'Urban Naxals'

Voices from Behind Bars

Subhendu Dasgupta

The government of India in the month of June this year had arrested a few citizens of the country. Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson.

Shoma Sen is a Professor of English at Nagpur University. She is an activist in the feminist movement, and associated with several women's organisations. She is with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR).

Rona Wilson is associated with the movement for the release of political prisoners and is the Public Relations Secretary of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), New Delhi.

Surendra Gadling is a worker of the movements for the rights of the Dalits. He is a lawyer, giving legal support to political prisoners. At the time of his arrest he was fighting the legal battle for G N Saibaba. Saibaba is a Professor in Delhi University, and has been suffering from multiple disabilities. He is a 90 percent disabled person.

Sudhir Dhawale is a writer. In his writings he generally expresses opinions on political issues. He is the editor of the journal Bidrohi. In this Marathi journal articles have been published primarily on subjects related to labour, land, education, health and caste. He is one of the founder members of Republican Panthers, an organisation for the movement for the rights of the Dalits.

Mahesh Raut is engaged with the movements for the rights of Adibasis. He is one of the conveners of the Besthapon Birodhi Jana Bikash Andolon, an organisation against the eviction of the poor. In the district Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, he is with the movement against the eviction of Adibasis as a result of the establishment of mines. He fights against exploitation through the caste system.

These persons presently jailed by the Government have been associated with different kinds of movements against power. Political power, economic power, social power, cultural power. Against mining companies, male chauvinism, caste system, evictions, exploitations of the Adibasis and Dalits. Providing legal support to the political activists in jails. They are teachers, lawyers, social workers, editors of journals, writers, organisers.

There is a reason to describe the areas and forms of activities of these persons. One would be able to understand what the areas of activities are that the Government disapproves of, does not tolerate. One should know, understand and be prepared.

In this background, in continuation of what had happened in June, one will know about the persons against whom the arrest warrants have been issued recently, in August, whose houses have been searched, electronic goods such as pen drives, CDs, and books have been confiscated.

Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Varavara Rao, K Satyanarayana, Stan Swami, Kranti Tekula, Anand Teltumbde, Susan Abhraham, K V Karumanth.

Stan Swami lives in Jharkhand. He is a supporter of 'Patthalgadi 'movement of the Adibasis. The Adibasi activists have been placing traditional stone tablets on which the text from the Indian Constitution on the rights of Adibasi Gram Sabha has been inscribed, in Adibasi villages. Stan is an organiser of Besthapon Birodhi Jana Vikash Andolon, an organisation fighting against the evictions of Dalits, peasants and workers.

K Satyanarayana is a professor at English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. His research, study, writings, speeches are mainly on the caste system and on the exploitation of Dalits. He is the State Secretary of Kula Nirmoolana Porata Samity. This organisation campaigns for the abolition of the caste system. They do not accept any correction in the system; they campaign for the annihilation of the system.

Kranti Tekula is a press photographer.

K V Karumanth is a journalist.

Arun Ferreira is a lawyer, human rights activist, and writer. He provides legal support to those who fight for social justice.

Sudha Bhradwaj is a lawyer, social activist. She is presently engaged in the protection of the interests of Adibasis.

Vernon Gonsalves is a teacher, writer and human rights activist.

Gautam Navlakha is associated with the human rights movements. He was once in the board of editors of the well known journal Economic and Political Weekly.

Varavara Rao is a teacher, writer, and activist. He is associated with a number of Telegu journals.

There is a purpose behind this presentation of the areas of activities of the persons who are the victims of the latest State attack in August.

There is a kind of similarity between the areas of activities of those who were arrested last June and those against whom the arrest warrants have been issued, their houses ransacked and goods confiscated in August. All of them are either teachers, social workers, lawyers, writers, researchers, journalists, photographers, human rights activists, associated with magazines.

The subjects and domain of their activities are Adibasis, Dalits, political prisoners, human rights, villages, local languages, educational institutions, little magazines, social justice, constitutional rights of the people living in the lower stratum, history of revolts, organisations.

This writer has a reason behind the mentioning of the areas and nature of activities of those who are the latest victims of state power. The purpose is to locate the areas of activities, the nature of action and the persons engaged in these activities. These actions and the activists engaged in these areas of action are opposed by the administrative, economic, political and social powers. From the other way round, these are the areas of activities that concerned people should be working on.

One can arrive at an important point if one presents the facts from another angle.

Doctor Binayak Sen had stood for the Adibasis in Chattisgarh. He was kept in jail for a long time for his support to the exploited masses. Professor G N Saibaba of Delhi University had engaged himself in the continuity of Doctor Sen's work. Then Professor Saibaba was kept in jail. Social activist Rona Wilson took the responsibility to continue Professor Saibaba's work. Rona Wilson was kept in jail. Lawyer Surendra Gadling was fighting the legal battle for Professor Saibaba. Surendra is now in jail. Lawyer and social activist Sudha Bharadwaj was engaged in the struggle initiated by Doctor Sen. Now Sudha is in the latest list of persons to be arrested with the clear intention of keeping her in jail. Lawyer Susan Abraham was legal defender for Surendra Gadling. Susan's house was raided.

There is a continuity. Continuity of working for the downtrodden. Continuity of showing disapproval by the State for this kind of work. Continuity of keeping the activists in jail. Continuity of participations of activists for keeping the issue living. A history of continuation. From both sides. From the side of the State power. And from the side of the struggling people. This is the course of the history of struggle. There was struggle. There is struggle. There will remain struggle. This course the State does not want to understand. The State acts to destroy the struggle, attack the struggle. They do not succeed all the time. But they will try again and again to do that. There are ample examples.

The State attack in August had a geographical spread. The governmental machinery had planned to show the strength of their power by sending forces to different places at the same time. Delhi, Haryana, Jharkhand, Goa, Hyderabad, Maharashtra. Just to show the gravity of the power of the State. The State had not done this in June. Maybe the State had taken the June incident as a test case. As a reaction to attacks in August the protest was also widespread, that did not happen in June. Protests were raised from all corners of India. From several places. From different sections of the people. In different forms. The people of India who are the possessors of the real power had also wanted to show the State the power of the people. Socially conscious people desire that this form of protest should remain as an example for the future attacks from the State.

The reasons placed by the Government for the issue of arrest warrants, searches in houses and confiscation of electronic implements are ludicrous. From this analysis one will be able to understand the thoughts behind the show of strength by the governmental power.

In a District Court in Pune, Maharashtra, the lawyers on behalf of the Government had placed their arguments. This could be considered as the views of the State.

One, those against whom the warrants had been issued are part of an anti-fascist organisation. They are disturbed with the present situation in the country and thus they want to displace the present fascist government. There was huge uproar on this utterance by a government pleader. Questions were raised: did the government pleader think that the present government is a fascist government? Did the legal representative of the government argue that it is a crime to act for dislodging the fascist government? Is it a crime, a legal crime to become an activist of an anti-fascist organisation? Is it a crime if one is concerned about the present situation of the country? A legal crime? In truth as per government lawyer's argument the accused are actually acting in defence of democracy.

Two, after the annihilation of 40 Adibasis, including 7 children by the state armed forces in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, a Fact Finding Committee on this incident was formed. According to the deliberation by the lawyer the intention of the referred non-governmental fact finding committee was for showing the present government in bad light. This argument put forward by the legal representative of the government leads to the question that is the formation of any fact finding committee illegal? Equally serious question is that is it illegal to show the government in bad light? Is making criticism of the government illegal?

Thus one understands that the governmental position is that to know, the desire to know, to go somewhere to know, to share what you have gathered as knowledge or information with others are criminal offences.

Three, the persons, against whom the arrest warrants, search warrants and confiscation orders had been issued, for their work use pen drives and other electronic devices. This has been considered as crime. And for this criminal offence all these equipments have been confiscated. Most of the people, those in the process of knowing and sharing their knowledge with others, use these devices to collect information, to prepare their write up and for sending their writings to others. Does the government consider this process an illegal one? A criminal offence?

Four, according to the deliberation of the government lawyer, some of those arrested had raised slogans in some meeting, 'Chala lorai la chala'. Come join the struggle. And this according to the pleader is a crime. Is raising slogans a criminal offence? Has the government published a list of illegal slogans?

Here are now the deliberations of the government lawyer for the August incidents as also the governmental plea for the arrest of Sudhir Dhawale in June. Sudhir is now in jail. He was associated with Kabir Kala Manch, Pune. It was stated in a petition that on 31st December 2017 at a Dalit festival in Bhima-Koregaon that whatever the performances done by Kabir Kala Manch through singing, staging drama and raising slogans for reflecting the protests of Dalits and working people were crimes, violation of law. The argument was placed that through these kinds of activities, divisions and thus enmity had been created in the society. A question could be raised: were there no divisions in the society? No division between upper castes and lower castes? No division on the measure of economic status? And furthermore, even if these divisions, are those not confrontational?

The fundamental problem lies here. The fundamental contradiction also stands here. There are differences, the right word will be 'conflict' between the manufacture and distribution of knowledge by those who are in power and the process of gathering and dissemination of knowledge by the opponents of the government.

Anand Teltumbde, whose house had been searched by the police in August, was a former teacher of the Indian Institute of Technology Khargapur. The students of this institution along with students from other institutions related to science and technology in a statement concerning what had happened in August mentioned that the basic objective of education is to judge an issue from different angles and make an effort for continuous debates on the issue. In the present time the multiplicities, multiple voices, multiple ideas are not permitted.

In this country there are different people, living in different geographical places, different social spaces, of different economic status, on different designs of power, as different communities for a long period of time. There are different forms of contradictions, conflicts, struggles and politics.

One can think that in this state of conflict and injustice one should engage herself/ himself in the making of protest. In order to strengthen one's position she/he should be in the process of knowing, in the ways of making her/his knowledge stronger. One may exchange this knowledge for making these forceful. And ultimately one may act to make her/his protest successful.

One may want to be with the demands for the rights of the Banabasis, may have the desire to remain with the struggles of the Dalits, with the fights launched by the Adibasis, feel the need to be with the feminist movements. People may express their desire to stand for the rights of the peasants on their lands, for the respect to be shown to the minorities. They may like to be engaged with the movements of fishermen for their rights on the seashore, with the industrial workers' struggle for their basic rights. One may want to know through a continuous process about these issues. To strengthen their knowledge people are required to be with these struggles.

There may be different forms of this engagement. Lawyers, human rights activists, writers, theatre persons, painters, cartoonists, singer, film artists and technicians, journalists, social activists, poster artists, teachers, doctors, health workers, etc. They may perform different kinds of activities. A few random examples. Legal support, organise movements, create art, fact finding, raise slogans, arrange exhibitions, record photographically, dissemination of knowledge through electronic devices, publication of journals in local languages, teaching, providing medical support. An unending list.

Why are all these activities criminal acts? Illegal functions?

It could be that all these activities may be in conflict with the governmental design. May not be approved by those in power. Economic power, political power, social power, cultural power. And this is expected. These activities would thus be marked as legally objectionable, criminal offence and for that the participants would be arrested and would be kept in jails. One may propose that those in power could participate in a debate with activists. They may try to prove them wrong. Activist might be allowed to place their point of view. This is expected in a democratic country like India. Instead of these why arrest the participants? Why are participants kept in jails? Why the issue of orders for searching the houses of the participants? Why confiscations of electronic devices used by the participants?

This proves in the other way round that those in power are not in the process of participation and winning in the debates with dissenters, with the strength of their knowledge and the range of their efforts in spreading knowledge. The August incidents prove this. Actually people are in the process of winning. What they have to do is to strengthen their fight to win.

This is a story on a 'Big' struggle, on a continuous struggle. Now here is a story about a 'Little' struggle.

A group of teachers, writers, intellectuals at Delhi, who are known all over India and are respected internationally for their academic contribution, had submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court, recording their protest on the August incident. They expressed in their appeal that, there is a commonality in the activities of those persons against whom the Government had issued arrest and search warrants. They stand for the poor people; they have worked for those who are in the margins of economic and social structure of the country, for those who are in vulnerable situations. Especially the Dalits and the Adibasis. They are shunned by a wide range of sections, from the police to big capital. They are victims of continuous attack by the members of the political, economic, administrative and social powers.

The arrest and search warrants were issued with a motive to stop the opinions of the opposition, especially the opinions in favour of the interests of the poor and marginal people, to demolish the progressive and human rights ideology. This governmental step was basically a serious warning to those who construct their opinions beyond the governmental design. The intention was to resist them from criticisms of the government.

The Supreme Court had accepted the appeal and deferred and lessened the sinister step of the government at least for the time being. At least a little breathing space!

The lawyer representing the government placed a counter argument by saying that the petitioners were 'outsiders', meaning they were not the victims. They could not make any point on behalf of the victims. The Supreme Court had rejected this argument.

There are a number of persons who have been languishing in jails of West Bengal for a long period of time. They had engaged in similar activities, as mentioned in the appeal to the Supreme Court by the group of eminent persons of Delhi.

Well, the teachers, writers, intellectuals can make an appeal, similar to that submitted in the Supreme Court by the eminent persons in Delhi, and place this in the High Court at Kolkata with a request to read and hear the submission. Then the Judges would get another opportunity to judge those in custody in West Bengal on similar arguments as mentioned in the appeal to the Supreme Court by the eminent persons. And it may so happen that the activists may be released from jails and get the opportunity to renew their work for the downtrodden.

For the August incident the people from all over India had responded positively, in different ways. Will the teachers, historians, economists, sociologists, the eminent persons in West Bengal respond to this appeal? This writer has a hope. 

Autumn Number 2018
Vol. 51, No.14 - 17, Oct 7 - Nov 3, 2018