In light of the state’s attack on eminent activists who fight for the right of marginalised and oppressed, those who express solidarity must raise their voices loudly and actively writes ANNIE DOMINI.
If you look at the body politic of the country without saffron-tinted glasses, if you truly see, you will find a very very sick organism indeed. An organism that’s cannibalising on its own heart, brain and lungs to feed a massive belly of unrestrained State power. An organism that’s chewing on its own intellectual vascular system by unleashing worms and maggots of institutional corrosion on its living and breathing parts.
You see men and women of great heart chained and put en bloc in jails. From the 33-year-old Umar Khalid to the 83-year-old Jesuit priest, Father Stan Swamy, the prisons are engulfing more and more living, breathing, dissenting parts of this otherwise rotting Gargantua.
Metaphors fail at such systemic cruelty.
After all, how can you accurately capture the evil of a State that finds solidarity to be a crime?
Stan Swamy — forever a champion of the multiply oppressed adivasis of Jharkhand, standing with them, staying among them, against corporate greed and punitive State — has been branded a criminal.
A 10,000-page-long chargesheet paints a dubious, upside-down picture of a man whose only interest is seeing that the people, among whom he has lived all his life, do not get dispossessed from the land, water and forest resources they have guarded for centuries, if not millennia. Father Stan Swamy has been framed by India’s top “counter-terror” organisation, the National Investigation Agency (NIA),as involved in unlawful activities, accused of terrorism, treason, of being a Maoist and partaking of imagined conspiracies which form the macabre whirlpool of the Bhima-Koregaon allegations.
This is the whirlpool that has eaten up the Sudha Bharadwajes and Anand Teltumbdes of the country already. It has sucked in young environmental rights activist Mahesh Raut, who roughly a year before his absurd arrest on the Bhima-Koregaon charges, had published a report on how the government was indiscriminately giving away land and forest rights to mining companies. It has engulfed Dr Shoma Sen who expressed solidarity with the adivasis and Surendra Gadling, the lawyer who represented the adivasis at the receiving end of State power in court.
Solidarity with the downtrodden is the biggest crime in the eyes of the State that sees not equal citizens in everyone but instruments of expanding its monstrous power over the lives of all.
Stan Swamy’s name had been thrown around since 2018 when the Bhima-Koregaon arrests were carried out in two batches in June and August of 2018. Since then, it was a tenuous wait for the octogenarian who’s now saddled with a battle with Parkinson’s disease as well.
In September 2018, Stan Swamy said in a press release that the case against him was an absolute fabrication. He said: “I have been raising awareness among adivasi and dalit people for their rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution especially the rights of the adivasi community provided in the Fifth Schedule and their right of self-governance through Gram Sabhas as provided in PESA Act. I have also tried to make them aware of the judgment of the Supreme Court that ‘the owner of the land is also the owner of the subsoil minerals.’ I have also raised voice against the formation of Land Bank that intends to take over the ‘commons’ such as roads, rivers, ponds, burial grounds, community forest lands etc which are traditionally used by the community.”
If Umar Khalid raised his voice against a future regime of “statizenship” of sort, that the deadly combination of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens would unleash, the likes of Sudha Bharadwaj, Father Swamy and Mahesh Raut have been instrumental in exposing the terrifying state-corporate nexus disenfranchising the poorest among Indians, the adivasis.
Say the State has locked them up so that their truths don’t reach us. Use active voice, because solidarity cannot be expressed in passive voice anymore.
How many of the adivasis have been branded criminals for saying the land is theirs and not for the State to take away at throw-away prices? Solidarity with the downtrodden is the biggest crime in the eyes of the State that sees not equal citizens in everyone but instruments of expanding its monstrous power over the lives of all.
It’s their unwavering commitment to truth and compassion instead of riding the bandwagon of a hollowed out “development model” (one only needs to ask “development for who?” in the wake of the ever-increasing inequality, poverty and hunger indices) that turns the likes of Stan Swamy, Sudha Bharadwaj, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, and others into enemies of the State.
At a recent press conference held at the Delhi Press Club of India, Arundhati Roy saluted the ghosts of those who were incarcerated for speaking out, but who would previously be regular features of earlier such press conferences on the state of the nation. She said absolutely no one was “eminent” anymore, everyone was fair game for the State to pick up and destroy. She called the mainstream media, particularly the TV anchors, the most rotten part of this giant rotten system, decaying conspicuously and coming apart, but still supplied by a pipeline of hate funnelling self-destruction via lies and incompetence. Roy, long a lone Cassandra, is joined today by the ghosts of the imprisoned, the crusaders of truth and justice standing up against this impossible injustice of everyday deadening of souls.
For writers and columnists who still have access to the almost colonised opinion pages of this country’s decaying press, it won’t be enough to simply nod their metaphoric heads in horror, express ephemeral sorrow at a whimsy “loss of conscience”, tie themselves up in self-righteous platitudes of “politics without ethics”. Unless you name the beast clearly and repeatedly, don’t clog up precious print space that both legitimises and debunks discourses.
Don’t say Stan Swamy and Sudha Bharadwaj and Mahesh Raut and Surendra Gadling and Shoma Sen have been unfairly incarcerated. Say the State has locked them up so that their truths don’t reach us. Use active voice, because solidarity cannot be expressed in passive voice anymore. (IPA)
The article was originally published in The Leaflet.
(Annie Domini is a journalist. Views are personal.)