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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 25, New Delhi, June 6, 2020

LETTER TO THE READERS - COVID 19 Lockdown Edition No.11 - 6 June

Saturday 6 June 2020

Letter to Readers - Mainstream, June 6 2020

It is disturbing to see the Delhi police on a wild goose chase against all sections of people who are being picked up for having had a connection with the Anti-CAA protests. Incidentally, the President of the National Federation of Indian Woman Aruna Roy in her message on the 67th founding anniversary of NFIW on June 4th has highlighted the present government’s attack on freedom of expression and called for a sustained campaign against the suppression of democracy and democratic rights of the people. This, according to her, is the most important task in the present conditions.

It must be mentioned here that what used to happen in far away locations is now happening in major metropolitan cities – arrests based on trumped-up charges meant to silence and intimidate citizens. We should recall how a few years ago the JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested apparently on grounds of sedition (later released on bail) but the police have not produced a chargesheet against him till date even though the case is going on for the last six years. The arrests of women activists of Pinjra-Tod (a the rights group active on University Campuses of Delhi) who are students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (one of whom has been charged under a section of the UAPA) and the subsequent arrest of students who were protesting the arrests of people who participated in the anti-CAA agitation are other recent examples. We are supposed to be in a democracy where citizens have the right to protest, but something is going terribly amiss in the past 6 years. We are not suggesting that misconduct by police or anti-terror agencies didn’t exist in the pre-Modi years. What is new is its ‘normalisation’.

The Police is being used by the ruling political masters to go after respected journalists and commentators. The Delhi unit of the BJP has filed an FIR against well-known TV anchor Vinod Dua with Delhi Police Crime Branch for allegedly spreading ‘fake news’. In Bengaluru, the police have registered a case against Aakar Patel, noted journalist and human rights activist, for his post on Twitter that quotes a tweet by a US media site. The Colorado Times Recorder had tweeted a video clip showing thousands of people protesting. And he had tweeted saying that we should have powerful protest like these. (See: https://www.deccanherald.com/city/bengaluru-crime/fir-against-aakar-patel-over-his-twitter-post-845838.html)

Assam has now gone one step further, saying ‘Lal Salaam’ [Red Salute], calling someone ’Comrade’, on the social media is now enough to invite the draconian clauses of UAPA, the anti-terror law. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) chargesheet against Bittu Sonowal of the KMSS, a peasant organisation is an example of such wrongdoing.

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The death of an Afro American citizen named George Floyd on 25 May in Minneapolis during his arrest by the Police has triggered a wave of protest on the streets in Minneapolis and all major cities in America; The widespread protests called by ‘Black Lives Matter’ has had a considerable social echo of indignation against racial prejudice and police atrocities. This is not one isolated incident but part of routinized violence by the police – and naturally, the oft discriminated Black community face much greater discrimination in their arrests and incarceration. The roots of all this lie in the peculiar long history of institutional confinement and discrimination faced by Black America – slavery in the 17th century, the Jim Crow system of segregation in the agrarian South and later the proletarianisation and ghettoisation phase –till 1965 a majority of black Americans residing in the southern states were not allowed the right to vote. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and protests by black Americans helped create an enabling environment and change many things but discrimination persists on a wide scale. Since the Obama years, the white supremacists have been reactivated and they have gotten much oxygen under the Trump presidency. Only a conscious re-cultivation of a national civil rights movement will put pressure on the political system and society to change.

There have been solidarity protests by citizens in Argentina, Mexico, France, the Netherlands, UK and in New Zealand and also expressions of solidarity in India.

Using the death of George Floyd, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry criticised the US Government response to anti-racist protests and called out racial discrimination in the U.S. a "persistent social ill”; ofcourse its own record vis a vis ethnic minorities and on human rights is appalling — China’s has detained one million people, mainly Uighurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang and continues to go after the pro-democracy activists in mainland China, as in Hong-Kong as the world observes the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989.

While we talk of racial question and discrimination in the US let us not forget the widespread persistence of social prejudice, caste discrimination, banalisation of communal beliefs and racism in India. (There are frequent reports of mistreatment and racism against African nationals who live in India as students.). The largest number of people in India’s prisons happen to be from the labouring classes and mostly Dalits, Muslims and other minorities. The Sachar Commission Report, which identified large scale under-representation of India’s largest minority community has been put into the cold storage.

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The current worldwide health crisis is an opportunity for WHO member countries to reinvent the Organization, making it a stronger and more independent public international agency with the capacity to manage and coordinate global health actions. India must actively contribute to this process, which it is not doing at present.

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Today happens to be the anniversary of Operation Blue-Star that took place on June 6, 1984 leading to horrendous implications in the form assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and large scale pogrom of Sikhs, the blot of which continues to afflict Indian democracy.

In this issue, we fondly remember Mukul Dube, an author who also wrote for mainstream, a talented photographer, an editor, a sharpshooting social commentator, a dog lover and a man of multiple interests. He lived a life against the stream. Mukul Dube passed away on the April, 18 2020.

We pay homage to Basu Chatterjee, the popular filmmaker who started his career in the mid-1960s with a film on tensions of married life and made a name for himself for his films in the 1970s-80s on lives of ordinary Indian middle-class people, where men and women were equal, and economically independent women working in offices in Bombay. They sought autonomy and privacy in the face of the conservative traditional joint Indian family etc.

The Editor, June 6

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