India is being led by a man who promises to torture the families of terrorists, but woe unto you if you speak anything that they do not want.
While journalists who air the ugly truths are being threatened, trolled online or shot at their doorstep. Academicians found in possession of Marxist literature are sentenced to life even if they are 90% disabled. Environmental activist being left to fast unto death without the centre having been budged an inch. All those questioning the status quo are being branded anti-national by current Hindu Nationalist government.
Meanwhile, a Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, who has been labelled ‘anti-national’ for protecting interests of vulnerable Indian citizens shows how in all fairness, only movements led for and by ‘savarna’ classes seem to gather serious steam nowadays.
In removing critical thinking from all political discourse, and convincing the masses that all forms of dissent are anti-state, the ruling government has radically changed the nature and future of activism.
The case for activists and the symbolic value of protest in India has taken a severe beating ever since the space for debate, dissent demonstration was sacrificed at the altar of vested political interests and rising nationalism.
A Convenient Tact to Eliminate Grassroot Activism
A lot of the obfuscation arises from the various theories emanating from the Indian ruling circles about anti-national activities, terrorism, unlawful activities, unity, integrity, and all of which provide the basis for extreme anti-democratic activities of the Indian State.
People are being locked away for merely having copies of books on Marxism, or having literature that could somehow be considered `seditious’.
Such relentless and egregious attacks on grassroots activism expose a lack of judicial restraint also. And that allows the persecution of activists, without rhyme or reason. How else does one explain the largesse of artists, cartoonists, writers, lawyers, poets, professors, doctors, social activists and journalists booked behind bars for exposing the government’s reluctance to engage in constructive dialogue?
Activism, a dirty anti-national word?
In these past six years, two things surely have happened. Activism has become a dirty ‘anti-national’ word and activists have started feeling the heavy burden of futility under the Narendra Modi government. No matter what happens, the state will still run roughshod over activists’ well-intentioned concerns and pass legislation keeping its petty politics in mind.
These laws are vaguely worded, overly broad, and prone to misuse, and have been repeatedly used for political purposes against critics at the national and state level.
These laws include sedition, criminal defamation, hate speech, UAPA, NSA, and similar others.
Many of these laws constitute cognisable offences, meaning the police can arrest the accused without a warrant. The majority are also non-bailable, thus leaving the question of bail at the discretion of the court. And the courts are generally reluctant to grant bail when it comes to laws dealing with national security. The police get away by saying they had intelligence inputs, secret reports or confessional statements. The judiciary fails to question the police or even grant bail in cases where detention serves no purpose other than breaking an individual’s spirit or ruining a family. In case after case, the prosecution fails to prove the charges, leading eventually to acquittals.
“In Nazi Germany, the Gestapo would use similar laws on the general population”.
The Gestapo (German secret state police) was a vital component both in Nazi repression and the Holocaust. It was a police force unlike others in that it did not answer to any judicial or legal oversight. Without fear of civilian repercussions, the Gestapo used ruthless methods to identify and arrest political opponent and others who refused to conform to the policies of the Nazi regime.
Similarly, in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, the extreme draconian and regressive amended UAPA law has been strategically put in place to exterminate both, dissent and dissidents.
UAPA allows the government to proscribe individuals as terrorists and permits more officers of the National Investigation Agency to probe cases.
A person charged under the act can be jailed for up to seven years. While passing the law in Rajya Sabha in 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah claimed that “UAPA’s only purpose was to fight terrorism”, but now it is being used as a tool for intimidating citizens and eliminating opposition being faced by the government on various of its policies.
Surprisingly, On January 26, 2020, the Bidar police registered a case of sedition against the principal and other authorities of a local Muslim managed school in Karnataka’s Bidar district for allowing its students to stage a drama which allegedly portrayed Prime Minister Narendra Modi in poor light in connection with the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
Whereas, in December last, an RSS run school at Kalladka in Mangalore celebrated its sports day by enacting a communally charged play of L.K. Advani’s Rath Yatra, the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and it was absolutely justified in the eyes of Narendra Modi government.
Meanwhile, the charges of Sedition, NSA and UAPA has been so rampant that even cattle Smuggling and dancing to DJ’s song may constitute sedition. Do they really threaten National Security?
“The police are arbitrary and indiscriminate in the use of these laws”.
Covid-19, an opportunity to round up critics
The Narendra Modi government arrested dozens of people based on scant evidence during this nationwide lockdown under the shadow of virus crisis. According to activists, these arrests are just symptoms of a bigger malaise sweeping through India—the indiscriminate use of harsh and archaic laws, mostly against people who seen to be dissenting against the centre and state governments.
Activists and critics see a pattern in the crackdown, saying the use of such laws—which allow the government to jail people for long periods without trial—is meant to browbeat dissenters and political opponents into submission (‘Sshh! Government is Working’).
Egregious examples in the recent past have been the detention of social activists, and student activists among whom are noted poets, doctors, professors, writers and scholars.
One such example is the detention of first 9 persons and more recently of 2 others, in the `Bheema-Koregaon’ case. These persons have been arrested under the pretext of stoking violence between communities because of their beliefs about the nature of the war that took place over 200 years ago! It is absurd to consider that one’s views on a historical event can in any way be a reason for the arrest of a person or persons.
“Arresting persons for their ideology is an attack on the Right to Conscience”
Numerous other cases abound in regards the violation rights in the context of the CAA/NCR/NPR protests.
It is an engineered attempt to save indictable people affiliated to the right-wing ruling party like Kapil Mishra, Kapil Baisala, Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Verma, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote who lightly got away with their hateful speeches and involvement in violence for being on the right side of the political fence.
Currently, with the help of the arrests being made on the basis of these National security laws, the Union government is trying its best to put the blame of North East Delhi riots on Anti-(CAA) protestors and change the narrative altogether as they did in the Bhima Koregaon case.
Let’s look no further than these last few months to support these contentions and potentially dangerous claims.
Here are the recent examples:
Teltumbde who was born in Maharashtra state, to a family of Dalit farm labourers is an Indian scholar, writer, and civil rights activist. He is married to Ramā Yashwant Ambedkar who is the granddaughter of B. R. Ambedkar. He is a mechanical engineering graduate from Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and a PhD scholar from the University of Mumbai in cybernetic modelling.
While working as an executive at Bharat Petroleum, he was also awarded an honorary doctorate (D.Litt) from the Karnataka State Open University. Before becoming a senior professor at the Goa Institute of Management, he was a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur. He has also written extensively about the caste system in India through his columns in the magazines like ‘Outlook’ and ‘Tehelka’ and has advocated for the rights of Dalits. [Teltumbde] who would turn 70 in July, is accused of having Maoist links and conspiring against the government. He surrendered in Mumbai on 14 April 2020 under the charges of [UAPA] in Bhima-Koregaon case. Another civil right activist, Gautam Navlakha, 67, also surrendered over similar charges in capital New Delhi on 14 April 2020.
On the eve of his arrest, [Teltumbde] wrote an open letter to the people of India, saying that the charges against him are fabricated and solely aimed at targeting critics of Modi’s right-wing government.
Rao is known to be one of the finest literary critics in the Telugu language. He has over 15 poetry collections to his name.
He was born in 1940 in a middle-class Telugu Brahmin family in a village in Warangal. He did his post-graduation in Telugu literature, worked as a publication assistant at the Ministry of I&B in Delhi. He has taught in colleges across the Telangana region. His poetry has been strongly influenced by Marxist philosophy.
In August 2018, Rao was arrested from his residence in Hyderabad for his alleged involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence that costed life of a 28-year old, on January 1, 2018. An FIR filed in Pune alleged that on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, an evening programme, the Elgar Parishad, had been organised. Police claimed that speeches delivered at the event on December 31, 2017, were partially responsible for inciting the violence the next day. But so was the Kapil Mishra’s speech a day before the North East Delhi Violence that left 53 dead, yet no action against him?
Among others arrested in the Elgar Parishad case, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act [UAPA], include – a Delhi-based activist Rona Wilson, Nagpur-based lawyer Surendra Gadling, Nagpur University professor Shoma Sen, former ‘Prime Minister Rural Development’ fellow Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhawale of Republican Panthers.
In October 2019, following the defeat of the BJP in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Elections, the Bhima Koregaon case was suddenly transferred from the Maharashtra Police to the notorious National Investigation Agency (NIA). This action reeks of the malicious intentions of the BJP-led Central Government.
One of those charged with sedition is Assam’s firebrand activist Akhil Gogoi, who was once part of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement.
Akhil Gogoi is an Indian peasant leader and RTI activist from Assam. He was awarded the Shanmugam Manjunath Integrity Award in 2008 for his relentless fight against corruption. In 2010, he was awarded the national Right to Information Award by Public Cause Research Foundation ( for his role in exposing a 12.5 million scam in Sampoorna Gram Rozgar Yojna in the Golaghat district of Assam. Gogoi is the founder Secretary of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS)- a left-wing peasant organisation based in Assam.
He was arrested on December 12, 2019, from Assam’s Jorhat district amid protests against CAA under the amended [UAPA] (Unlawful Assembly Prevention Act) by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
“We have been carrying out agitations since the time Hiteswar Saikia was the Congress chief minister in the early 1990s. We had also agitated against the 15-year Congress rule in Assam. I have even said former CM Tarun Gogoi should be thrown into the Brahmaputra. But I have never felt so threatened in my life, says human right activist Akhil Gogoi. “I have been sent to jail at least 36 times, many a time during the Congress regime but never charged with sedition,” Gogoi adds.
Any individual who believes in democracy feels threatened under the BJP rule,” says Gogoi who has been charged along with Cambridge scholar and Sahitya Akademi award-winning writer-intellectual Hiren Gohain.
Dr. Kafeel Khan
On 29 January, Dr Kafeel Khan was arrested at Mumbai Airport in connection with a “provocative” speech against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in December 2019.
Even though Dr Kafeel Khan was granted bail by the court, him being charged under the NSA will now ensure that he will be in custody for as long as the Uttar Pradesh government wants him to, as was also seen in the case of Bhim Army leader Chandra Sekhar Azad two years ago. Azad had to spend 15 months in jail, between June 2017 and September 2018, for no crime.
while three years ago, he has been hailed a hero by eyewitnesses for saving as many children as possible in Gorakhpur tragedy: the oxygen shortage crisis on the night of 10 August 2017 that killed 60 of them.
Dr Kafeel Khan was born in Gorakhpur, Uttar-Pradesh. He did his MBBS & MD (Paediatrics) from KMC, Manipal, Karnataka and got a permanent commission on 8 August 2016 as a lecturer in BRD medical college
Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal
After spending several anxious days in prison, Natasha Narwal, a student activist accused of rioting by the New Delhi police, thought her ordeal was nearing an end. A judge ruled that Ms. Narwal had been exercising her democratic rights when she participated in protests earlier this year against a divisive citizenship law that incited unrest across India.
But shortly after the judge approved Ms. Narwal’s release in late May, the police announced fresh charges: murder, terrorism and organizing protests that instigated deadly religious violence in India’s capital. Ms. Narwal, 32, who has said that she is innocent, was returned to her cell.
“I felt like crying,” said her roommate, Vikramaditya Sahai. “We are grieving the country we grew up in.”
Devangana Kalita along with Natasha Narwal have also been booked under the stringent anti-terror law [UAPA]– Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act – in a separate case related to the communal violence, for allegedly being part of a “premeditated conspiracy” in the riots.
They are the founding members of group “Pinjra Tod” which is a collective of women students across Delhi.
The group is aimed to counter a perceived official narrative that women need to be protected. The main specific goals of Pinjra Tod are to end the imposition of curfews on women, and redress of sexual harassment in universities.
On April 10, 2020, student and woman human rights defender Safoora Zargar was arrested by Delhi police for her participation in the anti-CAA protests. Zargar, a student of Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) University and member of the media team for the Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC) which organized anti-CAA protests in December 2019, was in the second trimester of her pregnancy and suffered from a urinary condition when arrested. Despite being granted bail by a lower court citing her pregnancy, health condition and the directives issued by the Supreme Court of India on decongestion of prisons during Covid-19, she was never released and was immediately re-arrested by the Special Crime Branch of the Delhi police under a new FIR. This FIR does not include her name and originally only contains charges under the Indian Penal Code.
The FIR was later amended on 21 April 2020 to include the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act [UAPA], which is non-bailable and guarantees her prolonged incarceration. While she remains in jail, there has been a vicious social media campaign against Safoora Zargar, including fake pornographic content.
On April 9, woman human rights defender Gulfisha Fatima was arrested under the same new FIR as Safoora Zargar. She was actively involved in the women-led protest in Seelampur in North East Delhi against the [CAA]. She worked to raise awareness among local women about the CAA and is a strong voice for secular constitutional principles. She is currently being held under the [UAPA] and based on eyewitness accounts, there have been reports of fear of custodial torture on her.
On April 27, the Delhi police seized the phone of Kanwalpreet Kaur, a young woman human rights defender and President of the All India Students Association for Delhi as part of an inquiry into the communal violence that ravaged Delhi in February 2020. The memo issued to the defender for the seizure cited several charges, including charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act [UAPA].
The arrest of anti-CAA women activists is enough proof of Big Brother’s ‘Patriarchal Authoritarianism’ that will not tolerate any challenge to the authority of Big Brother.
As Farah Naqvi have pointed out in an article published by The Wire that the Modi government views women essentially as “mataaon, behenon aur betiyon” (mothers, sisters and daughters). The tag line of the Ujjwala Yojana scheme, which promised free cooking gas, was “Mahilaon Ko Mila Samman” (Women Get Dignity). Murals made under the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program read – “Kaise khaoge unke haath ki rotiya, jab paida hone nahi doge betiyan?’ (Who will make Rotis for you if you won’t let daughters be born?)
That is, women are to be valued and respected only if they perform their traditional roles, she writes. When it comes to women’s safety, the patriarchal authoritarianism of the Modi government sees women as an object of protection. This means celebrating the hanging of rapists, but disregarding women’s freedom in the process of providing ‘safety’.
Patriarchal authoritarianism is firmly in place under the Narendra Modi government. Its followers want women to be worshipped in their traditional roles. Women who dissent deserve no dignity- Gauri Lankesh’s death is mocked and celebrated. And now we have become a society where female critics of the government face open rape threats on social media. These spawns do not spare the women who are inside the Modi government either, be it Sushma Swaraj or Smriti Irani.
Therefore, at this critical juncture, it becomes imperative for voters to preserve the role activists play in constituting important dialogue, and to preserve their position in healthy opinion-building.
Also, these subsequent arrests being made under the virus-crisis is an evident attempt to demonize anti-CAA protests and suppress the cause, thus inciting a religious divide by shaming those who demanded their rights. There is also a villainous attempt being made by the police to link all the [Human Right Defenders] to the communal violence that erupted in Delhi in February 2020.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by the writer are exclusively personal and do not reflect the stand or policy of The Second Angle