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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 33, New Delhi, August 1, 2020

Letter to the Readers of Mainstream’s Lockdown Edition 19 - August 1

Friday 31 July 2020

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 33, New Delhi, August 1, 2020:

Corona crisis: India is confronting its worst health crisis since independence. The Covid-19 tally is rising sharply and inching towards the 15-lakh mark. For the past weeks now, the country has seen a huge rise in the growth of infections and is just ranked below Brazil and the US. The situation is getting serious by the day and the government keeps denying any trace of community transmission. Foreign experts are projecting a staggering rise in numbers in India and it is a frightening scenario. An AFP report of July 29 says “over half the people living in the slums of Mumbai have had the coronavirus, according to a city-commissioned study.” The government must become more transparent and give a glimpse of its gravity instead downplaying the numbers and creating the illusion of a vaccine that will instantly fix things; this can mislead people to get casual with the much-needed precautions.

False Talk of Normalcy in Kashmir:

One year ago, that is, on August 5, 2019, the Narendra Modi Government did away with special status as well as Statehood of Jammu and Kashmir and it is time for stock-taking as that former state is far removed from ‘normalcy’ despite all claims of the central government; Many politicians including a former Chief Minister of the State still remain in detention. Alarming new restrictions on the Freedom of Press have now been brought in as the recent Media Policy-2020.

The policy is designed, as it says, to "foster a genuinely positive image of the government” and it empowers the clerks and cops to examine and vet the articles and news-reports before their publication; the newspapers can be acted against, or be de-empanelled if the material is found to be ‘anti-national’, ‘unethical’ or ‘fake’. This policy sets a bad precedent. There have been protests by Kashmiri journalists but to no avail.
There were security considerations at play in Kashmir in the past too, but there were never such rules. National media bodies better watch it and take note; the type of new media restrictions at work in Srinagar and Leh, could happen tomorrow in New Delhi too if not spoken against and public opinion not mobilised against it.

The Governor in Srinagar, Mr Murmu, should not be making any statement as to when and how elections will be organised.

We are pleased that the Election Commission of India has taken note of this and issued a press release regarding the governor speaking out of turn in disregard of constitutional propriety. The recent interview of the former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, in The Indian Express, and the blatantly false claims by the government that the Congress party leader Saifuddin Soz is free to move around, both paint a sorry picture. It is clear as daylight that life and political space remain restricted in the Kashmir valley despite all claims of normalcy.

New Delhi seems to have some magic formula about choosing dates.

A trust set up by the government has been made to choose the very same date (as for Kashmir) August 5, 2020 as the day for foundation laying ceremony — of the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya. We are bang in the middle of a pandemic but some 200 people are supposed to be gathering at Ayodhya for an event intended to make big news — many of the culprits who engineered the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992 will probably be the front seat guests. We hope that Mr Narendra Modi is going there strictly in his private capacity as a citizen and not as the Prime Minister. The prime minister of a secular state is supposed to keep a formal distance from private religious events of a particular community. We hope state-run broadcasting entities will demonstrate neutrality and not do a live transmission as if it was an official event. Of course, expecting this would be a bit too much.

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Obnoxious Caste inequality continues unabated in India. In a village near Agra in UP, the body of a woman was taken off from the funeral pyre in the middle of cremation and the family forced to cremate her four kilometres away. All because the powerful upper caste Thakurs objected that the woman was from the lowly Nat community. Thinking of their own safety, nobody has the guts to file a police complaint, for the basic right to cremate on the common gram-sabha land. Discrimination and segregation is the norm. We are long years away from being a casteless society.

Shantaram Siddi is the first person from a tiny African-origin ethnic group to become a legislator in the state of Karnataka and in the country. (Siddis are descendants of Africans who travelled to India as merchants or slaves from the 17th Century on) But hang on he was no independent candidate. He has been associated with the Vanavasi Kalyan Prakalpa (VKP), the tribal welfare front of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, for three decades and he is member of the BJP; that reactionary party keeps attracting, providing symbolic slots to many lower castes, Adivasis and un-represented people and including the footloose labouring classes. This is not to say that it is some model of equality.

The wise men of the left who keep promoting equal representation for all, have low representation of diverse identities and of people with low social ranking in their avant-garde ruling politburos and central committees. There is much need for that or else we will continue with majoritarian class politics.

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We express our solidarity with media workers in Karachi who faced an unprecedented raid by an Armed police unit — The Sindh Rangers — that entered the premises of the Press Club of Karachi on July 27 2020. (Incidentally, a veteran Pakistani journalist told this correspondent in 2003 in the same press club had debarred military officers in power at that time from entering the club premises.) Presspersons must be protected at all times and the governments have no business intimidating them by such show of force.

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We would like to remember Amala Shankar the Indian danseuse who passed away in Kolkata on July 24, 2020. She had acted in the film Kalpana written, co-produced and directed by her husband, the well-known dancer and choreographer, Uday Shankar.
We offer condolences on the demise of Somen Mitra, President of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee and veteran former Member of Parliament.

The well-known economist John Weeks (emeritus professor of economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies) has passed away. He was Coordinator of the London-based Progressive Economy Forum that brought together left-wing economists from across Europe.

We pay tribute to the celebrated Franco-Tunisian Feminist lawyer Gisèle Halimi who just passed away on 28 July. In her early days, she fought cases for the anti-colonialist activists from Tunisia and Algeria. During the Algerian liberation war, she had been the lawyer for Djamila Boupacha, the FLN activist who had been arrested in 1960. In 1967, she was a member of the Russell Tribunal Against the American Military Intervention in Vietnam, which was initiated by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre. In 1971 she had co-founded with Simone de Beauvoir ’Choisir: La Cause des Femmes [Choose: The cause of Women]’ a platform for women’s rights. She took up an endless stream of cases in defence of women’s rights in France, most notably for the right to abortion. Her sterling role in the 1972 Bobigny trial for the right to abortion helped mobilise thousands and opened the route to the 1975 law introduced by Simone Veil. In the early 1980s, she was a member of the French parliament.

August 1, The Editor.

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