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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 8, New Delhi, February 6, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Feb 6, 2021

Saturday 6 February 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Feb 6, 2021

In the past years, the Narendra Modi led BJP Government at the centre and in many of the BJP ruled states has treated all political and civil society opposition with disdain. The Central Government has steamrolled major decisions and brushing aside all contestation and regularly used the pro-government media to denounce opposition (often also bordering on the character assassination of specific opposition figures). Other arms of the Government, the police, the tax officials have been misused to file criminal cases against dissenting voices. This has been the recurring pattern of Governmental action all along in the past six years and carries on.

Recent reports that keep a track of countries across the world suggest that India’s credentials as a democracy have been sliding down ever since Prime Minister Modi took office in 2014. Two such reports that point at India’s decline are: ‘World Democracy Index’ — This index is maintained by the London based Economic Intelligence unit and uses indicators, measuring pluralism, freedom of speech, civil liberties etc. Similarly, the 2020 ‘Democracy Report’ by the Sweden-based V-Dem Institute takes note of the shrinking of space for the media, civil society and the opposition in India.

After protests in Kashmir in 2019 over the sudden withdrawal of the special constitutional status of the state, many of the political leaders of the State were put under house arrest for nearly a year. In addition, the government imposed a ban on internet services in J&K that lasted two years. Human rights activists across India have come under fire in recent years, for supporting protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act that took place across the country in 2020. An estimated thousand people were arrested in connection with these protests and many charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

The Bihar government has recently decided that those who participate in protest demonstrations and find themselves named in police charge sheets will be excluded from government jobs, bank loans and passports. The State Government has also said that “offensive” social media posts against the government and legislators will be treated as a crime. The Uttarakhand Government has joined the fray, saying that police verification before passports are issued will take into account “anti-national posts” on the social media.

In the past months, a major social movement of the peasants has emerged in India. It is opposed to three laws brought in by the Modi government pushing commercialisation of agriculture. Despite huge odds, this major mass movement has held sway for months despite all attempts at repression by the state. The repression continues. Delhi police, who operate under the control of the central government and the Police in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Haryana states have recently been used to file cases of sedition and promoting communal disharmony against some senior journalists and a Congress party politician for allegedly ‘misreporting” the facts around the death of a peasant protester on January 26. This is nothing but misuse of police power to intimidate.

As the protests continue the police have begun to build permanent fortifications and barriers blocking roads on the borders to Delhi where the protests sites are located. Water and sanitation facilities used by thousands of protesters are now being getting curtailed.The internet services have been repeatedly blocked for extended periods and even SMS services have been blocked from time to time.

The farm protests have been widely covered by the international media and drawn attention of a number of prominent political, cultural, and environmental figures expressing solidarity.

Recently the celebrated singer Rihanna drew attention to the world on Twitter to support Indian farmers, at the same time as a message of support by the climate activist Greta Thunberg who is among the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize. This has prompted an unusual reaction from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to issue a statement, saying it is the internal affair of India. A country aspiring to join the UN security council should not feel threatened by statements from well-meaning individuals whose purpose is to build bonds of solidarity among people. [There was also another response to the Tweets by Rihanna, Thunberg, that would bring many ’accolades’ to India, that the India diplomats may not respond to . . . Modi supporters went into the streets and set fire to images of Rihanna, Thunberg, and other critics, including Meena Harris, the niece of the US Vice President Kamala Harris]

There is a long tradition of solidarity in the world, and citizens and citizens groups across the world have long expressed sympathy with various causes ranging from human rights, freedom of speech, to environmental matters, to calls for peace. Leaders of India’s freedom struggle expressed solidarity during the days of the Spanish civil war in the 1930s. In the past decades, Israeli and Palestinian Musicians have built a common orchestra to make room for peace despite continuing hostility between the two sides. On numerous occasions in the past, concerned citizens of India and Pakistan have called for peace, friendship and restraint at times of heightened tensions. Such traditions of internationalism and cross border solidarity must continue no matter what the governments feel.

Tributes:

Veteran film actress Neelo Begum has passed away on January 30, in Pakistan at the age of 80. Born Cynthia Alexander Fernandes, Neelo made her screen debut in the 1956 Hollywood movie, Bhowani Junction (starring Ava Gardner and Stewart Granger).

Lokman Mohsen Slim, the Lebanese publisher, filmmaker and political commentator, who promoted a Culture of Peace and Remembrance to cope with the many past and present conflicts of Lebanon was found shot dead February 4, 2021

Prof D N Jha the highly respected historian of ancient India passed away on February 4, 2021. Professor Jha retired from Delhi University and was a reputed scholar and intellectual who spiritedly spoke-out to fellow citizens to counter myths propagated by fundamentalist Hindutva groups. He was 81.

Bansi Kaul the acclaimed Hindi theatre director passed away on February 6, 2021. He began his career as a director with National School of Drama Repertory Company in New Delhi. He was a recipient of Padma Shri award by the Government of India in 2014.

We pay our tributes to the above figures.

February 6, 2021 – The Editor

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