The Tractor March
Apropos to Harsh Thakor's article (The Tractor March) A Different Republic Day Parade (Frontier, Vol. 53. No. 30, January 24-30, 2021), I would like to add some comments.

If one visits the 'encampment' of BKU (Ugrahan) near the Tikri Border (some 3-4 km away from the stage near to the Tikri Border Metro Station) and their stage, where everyday there are programmes from 9-10AM to 4PM (approx), what will strike the eyes of an onlooker is the spontaneity, zeal and also (strange) sense of discipline, cohesiveness. It was evident everyday, say on January 24, January 25, January 26, January 27, January 28..., I mean, on the Republic Day parade and also days before and after. That stage allows anyone to speak except leaders of established parties. Workers from Uttarakhand and UP could tell the audience what s/he or her/his trade union thinks, distribute their leaflets, even agricultural workers came from Chattisgarh, and some of them were seen searching the tables in the PSU(SR) organised book-stall if anything was available in Hindi. Eagerness to read books, handbills etc was another noticeable thing among many participants living in the tents. The day when scores of ex-military men, many of them decorated with gallantry awards, badges, even some with Maha Vir Chakra, Ashoka Chakra etc, marched to the stage and pledged their support to the farmers' struggle, it was memorable to all of the audience.

Another important aspect was the way the Delhites welcomed the marching peasants and workers, some on tractors, some on foot, some senior village ladies and elderly people on trolleys. At many places people of Delhi poured onto streets, showered flowers, distributed oranges, water bottles, water in earthen pots, biscuit packets, bananas, and whatever they thought to help the marchers. After evening, when marchers were returning, at several places, roadside people requested to stop for a minute and have some tea. This warm welcome by urban citizenry emboldened the peasants and workers and also the organisers; now they know that ordinary city residents are on their side.
Sandeep Banerjee, Kolkata

Saibaba and Covid-19
Dr G N Saibaba, former professor of English at Delhi University, currently serving time in Nagpur Central Jail, tested positive for COVID 19 on 13thFebruary 2021. He is currently suffering from cold, high fever, throat infection, body ache, joint pain, and shortness of breath, severe headache, muscle spasms and other COVID 19 symptoms.

Besides this, he has also been suffering from various other serious ailments, including a grave heart condition, hypertension, kidney stones, brain cyst, pancreatic problems, and attenuation of the shoulder and arm muscles and nerves resulting in partial paralysis, most of which developed in jail. Given his many co morbidities, the COVID infection may prove fatal. The specific heart condition is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy with left ventricular dysfunction, and as his oxygen levels drop further (as happens with COVID), there will be an increased strain on the heart, increasing chances of cardiac arrest.

Dr Saibaba is wheelchair bound, as he is 90% orthopaedically challenged. He is unable to carry out routine bodily functions without at least two helpers, in the jail. The two inmates assigned to him as helpers have both tested negative, and can therefore no longer assist him, leaving him completely helpless.

On the 17thof February 2021, Dr Saibaba informed his family that the jail authorities are refusing to admit him in the hospital, for COVID 19 treatment; he is simply being kept under quarantine, and given antibiotics to treat his illness. He fears that the high level of exposure to other infections in the jail will adversely affect his co morbidities, and prove highly dangerous, even fatal. Given his critical condition, he should be admitted immediately to an appropriate COVID care hospital for the duration of his treatment, where he can be assured of clean, competent therapy and care and have access to his family and lawyers at short notice. It is vital that Dr Saibaba be examined for all his medical issues at the earliest, and especially for the impact of the COVID virus on his brain and other internal organs. The jail authorities, who have so far refused to share his medical records with the family, should be directed to do so immediately.

In its 'Position Paper on COVID-19 preparedness and responses in prisons', brought out almost a year ago, on 31 March 2020, the UNODC had noted the urgent need to release all prisoners vulnerable to COVID 19, 'such as the elderly and prisoners affected by chronic diseases or other health conditions'. We call on the authorities to respect the UN's position on this, with regard to Dr G N Saibaba, as well as other similarly affected prisoners.

The Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr G N Saibaba call on the Home Minister of Maharashtra, as well as the jail authorities, to consider Dr Saibaba's case in a genuinely humanitarian way, and release him immediately, or at least grant him parole immediately to get adequate and proper treatment for his health. We urge that he be admitted into a good COVID care hospital immediately. We also call on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to take note of Dr Saibaba's precarious situation.
Our Demands:
l   Dr G N Saibaba should be released immediately.
l   Till  then, Dr G N Saibaba should be immediately administered treatment appropriate to all his medical problems.
Professor G Haragopal, Convenor
The Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr G N Saibaba

A Hidden Current of Communal Threat in West Bengal Assembly Poll Campaign
Religious or racial threat and conflict in the poll campaign is not a newly adopted tactic to the political parties of India. At present, communal harmony is the greatest challenge to this secular nation. It has been prominent after the raising of the Hindu extremists and their political party—Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Now India's political parties are clearly separated into two major groups- secular group and non-secular (Hindu) group. Religion takes a vital role in the poll campaign.

West Bengal has been always unique in its secular identity and nature. Communal integrity is the significant feature in all respects, even after the "Great Calcutta Killing" in 1946 (four days massive Hindu-Muslim riots in the capital of Bengal). People of different ethnic groups have repaired their passage of relations by their own efforts, interaction and so forth. Religious (Hindu-Muslim) issue never took the vital place of the poll campaign in spite of Hindu domination. But the Assembly Poll 2021 is remarkably different. It has been turned into a religious battle (Hindu majority vs. Muslim minority). There is a hidden current of religious threat already publicized in every corner of the state. The secular group, including organisation of Muslim minority whispers if BJP comes into power, it would be a danger to the Muslim minority because it would be taken anti-Muslim programme and policies. On the other hand, the BJP has already spread rumours (to be considered as a hidden current), if TMC further returns to power, Muslim minority may harm the Hindu with the support of the TMC. It also whispers that the environment of the state would be the worst for Hindu women. Their movement outside home would be restricted because of torture and harassment by the Muslims.

Unfortunately, this rumour is in the mouth of the active left supporters. Both the right and left active supporters are deliberately spreading it among the innocent and silent supporters (voters) of the state. Thus, all of the political parties are involved to create an environment of communal misunderstanding, disharmony and consequently a communal riot. Is it possible to a secular state? Will people of West Bengal have to pass within this wrong state? May it be a conscious tool of poll campaign? It might be an alarming threat to everyone. Therefore, everybody should be sensitively prepared to tackle it. No one would excuse any incident which might be harmed the people for the benefit of political gain.
Harasankar Adhikari, Kolkata

Pratibader Adhikar Mancha
Pratibader Adhikar Mancha welcomes the temporary release on bail of Mr Varavara Rao, 80-year-old human rights defender who was held in detention for two and a half years pending trial at Taloja Jail, Mumbai. On February 22, 2021, the Mumbai High Court granted bail for six months to Mr. Rao on medical grounds. He was released on a 50,000 Rupees bail and on condition that he remains in Mumbai, within the jurisdiction of the Special National Investigation Agency (NIA) Court; attends the court whenever he is summoned; surrenders his passport to the NIA; refrains from hampering the investigation; and does not speak to the media about his case. At present, Mr. Rao is undergoing treatment in the Nanavati Hospital, in Mumbai. Varavara Rao was arrested on November 17, 2018, for his alleged involvement in violence that broke out at Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra State, on January 1, 2018. From November 2018, Mr. Rao's health significantly deteriorated during his detention due to lack of adequate medical care. In July 2020, Varavara Rao tested positive for Covid-19 but was provided adequate medical care only after his family members organised a press conference and urged the government to transfer him to a hospital.

Pratibader Adhikar Mancha though welcomes the release on bail of Varavara Rao but calls for his unconditional and permanent release as his detention is only aimed at punishing him for his legitimate human rights activities, further condemns the ongoing judicial harassment of Varavara Rao and all other human rights defenders detained in the same case, including Mr. Stan Swamy, 83, who has been denied adequate care while in prison; Ms. SudhaBhardwaj; Mr. Vernon Gonsalves; Mr. Gautam Navlakha; Mr. Arun Ferreira; Mr. Sudhir Dhawale ; Mr. Rona Wilson; Ms. Shoma Sen; Mr. Anand Teltumbde; Mr. Mahesh Raut; and Mr. Surendra Gadling and demand their immediate and unconditional release.

Pratibader Adhikar Mancha demands to the authorities in India:
i.    Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of. Varavara Rao, and give him unconditional access to the medical care he requires;
ii.   Unconditionally and permanently release Mr. Varavara Rao and all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at their human rights activities;
iii.  Put an end to all acts of harassment—including at the judicial level—against Mr. Varavara Rao and all other human rights defenders in India, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstance.
Biplab Mukherjee, Kolkata

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Vol. 53, No. 37, Mar 14 - 20, 2021