Resist My People, Resist Them/ I am Gauri, I am Dareen
"Palestinians, and those of us in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, have known for a long time that the answer to this crushing of free speech and dissent is to not let the fear take over."
September 15, 2017
On 6 September last week, we woke up to the news of Indian journalist and activist, Gauri Lankesh, being shot dead in front of her house. Lankesh ran an independent tabloid from Bangalore, Karnataka, and was an outspoken critic of the rising Hindu rightwing in India, as well as oppressive systems of patriarchy and casteism. It is this fearless dissent that threatened the rightwing, and precipitated the fatal attack on her. Her killing is being seen as part of a series of attacks on critics of the right wing. For us, in the Palestine solidarity movement, this terrible news brings back a familiar sense of grief and helplessness. The loss of a comrade, a fellow traveller in collective struggles, precisely for the just battles she fought and the principles of humanism she stood for, is irreparable. The systemic attacks and persecution of activists and intellectuals, and the silencing of dissent are amongst the many forms of repression that both progressive Indians and Palestinians face.
Resist, my people, resist them.
In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows
And carried the soul in my palm
For an Arab Palestine.
These are the opening lines of the poem for which Dareen Tatour was arrested from her home at 4 am on 11 October 2015, and was later charged with incitement to violence. She was in prison for three months, and has been under house arrest since then. A range of methods of repression, which often include physical harm and at times even assassination, is deployed by the Israeli state to crush any criticism of its colonial regime. As Tatour said in an interview – “The political persecution, detentions and restrictions on freedom of expression, in my opinion, are a symptom of the crisis of Israel. As the Zionist authorities intensify repression and step up their incitement campaigns against Palestinians, they feel more weakness and impotence.”
India, too, has been witness to extra-judicial killings, as well as targeting and attacks on dissenting voices by foot soldiers of the majoritarian ideology. None of these attackers have been brought to book as the pending investigations of the murder of Narendra Dabholkar, M M Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and now Gauri Lankesh reveal. All four of them, through their scholarship, activism or journalism, had regularly mounted attacks on the right wing. Investigations reveal connections between the attacks and an organisation that is ideologically allied to the ruling party in India.
The difference between the attacks on Palestinian activists, and those on Indian activists is that, while the Israeli state directly attacks them, the attackers in India receive tacit support. They assault and kill with impunity as they are confident of not being brought to book. In both the countries, however, these attacks reveal the hollowness of their claims of democracy. While India boasts of being the largest democracy in the world, Israel claims to be the “only democracy in the turbulent Middle East”. And yet, the systemic restraints on free speech fundamentally reveal exactly the opposite about these two states i.e. the dismantling of the essential democratic freedom to criticise the state. The murder of activists like Lankesh in India, and the incarceration of Tatour in Israel intend to suppress precisely this criticism of the state and sends out the message that this will be the fate of such critics. By deploying a legal machinery to persecute such activists, or to give a free reign to their attackers, gives the state’s stamp to the chilling impact of these attacks.
In India, journalists and activists are often sued for defamation, for speaking against the powerful, as had also happened with Lankesh. Further, laws against sedition or the disruption of communal harmony are, ironically, used against those who work for communal harmony or for a plural, democratic India, while those working against its interest receive political backing and face no consequences. This is apart from the threats and actual physical violence they face.
Similarly, in Israel, the silencing of dissent is established by using the pretext of law, apart from brute force. Tatour was charged with “incitement to violence” for her poetry. Another instance is the proposed law that renders the commemoration of the Nakba (the displacement of millions of Palestinians in the 1948 war that led to their exile) illegal. Israel commemorates this as their founding day. On the other hand, pro-Palestine activists see it as a crucial occasion to discuss the situation of refugees as well as the occupation and colonisation of Palestine. To prevent that, a law has been proposed that allows for the withdrawal of funding from any organisation that involves itself with the Nakba commemoration. As legal rights groups have argued, whether or not this law is actually implemented, it has had a chilling effect on groups working to keep the memory of 1948 alive and talk about the rights of refugees.
The growing ties between the current regime in India and Israel are an ideological connivance at many levels, in which the overall tenor is that of India “learning from” Israel. India is supposedly learning from Israel how to irrigate its farms, how to manage its water resources and, crucially, how to best use defense technology. To this list, we can add the lessons India is receiving from Israel on how to tackle criticism. Israel’s expertise in agriculture and water technology is actually its expertise in apartheid: occupying the lands and resources of the Palestinians, curbing the supply of water, electricity and other basic resources. Israel’s expertise in defense technology comprises the weapons it sells after training them on Palestinians. And Israel’s method of tackling criticism is the complete silencing of dissent — a lesson India is learning fast.
Palestinians, and those of us in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, have known for a long time that the answer to this crushing of free speech and dissent is to not let the fear take over. It means, in fact, building solidarity and strengthening each small struggle. And it is this that we would like to say to our friends in India: In this dark hour, we must fight fear and isolation and stand by each other. We can begin by learning more about each other’s struggles. For twelve years now, global movements, heading the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, have been exposing the complicity with Israel's human rights violations of Israeli and international corporations and institutions. They have been pressurising the international community to take a stand against them. Through this movement, let us stop the import of Israeli technology and ideology to India. India is better off without Israel’s “lessons” in racism and colonialism. This could be a step forward in the struggles and principles Gauri Lankesh stood for. And it is one more way in which we can keep alive what she stood for.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.
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