti-terror UAPA law and now its is even alleging an ‘international conspiracy’. The brazen complicity and also the level of incompetence of police and officialdom in this case is disconcerting. According to independent commentators, the affidavit filed by the UP Police in the Supreme Court on the Hathras rape and attempt to murder case contains a range of misleading claims and information.

In alleging the international conspiracy the officialdom points in the police charge-sheet at a small shoddily made cut-and-paste website a bad copy of a Black Lives Matter website – for example, it has instructions for protesters in Hathras to not wear a necktie or swimming goggles during protests and to protect themselves from the New York Police Department. All this in English was meant to happen in Hindi-speaking rural hinterland of Uttar Pradesh. All hog-wash, to say the least. Can a website like this threaten and undermine the state of Uttar Pradesh? The Yogi Aditynath led government is saying there is a conspiracy to globally bring a bad name to Uttar Pradesh. All we can say is that Uttar Pradesh has made it to the pages of the New York Times, Le Monde, BBC, The Guardian, The Economist from its Day one in power not due to any conspiracy but through meticulous reportage from foreign journalists telling the murky truth on what is going on in India. Both the Yogi government and the Central government under Mr Modi have excelled in drawing criticism of the International media and of elected officials in many countries for their record on human rights. The closure of activities by Amnesty International in India is the latest to draw criticism at the European Parliament.

In the context of the Hathras rape and attempted murder case, we are alarmed at the silence of the Ministers for women’s welfare and also the heads of the national and state Commissions for Women. Where are they? Why have they not spoken out and called for immediate and drastic action? These officials are supposed to represent and protect the interests of women; these commissions and ministries were created with much hard work in the past; unfortunately, they too seem to have joined the systematic decline in all our public offices and institutions.

We need due process and justice and ways of bringing to closure and healing in face of violence. The display of empathy towards people who face violence is important. We have a glaring absence of the ‘personal’ care and therapeutic concern in the ways we talk about survivors of violence in society. Everything is uniquely focused on law, the courts, financial compensations; there no space or place for dealing with social agony and trauma – people are supposed to fend for themselves.

The news media has widely shown images of the Congress party leader Priyanka Gandhi hugging the weeping mother of the 19-year-old in Hathras; this is a commendable act of human decency. We wish we had more political leaders in our country who genuinely show humanity and express themselves with acts of empathy. Political figures often behave in a de-personalised fashion and train themselves to act and speak as actors trained to deceive and to lie. In recent times the exemplary behaviour of Jacinda Arden, the woman Prime Minister of New Zealand, who has led her country with constant acts of empathy and show of compassion with ordinary people has left an indelible impress on the public mind. Such action resonates with people. We not only need a humane leadership but we also need to think social infrastructure equipped to deal with social injuries in our lives.

It would be a big day when progressives and democrats of the 21st century begin to go beyond their economic and social programmes and also begin to talk about the much needed ‘personal’ mental well-being and social healing of our society to take it away from a culture of misogyny and sexual violence (and also to deal with bereavement, grief, loneliness, humiliation, fear and rage). When will our democratic political parties, trade unions and professional associations, social movements begin real internal campaigns within their own organisations to help change the sexist social make-up and attitudes of their own membership?

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On October 7, 2020 the Supreme Court of India delivered its judgement on the case regarding the Shaheen Bagh protests in Delhi and said that the tradition of dissent against colonial rule cannot be equated with dissent in a self-ruled democracy. This is an absurd claim. In the land of Mahatma Gandhi, with its long tradition of peaceful street protests, civil disobedience movements, Dandi March and numerous such protests in public places brought us Independence. It is surprising that the Supreme Court of India has ordained that protests should be held only at specifically earmarked designated protest spots and with permission of the authorities so that it doesn’t inconvenience the public.

Protests in public spaces have always caused some inconvenience. Such restrictions are a blow to democratic space. It is amply clear that not all anti-government protests will be permitted by the police. we have recently witnessed the double standards of the UP Police disallowing any protest gathering in Hathras one the one hand and on the other permitting upper caste groups organising a large protest gathering in Hathras district despite Section 144 in place that does not permit the assembly of more than five persons.

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It is very disturbing to hear that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has arrested 83-year-old Father Stan Swamy from Ranchi, Jharkhand under the ‘Bhima-Koregaon-Elgar Parishad’ case. Father Stan has lived for decades among the Adivasis and campaigned for their rights and the release of Adivasi under trial prisoners framed in criminal cases. He has supported the Adivasi struggles against mining and acquisition of their lands and natural resources.

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We express concern at the recent news of harassment and ransacking of the house of journalist Anuradha Bhasin the editor-in-chief of Kashmir Times in Srinagar. She recently found unknown persons and also policemen had broken into her house, a government allotted flat where she lived for long. The persons who had broken into her flat brazenly claimed they had been allotted this house by the government. Ms Bhasin has complained to the authorities. We have reasons to believe that this isn’t just some ordinary incident but could have a wider motive to harass a known critic of the powers that be in Kashmir.

Some months ago three other journalists were evicted but there was no hue and cry. The government has a right to take away housing allotments of who they choose but due process must be followed and due notice must be given.

Tributes:

Pushpa Bhave, a well-known socialist, teacher and rationalist passed away in Bombay on October 2. Bhave was 81. She had been part of the Socialist youth organisation Rashtra Seva Dal, and had collaborated with many progressive movements in Maharashtra. In the 1970s and early 1980s she had been actively interested in experimental theatre in Bombay. In the early 1980s she stood up for the striking textile workers of Bombay and decades later helped the rationalist doctor Narendra Dhabolkar draft the Anti-Superstition Bill that was passed by the Maharashtra State Assembly. She retired as head of the Marathi Literature Department in Ramnarain Ruia College in 1999. During the 1975 emergency, her home provided shelter to socialist leaders like Mrinal Gore and others.

Eddie Van Halen, the iconic rock guitar player, died on October 6, 2020, in Santa Monica, California. He was the main songwriter and lead guitarist of the American rock band Van Halen, which he co-founded in 1972.

The Austrian-born American author Ruth Klüger, a Holocaust survivor, died at the age of 88 in California, on October 7. Born in 1931 to a Jewish family in Vienna, Klüger was deported when she was 11 years old to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, in the then protectorate dependent on Nazi Germany, today Terezin, in the Czech Republic. At 14, she moved to Auschwitz, Poland, before being sent to another camp, where she was subjected to forced labour. Immigrated to the United States at the age of 15, she was educated in New York and at the University of Berkeley, California. Later in life, she become a professor, in Germanic literature. In the 1990s she wrote of her experience in the camps. Speaking in the Bundestag in Berlin, in January 2016 she had praised Angela Merkel’s policy of extending a hand of support to refugees fleeing war.

The well known Trade Unionist Thomas Peter, General Secretary of the National Fishworkers Forum passed way in Kerala on October 8, 2020. For the past three decades, and more he had been a pillar of the movement of Fishermen and will be sorely missed.

Ram Vilas Paswan, the Minister of Consumer Affairs in the Government of India passed away on October 8, 2020. The Dalit socialist politician from Bihar, had been a long-standing member of Indian parliament, he entered Parliament for the first time through the Janata Party in the 1977 elections.

We pay our tributes to all of the above personalities.

October 10, 2020 – The Editor

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