“There is no weapon and there is no asura,” says artist Jintu Das of his Durga at the Barisha Club’s pandal in Kolkata this year. What we have instead is a mother, a migrant worker on the road with her three children, one of them a pot-bellied little boy with the head of an elephant, another a girl with an owl tucked under her arm, the third a bare-bodied infant identified by Das as Kartik.
The forsaken gods must wander till they find a home where hearts are open to them.
- G N Saibaba, being held in complete isolation at the Nagpur prison’s infamous anda cell, has announced that he will begin an indefinite fast against the conditions of his incarceration, on October 21. The Delhi university professor, 90 per cent disabled and jailed under the UAPA since 2014, has been deprived of access to reading material, letters and even medicines. His wife, A S Vasantha Kumari, issued a statement on October 15 calling for the restoration of his rights as a prisoner.
- Varavara Rao’s wife, Pendyala Hemalatha, has moved the supreme court, seeking bail for her ailing husband. The petition mentions that when she visited him at Mumbai’s JJ hospital, where he was admitted with Covid in July, she found him lying “in a pool of urine, without any nurse or attendant”. The neglect worsened with his return to Taloja jail on August 28. She cites a letter from Vernon Gonsalves, where he writes that Rao had been lying with the same urine catheter bag attached to him for 40 days and had developed a urinary infection. (We reported last week that Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves have been taking care of Rao in the prison ward, given the absence of trained medical attendants.) P. Hemalatha’s petition also cites a report from the Nanavati hospital, which mentions that Rao has developed neurological problems. Rao was moved to Nanavati on account of the poor care he received at the JJ hospital, where he suffered a fall. As evidence of his mental state, her petition includes a letter dated August 31 in which he speaks of her as dead and of her body lying in a morgue. Rao turns 80 on November 3. He has endured over two years of abuse in the form of pre-trial imprisonment and is now bedridden.Jenny Rowena and Sahba Husain have earlier spoken of the arbitrary regime of deprivation and harassment at the Taloja jail, and how they were unable to even reach books to their partners, Hany Babu and Gautam Navlakha. Further, the jail authorities restricted phone calls to two and five minutes and denied them video calls despite a high court order permitting it. They spoke also of letters that were returned, and small comforts such as the use of a chair withheld from the prisoners.
- “Everything the BJP does is with a hidden agenda. The one here will become apparent in the days to come,” said Hemant Soren, Jharkhand’s chief minister, speaking at a protest against the NIA’s October 8 arrest of Stan Swamy. Street protests have spread from Ranchi to Guwahati, Shillong, Chennai, Goa and Kolkata, among other places. In Bangalore, a human chain was formed, stretching three kilometres from the Brigade Road to the Shanti Nagar Bus Depot. Ranchi saw several protests in the past week, the largest one called a Nyay March, which took place on Saturday, October 17, and drew every non-BJP political formation in the state, from the JMM to the Congress, CPI and CPI (ML). Later, the participants submitted a letter to Jharkhand’s governor, Draupadi Murmu, demanding the withdrawal of all cases filed under the “Bhima Koregaon” and the equally sordid “Delhi riots” investigations.As at Hathras so with “Bhima Koregaon”, the BJP government aims to supplant actual crimes with imaginary ones. The latest supplementary charge sheet of the NIA takes the case to the realm of an international conspiracy. Unlike Hathras, though rather like the clampdown on Kashmir, the discriminatory CAA-NRC and the Delhi pogrom, the government has managed to internationalise the issue with unintended consequences, as a global scandal. Writing in Scroll (October 14), John Dayal reminds the government of another octogenarian Jesuit, Pope Francis, who will be following this case with concern. Writing in The Citizen (October 16), Dayal notes that Swamy’s work for the rights of adivasis reflects the moral imperative of service expressed by the pope’s encyclical “Tutti Fratelli” (All are brothers), which enjoins the clergy to take responsibility for others in their suffering.The Society of Jesus (the Jesuit order) is present in over 80 countries and the Independent Catholic News (October 13) reports on a signature campaign that has begun to mobilise support for Swamy. Look here for coverage in The Tablet, an international journal of church news. The Herald, a Christian journal in Malaysia, quotes from Swamy’s 2010 book, Jail mein band qaidiyon ka sach, where he had pointed out that 97 per cent of adivasi undertrial prisoners come from families with an income of less than Rs 5,000 a month, while 98 per cent of them have no ties whatever to naxals. The NIA’s fanciful charge sheet is unlikely to cut much ice globally, except to compound the government’s crimes as a perpetrator of both systemic injustice and religious persecution. The Christian organisation, Persecution Relief, records that in the third quarter of 2020 alone there have been 157 attacks on the community, from rape to arson, vandalism and arrest, with UP leading the list. This has also been a year when India was downgraded by the US commission on international religious freedom, to the lowest level: “countries of particular concern”.
- The former J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, was released from detention on October 13, after 14 months spent in custody. “We have to take back what the Delhi durbar took from us with an illegal, undemocratic decision,” was her first public message on being released. On October 15, all the mainstream Kashmiri parties came together to demand the restoration of Article 370—unilaterally withdrawn by the union government on August 5 last year. To no one’s great surprise, Farooq Abdullah was summoned by the enforcement directorate (ED) just days later, on October 19, and subjected to prolonged questioning.It is a telling reversal of roles that opponents of the union government—whether in Kashmir, the pathalgadi movement in Jharkhand, the anti-CAA-NRC protesters, or the accused in the “Bhima Koregaon” case—increasingly show as defenders of the constitution against the depredations of the party in power.
- On October 12, Moosa Mondal of Barpeta, Assam, became the 107th person driven to suicide by the national registry of citizens (NRC) process. Moosa, who occupied a tiny plot of government land on the Assam-Bhutan border, was served notice by the foreigners’ tribunal in 2018, declaring him an alien. Both his father and uncle’s names were on the voters’ list of 1965 and 1970, Moosa himself figured on the list in 1989, yet none of it sufficed to prove his citizenship. Learning from his lawyer that an appeal to the Guwahati high court would cost him Rs 80,000 he lost heart and ended his life. (Read the Sabrang report.)The network of detention centres being erected across various states will end up holding people captive indefinitely, for there exists no treaty of extradition with any country to absorb those identified as aliens by the NRC process. As in Assam, a punishing experience lies ahead for the poor, a combination of official harassment and corruption, stress and financial ruin. UP’s first detention centre, outside Ghaziabad, stands ready to receive inmates once the NRC is underway.
- At 24, Asif Iqbal Tanha is the youngest of the students taken in custody by the Delhi police for participating in the anti-CAA protests. The official storyline holds him responsible for the violence at Jamia Nagar in mid December 2019. The two-step dance between investigators and their cheerleaders in the media is by now a familiar routine, and Tanha’s “confessional statement” was duly leaked, read aloud on his show by Sudhir Chaudhury of Zee News, and also featured by OpIndia. The Delhi high court has ordered these outlets to disclose their source. The police piously deny having any hand in the leak and claim to be “aggrieved by the alleged confessional statement of the accused being made public as that had hampered the investigation”.In an excellent profile, HuffPost retraces Tanha’s development as a boy from Jharkhand who made it to Jamia by dint of effort, had to work while studying in order to meet his living expenses, and yet found the time and energy for campus activism—because it was meaningful, personally liberating and public spirited. Booked under the notorious FIR 59, he was arrested in May by the very police force that had issued him a pass to carry out humanitarian work during the lockdown.