Azad in Prison
Worrying there are reports of attempts to break him both mentally and bodily while in prison, including through instigated attacks against him by other prisoners. Azad has also had to be hospitalised once due to Ill-health and has expressed fears that state authorities may try to physically eliminate him under some pretext or the other....
Over sixty organisations have released a poster demanding the release of Dalit activist and Bhim Army leader Chandrasekhar Azad who is incarcerated in Saharanpur jail.

Azad is in prison since June 2017, put away as a throat to 'national security' for championing the cause of India's Dalits—a community repeatedly subjected to racist violence, rape, inhumane untouchability practices, social, cultural and political discrimination. Due to the high level of impunity in cases involving Dalit victims, they have no way of asserting their rights through the judicial system.

Like Malcolm X, the visionary leader of the black community in the United States, Azad is searching for ways to protect Dalit rights fearlessly in a way that is not only constructive but also effective.

Going beyond mere rhetoric Azad organised Dalits into the 'Bhim Army'—named after Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, one of India's greatest intellectuals, who drafted the Indian Constitution. The Bhim Army's main work has been to form over 300 study circles among Dalit students in western Uttar Pradesh to spread education and organise self-defence against violent attacks by high caste groups.

Azad was initially arrested on charges of 'inciting violence', following clashes between upper caste Rajputs and Dalits in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh. In November 2017 the Allahabad High Court granted bail in all four cases against him and his associate Kamal Walia, observing the charges were false and politically motivated. The police could not provide evidence of Azad's specific role in the incidents of violence or of possessing weapons of any kind.

The regime however promptly re-arrested Azad under the draconian National Security Act (NSA), that allows the state to put away anyone without bail for a year. The NSA is in a long line of Indian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), that violate all known norms of civil rights and are used by the Indian authorities to suppress democratic dissent.

Bhim Army's fight is not just about India's Dalit community but for preserving Indian democracy and Constitution itself, under severe attack from extremist political groups seeking unchallenged dictatorial power. The serious threat posed to the life of Azad is similar to that faced by countless other human rights defenders throughout India, in places like Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and the North-East.
Shiv Shankar

Foul Smell on Twitter
The screen capture attached appeared on Twitter on 17 May 2018. The person who wrote the text has 340,502 "followers" and seems determined to give me a kind of fame which no one wants.

To say, "Mukul Dube emails me in a threatening manner and harasses me" is absurd. Photographs which I took have been used many times, by many web sites or publications, withour permission or acknowledgment. I have been angered by this and have each time communicated my anger to those who stole the photo or photos. I have often forwarded such a message to the person (or a person) who appears in the photo, but I do not think I have ever written directly to a subject. As for "threatening", I have rarely spoken even of legal action against web sites or publications which have stolen my work.

Just how am I supposed to have threatened this person? And can forwarding a message just once be called "harassment"?
Mukul Dube, New Delhi

Vedanta’s Barbarism
National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) strongly condemns the brutal gunning down of over 13 citizens including a 17-year-old girl and violence on more than 60 persons by the Tamil Nadu Police, during the mass and largely peaceful protests against the Sterilite Copper Plant of Vedanta Pvt Ltd in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. The people of Thoothukudi have been protesting against the pollution of ground water and air by the copper smelter for years. This current phase of protest started in early March when the expansion of Slerlite plant to double capacity was announced. On the 100th day of protest i.e. 22nd May, against the Sterlite copper unit Ltd, thousands of people of Thoothukudi took out a pre-announced march towards the Collectorate. The march was to reiterate their demand to shut down the existing copper smelter, causing severe pollution and health hazards. Over 10,000 people—men, women and children—marched to meet the collector.

The Tamil Nadu police lathi charged, shot with tear gas and smoke bombs at the protesters without provocation. When the people ran towards the collectorate, during which time certain government vehicles were reportedly torched the police opened fire killing over 10 people and injuring several others. Over 3,000 police personal including commandos with self-loaded rifles were deployed to bring 'situation under control'.

Protests against Sterlite have been going on for over two decades. On March 24th 2018 a similar protest was called, participated by tens of thousands of people with no untoward incident. This forced the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and the Rural Development Officer (RDO), to take groundwater samples from 7 locations within Sterlite factory premises and 8 from villages around the factory. The results revealed widespread and high levels of contamination in all 15 ground water sources. Levels of the neurotoxin heavy metal lead, which is particularly toxic to children, were found to be between 4 and 55 times higher than levels considered safe for drinking water. At least 15 workers have died and many have been injured due to hazardous working conditions.

Given the scale and seriousness of the crime involved, a time bound, Court-monitored Judicial Inquiry by a Retired Supreme Court Judge to investigate the entire incident and fix liability must be initiated at the earliest. FIR under Section 302 IPC must be registered against the senior officials as well as political leaders, without whose facilitation and orders, these shootings and killings would not have happened.

The Government of Tamil Nadu has lost its ethical right to govern the state and at the bare minimum must ensure the stepping down of senior ministers who could have acted prudently and thwarted this tragedy, but did not.
Aruna Roy, Samar Bagchi, Sandeep Pandey and Others
NAPM, New Delhi

We are Gaza
Students, workers activist, citizens of Delhi gathered today (May 17, 2018) at Parliament street in Delhi to protest against the brutal onslaught on the People of Palestine by Israel. Addressing the gathering at Parliament street, an activist Sunny, associated with Indian People on Solidarity with Palestine said "We, the conscientious people of India are deeply anguished and pained by the latest round of brutal onslaught on the people of Palestine by Israel and the troubling silence of the Indian Government. The bloodlust of Zionist Israel and its defence forces has taken the lives of 58 Palestinian protesters and injured 2771 others on 14 May 2018 alone. As you must be aware, the protest by the people of Palestine was organasied to protest against the deplorable act of relocating the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by USA. This act of connivance by USA exposes the imperialist US-Israel strategy of expunging Palestine from history. This relocation coincided with the 70th anniversary of the formation of Israel. May 14 marks the 70th anniversary of Israel's founding; May 15 is a day Palestinians know as their nakba, or "catastrophe", the traumatic expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 by Israelis. On this day Palestinians mass-protest annually. While the imperialist interests represented by the Trumps are being lauded by the Zionist killers as a step towards a better world the people of Palestine are being murdered by war crimes as we speak".

Another protestor, Baby, said "Israeli occupation militias opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in Gaza, but the brave people of Palestine didn't flee, they faced the bullets with the Palestinian flag in one hand and a stone in another. The Israeli forces showered canisters of tear gas from helicopters on the peacefully gathered protestors. Still tens of thousands kept gathering. Children, old people, women no one was spared. The protesters raised slogans like "We are Gaza", "We shall not go down silently into the night', "Long Live Palestine", "Long live the struggle of Palestine for Freedom", "End the Occupation of Palestine", "Zionist Israel, Down Down", "US-Israel Imperialism, Down Down".

The Protesters also submitted a memorandum of their demands to the Prime Minsiter’s Office. The Memorandum urged the Indian Government which is considered as the representative of the largest democracy in the world to take a stern stand against the Israel Government. And also urged the Indian Government to stand with the people of Palestine and raise their voice against the barbaric and savage attacks by Zionist Israel and its military forces. The Government of India should call back the Indian Ambassador to Israel to India.
Indian People in Solidiraty with Palestine, Delhi

Khaleq Mia on Democracy
No, Khaleq Mia is not a famous Bengali or Indian. He is not an intellectual, bureaucrat, rich educated person or not a political businessman. He never expects any benefit from politics. But he thinks about the future of democracy and democratic rights of people of at least his own area. He is worried about the interpersonal relationship among neighbours and magnitude of harmfulness of conflict and violence in his locality.

So, who is this, Khaleq Mia? Khaleq Mia of about 50 years of age is a street trader of green coconut of South Kolkata only at morning time. He regularly comes from Usthi of South 24 Parganas of West Bengal (about 40 km away from Kolkata). He is a poor and backward minority (Muslim). He is a just literate, and he has no formal education. He realises that India's democracy is the basement of society, and democratic rights are fundamental to live and let live peacefully. At the same time he thinks that democracy in the country is seriously in danger now.

One day (very recent past) he suddenly asked, 'what is going on? Dada!' At first, his question was not easy to understand—what he was asking to know? After a while, he tried to discuss or he meant to say about current violence and conflict in the villages of West Bengal in relation to the Panchayet Poll, 2018.

He opined, "It is what type of democracy and democratic rights where opponents are forcefully defended for not filing of nominations of candidatures for contesting the poll. Why they are deliberately violating the norms and creating an environment of terrorism. At the age of 50 years, I never see this type of unlawful act and hooliganism".

Khaleq Mia also shared that the political party of ruling government has nominated antisocials, criminals, thugs and thieves. In his own words, 'I never imagine, these thugs would sit aside the BDO and order the BDO and they would do development for us'.

Thereafter, he said, 'what development has been done? Because, we have to purchase a litre of kerosene oil of Rs 30 from ration shop. Rice of Rs 30 per kg is not eatable. At least, during the CPM rule, the prices of basic amenities were under control and the government was always alerted about price hike'.

From his low-profile intellectuality, he said, 'present government allots Rs 4 crore per GP and Rs 2 lakh to local club, from where the government is getting it? What development has been done so far? All would be accounted for when this government would lose its power. How much loan has been taken that to be cleared'. He hopes that it would not run for long. A change is waiting for. 'Now they are defending opponents. But at the time of the Assembly Poll or the Parliamentary Poll what they would do. Real fact would become in the day light. We, the poor labour class need work and peaceful working and living environment. We never expect so much grant/donation/relief from the government and from the political parties. Why they are trying to break our relation within the family and neighbour'.

At last, what Khaleq Mia realises, political parties and their leaders do not.
Harashankar Adhikari, Kolkata

Vegetarian Day
The Railway Board is reported to have said, in a circular, "October 2, 2018, 2019, 2020 can also be celebrated as a totally vegetarian day when no non-vegetarian food will be served anywhere on Indian Railways premises. All the railway staff will be requested to observe the day as Vegetarian Day" (Source: the "Hindu" of 20 May 2018)

This will be an absurd way of honouring the memory of M K Gandhi. The man ate no meat, it is true, but he was far from being an "ambassador for vegetarianism" Only the Hindu Right has ever sought to impose vegetarianism on the Indian people. Now that grouping wants to rest its blunderbuss on Gandhi's shoulder.
Mukul Dube, Delhi

Vol. 50, No.50, June 17 - 23, 2018