Ahead of the Delhi Election
A round-up of the issues and voices raised against the CAA – VII
February 5, 2020
● As Delhi’s election gets closer, the BJP has less and less use for scruples or facts. On January 27, Rajmohan Gandhi — writing “not as Gandhi’s grandson but as his biographer” (Indian Express) — demanded that the BJP stop calling the CAA Gandhi’s dream. But President Kovind went ahead and did exactly that, four days later, cherry picking Gandhi’s words to present the CAA as an idea that originated with “pujya Bapu”. His January 31 inaugural speech to the Budget Session of parliament was also more concerned about the treatment of minorities in Pakistan than in India. The Wire (February 3) reports on “a rare show of solidarity” among opposition members, who tabled six amendments to the customary vote of thanks to the president.
● Another assault on Gandhi’s memory was called off at the last minute. On January 23, “Abide With Me” was restored to the programme card of the Beating Retreat ceremony. However, on February 1, a new front was opened against him by Anant Kumar Hegde, BJP’s member of parliament from Uttara Kannada, who heaped scorn on India’s freedom movement, calling it and the Upavasa (fasting) satyagraha “a big drama”. Hegde expressed himself frankly skeptical of the idea that India had won its independence. This was during a speech given in honour of V.D. Savarkar, at Bengaluru. On February 4, Hegde offered a partial walk-back, saying that he had never once named Gandhi in his speech. Make of that what you will, then listen to T.M. Krishna sing Gandhi’s favourite hymn here.
● Three days after some flagrant fear mongering and incitement to violence by the BJP’s Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma — covered by us here — a fanatic with a pistol fired at peaceful protestors marching to Rajghat on the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination. In multiple videos, we see the police amble up to the shooter who had been waving his weapon in the air before firing it. We see the wounded Jamia student, Shadab Farooq, having to climb over barricades to get to hospital. We next hear Chinmoy Biswal, DCP of South-East Delhi, speak of “the need to determine what happened here”, and attempt to shift the blame to protestors who had decided to march to Rajghat despite being refused permission to do so. The shooter turned out to be a minor, a wannabe holy martyr with a strong impulse towards self-dramatisation, and rather poor spelling, but his social media updates on the planned outrage drew applause from admirers. And, “hours after the shooting, small groups of people walked past the boy’s home in Jewar [UP], shouting Hindu slogans in support of his actions,” reports Al Jazeera (February 1). The Election Commission of India showed its displeasure to BJP leaders promoting violence, with a light slap on the wrist — a 72-hour ban on campaigning by Thakur, and a 96-hour ban on Verma — besides ordering their removal from the BJP “star campaigners list”. (What does the term mean? Find out here.) The evening of February 1, Kapil Gujjar, a twenty-five-year-old, fired shots in the air at Shaheen Bagh, declaring, “Only will Hindus get to have their way in this country.” The next day, the ECI removed Chinmoy Biswal from his post. Amid sordor and bathos, a voice of reason: over 160 women, joined by 13 organisations, addressed an open letter to Narendra Modi, asking him to stop BJP leaders from using the rhetoric of rape in their electioneering.
And here’s the voice of art: a video of Poojan Sahil and Aseem Sundan, with a song “Zalim humein azmana”; “Art is bulletproof” goes the sub-heading. More art: The Karwan e Mohabbat (January 31) presents a stunning video of wall paintings by students and residents of Jamia Nagar. In one, a Last Supper-like arrangement (menu: pure veg), Hitler sits twirling a lotus moodily, wondering which of his disciples will betray him, while they — Modi, Shah and Adityanath among others — swear complete allegiance. Also memorable, Chandrashekhar Azad’s blue scarf as an ascending highway of citizenship. And a gorgeous calligraphed rendition of couplets from “Hum dékhéngé”. Watch the video also for stories of solidarity and hope amid suffering. And for the “Bol ki lab azaad hain téré” on which it ends.
● Of course, Delhi does not have a monopoly on outrages. The Karnataka police have been interrogating 9-12 year olds at the Shaheen Primary and High School, Bidar, over an anti-CAA play staged at the school’s annual day function, on January 21. The police interrogations, which began on January 28, reached their fourth round on February 3, when seven children (some of whom were not in the play) were questioned for two hours. Bangalore Mirror (February 4) reports on the timeline, starting from January 26, when “a social worker named Neelesh Rakshyal” lodged a police complaint against the school. (The Deccan Herald describes him as “an Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishat worker”.) Sedition charges were filed on January 28, and the school management was booked for “promoting enmity between different groups”. On January 31 came the arrest of the headmistress, Fareeda Begum, along with a parent, Najamunnisa.
The voice of reason emerges here, too: On February 4, the Bengaluru-based Parents for Peace, Justice and Plurality issued an open letter against the “illegal and inhumane actions of the Bidar police”. Read extensive quotations from their letter in this NDTV report.
● Let’s come away from the mainstream news. Listen to this articulate young protestor take on the BJP’s talking points, at Jabalpur’s Ghazibagh (January 30) — scene of women’s protests for a fortnight and counting. Also, the protest at Malerkotla completes a month this week. The Indian Express reports on the twenty-sixth day (February 2), when women dressed for Basant took out a march through the city, ending it with a langar. Seventy organisations have been involved with making the daily rota of protestors. They are determined to keep it up as long as the Shaheen Bagh protests continue. Next, watch the welcome given to Chandrashekhar Azad, on his arrival in Kerala (February 2) and listen to him address a large crowd (February 3) in unselfconscious Hindi. Can’t name many mainstream leaders who have displayed the same energy or spontaneity in travelling across the country and contacting people; Azad may well be the most frequently jailed figure under the Modi government. Betwa Sharma in HuffPost (January 31) writes of Lucknow lawyer, Aashma Izzat, who stood outside the Lucknow jail for days, meeting the families of those incarcerated after the anti-CAA protests, and taking on their cases pro bono. “So far she has found 17 clients and won bail for all of them.” Read about her clients here. Sabrang (February 1) reported the death by suicide of Fayjul Hoque, a daily-wage worker in Assam who had been placed on the election commission’s D-voter list and excluded from the NRC. He is survived by his wife, also a daily-wage worker, and their two teenage daughters. Sabrang (January 28) has put out a short film on the Chitmahals, enclaves of India and Bangladesh locked within each other’s territories. The Chitmahals are detention camps in all but name, barbed wire enclosures cut off from access to social services and the law. Sexual abuse is rife here, the state is absent, and the future is a blank. Prisons, in other words; a life without citizenship.
● On February 1, the Mahim Dargah at Mumbai became possibly the first religious shrine in India to unveil a plaque bearing the Preamble to the Constitution. However, across the city, IIT Bombay has issued 15 guidelines of questionable clarity and grammar, to discourage students from participating in political demonstrations. Here is the Sabrang report (January 29). The Mumbai police refused permission to the annual Queer Pride Parade owing to the fear that “slogans could be raised against the central government in relation to CAA and NRC at this rally. We therefore deny permission.” The smaller and cleverly named Queer Azadi March that took place on February 1 drew a police complaint by the BJP’s Kirit Somaiya. Over fifty participants have been charged with sedition by the Mumbai police, for raising slogans in support of Sharjeel Imam. As Alok Hisarwala writes in Scroll (February 5) the LGBTQI+ communities have every reason to fear the CAA-NPR-NRC, given the number of transpeople excluded in Assam; and every reason to protest against the government, in solidarity with queer (and other) Muslims. The sedition law belongs with Section 377 and deserves to go the same way. Its use against queer protestors today is a reprise of the decades of police harassment that the queer community has suffered. We quote the fighting words of an Azadi banner: "Hum (bhi) DekheinGay". Staying with Mumbai and state repression, Dr Kafeel Khan was arrested by Mumbai police on January 29. He was in the city to address an anti-CAA rally, and was arrested on the basis of a complaint with the UP police about an anti-CAA rally he had addressed at Aligarh Muslim University in December. A reminder: he had previously been arrested and jailed in 2017, before being cleared (in September 2019) of charges relating to the death of 60 children at the BRD Medical College of Gorakhpur. The sitting MLA from Gorakhpur, one Yogi Adityanath, was never held answerable for the tragedy.
Also Read: The Republic Speaks
● Here’s a clip from the January 26 march against the CAA at Washington DC, with some damning testimony against the Indian embassy and its low stratagems to foil the protestors. On February 4, the Seattle City Council became the first legislative body in the USA to pass a resolution against the CAA and the NRC. The resolution also recognises the “far-right” politics of the BJP as discriminatory. (Let’s see how the loutish embassy handles this one.) Read The Wire’s report.
● A low but distinct rumble of dissent can be heard from within the BJP. Narayan Tripathi, MLA from Maihar (M.P.) declared his opposition to the CAA (January 28): “Either we respect and follow Baba Bhimrao Ambedkar’s Constitution or we should tear it up and get rid of it. The Constitution is clear that discrimination on the basis of religion isn’t possible; yet this is happening.” The Hindu (January 31) reports on mass resignations from the party’s minority cell in M.P. At the end of a pro-CAA rally in Jabalpur on January 26, 700 members resigned in protest at the remarks made there, leaving a mere 50 in the organisation — which stands as good as dissolved. From elsewhere in the state, there is news of over a thousand abrupt departures.
● In closing, we recommend to you Karan Thapar’s extended interview with Pratap Bhanu Mehta (January 29), on the differences between the Emergency and today’s situation, the utility of the term “fascist” to characterise the BJP, what to make of a Supreme Court that is often more regressive than High Courts these days, the moral and pragmatic consequences of the abrogation of Article 370, the outlook for the anti-CAA protests — grim, without a united opposition on side — and also the great hope of these protests as citizens take over the language of constitutionality, while the government has been driven into using extra-constitutional language.
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