A story from the crime pages of several Hindi journals in November (here, here, and here) offers a snapshot of our disordered moral and cognitive compass. In the village of Nizampur, near Lucknow, a man saw in a dream that a hoard of gold lay buried under his brother’s vacant house. Convinced, he mustered four friends, some shovels and, late at night, they set to gouging the floor. It wasn’t noiseless work; when troubled neighbours called in the police, the treasure hunters were arrested. The tale is a non-starter and ends on bathos—the wreck of personal dignity, of a physical structure and a family relationship. No gold.
- November 26 used to be National Law Day till the Narendra Modi government resolved on a do-over in 2015, and Constitution Day it became: “A day,” as Modi tweeted this year, “to express gratitude to the makers of our Constitution and to reiterate our commitment to building the India of their dreams.
The official celebration began between 1 and 3 a.m. on November 25, as Haryana’s BJP government conducted illegal raids and arrests at the homes of more than 100 farmers, to prevent their marching to Delhi against the Centre’s new farm laws. Hundreds more were detained on Haryana’s roads. On Constitution Day, the Punjab and Haryana high court issued a notice to the state government, based on a habeas corpus plea filed on behalf of the arrested. It was also a day both union and state governments added substantially to their bag of political prisoners and treated marching farmers like an invading enemy, digging trenches in the national highway, rolling out concertina wire, erecting concrete and metal barricades, aiming water cannon and tear gas into crowds. (The last would not be used against a foreign army, tear gas being prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention.)
To adivasis, dalits, university students, Kashmiris and Muslims in general, the government’s heavy-handedness is wearyingly familiar, as is the escalation of charges. Navdeep Singh, who had clambered atop a cannon-mounted vehicle and turned off its hose, was charged with attempt to murder. The bogey of anti-national (Khalistani) infiltration was another expected touch, for such are the government’s reflexes. We cannot yet affirm the precise scale of the arrests. Some 500 protesting farmers were arrested in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu alone. Dozens of arrests and the detention of thousands took place in UP.
As the protests continue to spread, we see multiple citizens’ groups and causes coming together in solidarity. P Sainath notes that the demands of the Ugraha contingent of farmers include calling for the release of imprisoned activists and intellectuals. On November 29, six women’s groups wrote an open letter expressing support of the farmers’ demands and condemning the government’s repression of the march. From Bilkis Dadi of Shaheen Bagh to Chandrashekhar Azad, a range of veterans who have braved the government’s handling of civil protest stand with the farmers.
- “The farmers are being misled,” claimed Modi on November 30, alleging that opposition parties are using tricks to impede the new farm laws. This has become a regular fallback line whenever the government faces protest from communities it cannot afford to alienate—whether dalits, adivasis or farmers. On the other hand, civil resistance by Muslims is always enemy action. The 930-page supplementary charge sheet submitted by the Delhi police against Umar Khalid declares his atheism is a sham, for he is a “veteran of sedition” with a plan to break up India in 2020 and replace it with an entity where “all relations were based on the concept of Ummah, with total decimation of secular national identities”. More amazing disclosures: Khalid represents the “convergence point of the twin lines of Pan-Islamica and Ultra-Left anarchism” which are “mutually reinforcing lines of thought”. If you have always suspected that Boko Haram and Occupy Wall Street were one and the same thing, you may wish to join the private army being raised by Kapil Mishra. Sabrang (November 17) has the application form. The same site reminds us, with a must-watch video (here), of Umar Khalid’s own words and his politics. But the Delhi police are having none of it. They maintain that Khalid was “mentor” and Sharjeel Imam his “detonator”—the two “a perfect combination”, since Imam was an “unapologetic floating froth of religious extremism”. The third person charged is Faizan Khan, an Airtel employee whose life-altering mistake was selling a SIM card to Safoora Zargar.
On December 2, Dinesh Kumar, the chief metropolitan magistrate, extended Umar Khalid’s judicial custody for another 14 days. We reported earlier that Khalid had appealed against his remand being extended without a submission from his counsel. The appeal was dismissed by Dinesh Kumar, who held that there is no scope to hear from the counsel of the accused each time the remand is extended.
Ishrat Jahan’s bail application, dismissed by the Delhi high court even though no charge sheet had been presented against her for over 90 days after her arrest, was dismissed again on November 26 by Amitabh Rawat, the additional sessions judge, who said it was not “a fit case to grant interim bail” considering “the gravity of the offences, including UAPA”. Arrested on February 26, Jahan was let out on bail just once, for a few days in June, to get married. Her counsel noted that she had suffered a spinal injury after a fall at the Mandoli jail and has a history of cervical pain for which she has long been on medication. Further, she poses no flight risk and there has been a recent outbreak of Covid at the prison.
- Choosing to view people as dupes or enemies is a hallmark of political amorality. (Back in 1920, Walter Serner, a co-founder of Dada, had recommended this outlook in a handbook for the aspiring con artist, recently translated as Last Loosening.) With the “love jihad” ordinances of UP, MP and Haryana, the configuration of con artist, mark and enemy revives in our midst. When the world’s leading theorists of jihad are all Hindu nationalists, the first role is filled to perfection. The “dupes” here would be women, easily misled by “love jihadis”, just as farmers are by opposition parties, or adivasis and dalits by “urban naxals”. The woman, adivasi, dalit, or farmer choosing for herself is an inadmissible idea, for where would that leave hierarchy, patriarchy, caste endogamy—asks Mohan Rao (December 1). As to the enemy, there now exist criminally Muslim ways of eating, loving and marrying, applying for jobs, and breathing (corona jihad). On November 28, UP’s law books acquired the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, with the inaugural case filed under it just a day later. The supreme court will decide if these ordinances are a violation of the constitution, but it is yet to schedule hearings on the abrogation of Article 370, or the validity of the CAA. Thus, Muslim citizens are at the mercy of a state that is inclined to condemn them.
- Jitendra Singh, union minister of state for the northeast and for the PMO, declared on November 30 that grassroots democracy has arrived in Kashmir for the first time in 73 years. He meant the ongoing district development council polls, rushed through by the central government after amending the panchayati rules of the erstwhile state on October 16, demarcating new constituencies and issuing a notification for the elections—all in a matter of days. The union home ministry enjoys carte blanche in Kashmir: the new administrative arrangement is an accomplished fact even as the abrogation of Article 370 is yet to be heard in court. On December 2, Yusuf Taregami of the CPI (Marxist) approached the supreme court, seeking a stay on the centre’s new land laws for Kashmir till the court decides on the legality of the dissolution of Article 370.
On November 17, Amit Shah dubbed the alliance of mainstream political parties in Kashmir as the “Gupkar gang”. In furtherance of grassroots democracy, the PDP’s youth leader Waheed Ur Rehman Para was arrested on November 24, directly after filing his nomination papers at Pulwama. Interrogated in Delhi for two days by the NIA, he was produced before the NIA court in Jammu on November 27 and remanded to NIA custody for 15 days. A day after Para’s arrest, a story emerged from Pulwama district, of security forces thrashing local youth and using them as a human shield during cordon and search operations.
- Stan Swamy has approached the special NIA court in Mumbai, seeking bail on grounds of age and illness. The plea adds that he poses no flight risk and was never charged or arrested during a two-year-long investigation. On November 26, the NIA told the court that it found no straw or sipper when it seized his belongings. Swamy’s lawyer, Sharif Shaikh, disputed the claim but the court dismissed the initial plea. Meanwhile, a social media campaign was launched to send straws and sippers to the Taloja jail, and was joined by a group of 42 lawyers. On November 29, the NIA dismissed as “false, incorrect and mischievous” claims that it had confiscated any straw or sipper among Swamy’s possessions. The same day, Maharashtra’s minister of state for home, Satej Patil, weighed in on behalf of the authorities at Taloja jail, to say that Swamy is being provided with all the amenities, including straw, sipper, wheelchair and medical attention. The matter comes up next on December 4, when Swamy’s plea for winter clothes will also be heard. Presumably, he will not have to prove it is winter.
In the context of the farmers’ protests, P Sainath had warned against being distracted by the spectacle of repression and losing sight of the protesters’ demands. The straw and sipper has become that kind of fetish object, a cynosure (etymologically, dog’s tail) of public attention. We need to remember that it is merely part of a chain of wrongs and the denial of legal redress. The Wire (November 29) profiles three people, a teacher, a rights activist and a journalist, who are among 67 adivasis charged under the UAPA by the Andhra Pradesh government.
- Shoma Sen suffers from osteoarthritis and her glaucoma has worsened, but there have been no hospital visits for her since she was moved to the Byculla jail in February. Her daughter Koel says: “I know that she is in a lot of pain and limps when she walks.”
Anand Teltumbde’s plea to be allowed food from home has been pending since August 28. The superintendent of Taloja prison was required by court to take him for a medical check up and submit a reply by September 4. That reply has still not been filed. The court has sought the report during the next hearing later in December.
Nearly 60 Irish writers have written a letter to their country’s embassy in India and the Indian embassy in Dublin, expressing alarm at Varavara Rao’s deteriorating condition as he continues to be held without trial two years after his arrest. N. Venugopal’s book on him, The Making of Varavara Rao: an intimate portrait by a nephew, recently out, recounts 25 cases in which Rao was charged, prosecuted and acquitted in the past five decades, besides detailing a prolific literary life and his staunch support to revolutionary political struggle.
- On December 2, the chief justice of India, S A Bobde, held that the bail pleas of Arnab Goswami and Siddique Kappan cannot be compared as “every case is different”. The court was hearing the habeas corpus petition filed on behalf of Kappan by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists. Asked why the petitioner had not moved the Allahabad high court, Kapil Sibal mentioned the special sitting held for Goswami, adding that the high court had scheduled the next hearing for Kappan’s co-accused a month later, which impelled him to seek a hearing at the supreme court instead.