KANHAIYA SPOKE WELL

Irrespective of going into the Qualitatives of Kanhaiya Kumar’s address – that he said was not a speech but accumulative expression of his experiences – after his release from the Tihar Jail today – was really something to listen to.

The man spoke well. He had a flow. And he sounded fearless, objective and bound to an ideology. That is probably the difference age brings – a kind of puritan fearlessness where you don’t really think much of the consequences.

Some years ago, once, I had chance to speak to Dr. Binayak Sen over the phone, after he had got a long fought but ‘temporary’ bail in the sedition case the state had imposed on him along with other serious charges. It was a brief conversation where Dr. Sen sounded very cautious on what to speak and what not to. He was evasive on directly answering most of the questions even during our brief conversation.

Dr. Sen is an inspiration – a great crusader of social rights – and he is still the same Dr. Binayak Sen – that he was – when he had started giving shape to the ‘Mitanin’ programme for the tribal people in Chhattisgarh’s hinterlands.

But when I spoke to Dr. Sen, he was around 60 – with years of incarceration and system’s oppression behind him. He was hounded like a hardened criminal when he had simply done his job – of being a doctor – in places no one else wishes to enter. If it is said that doctors are next only to God, doctors like Binayak Sen give a reason to validate that.

But years of State’s hostility and prison term with ageing turned him into a silent crusader than a vocal activist I can say. Something that is not there in case of Kanhaiya Kumar – the 29 year old JNU Students Union president. He is young. He is armed with an ideology. And he sounded like ready to fight come what may. Yes, the Constitutional sanctity is pristine but every act then is permissible within its norms, irrespective of the ideological affiliations (and difference).

The case against Kanhaiya Kumar was always on a flimsy ground and he should have got bail much earlier. In fact, the whole JNU incident (row) was mishandled. We should wish for more in line developments now onward.

This speech by the fellow, delivered at the prestigious institution a while ago, tells where the system erred. Dissent is a must for democracy. Democracy needs consistent spark at ideological levels. A healthy culture of dissent and debate strengthens the Constitution that runs any democracy. Subaltern history should be as important to us as History is.

Irrespective of the observations like a ‘political leader is born today’ or ‘Kanhaiya is making a career option for him’, we should wish this incident, the whole JNU row, may prove a blessing in disguise for us. It has to be much more than mere a ‘making of breaking of a leader’. It has to be a step ahead in the quest to make a just and responsible society. Let’s not make him a hero or a leader. Let’s not do anything to anyone like Kanhaiya Kumar that could bury the valid hopes anymore.

India has had not meaningful and coherent student moments while even China had one – resulting in one of the darkest chapters in the history of mankind – the Tiananmen Massacre – when China’s authoritarian regime had killed hundreds of protesting students (some reports quote even thousands).

We should hope this be the right beginning for student movements in India – for student activism from the petty levels of student politics that is reeling under the corrupt and ruthless vice-chancellors mainstream political concerns. The ground is ripe – after the hugely successful civil society anti-corruption movement of 2011 and the massive protests by outraged students and civil society in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya gangrape case of 2012.

Technology is a leveller and it is helping us, in our societies – to get connected – to speak out and to reach out. Spiral of silence in our country is peeking now. And in my view, it is the next big leap of social media after the Arab Spring. It is heartening to see the hashtag #KanhaiyaKumar trending at top on Twitter.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

WHY CAN’T OUR POLITICAL ESTABLISHMENTS ACCOMMODATE VOICES LIKE KOVAN?

While striking down the Section 66A of the Information-Technology Act, the Supreme Court bench had observed, “It is clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right.”

The Supreme Court decision on March 24 this year officially declared a ‘draconian’ law finally draconian.

The observation focuses on ‘balance between right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on right’, here in the context of the freedom of expression, and rightly so because the law enforcing agencies have had a pretty bad track record in that.

The SC bench of J. Chelameswar and Rohinton F. Nariman said, “If Section 66A is otherwise invalid, it cannot be saved by an assurance from the learned Additional Solicitor-General that it will be administered in a reasonable manner. Governments may come and governments may go, but Section 66A goes on forever. An assurance from the present government, even if carried out faithfully, would not bind any successor govt.”

Going by the bad precedent set by the law enforcing agencies, the apex court rightly refused to trust the words of the country’s political establishment.

Because the political administration has time and again acted so – with incidents like cartoons and Facebook posts being the reasons for charges like ‘sedition’ and follow-up arrests. Flurry of such cases and the widespread outrage over them were the central reason behind the SC’s decision on 66A.

But what about the concerned Sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)?

66A was obstructing the freedom of expression with incessant cases of its misuse, and the right logic was put forward that anything of serious nature causing some serious offence could well be handled by the concerned Sections of the IPC.

What about the misuse of the concerned Sections of the IPC?

There is a long list and yesterday’s arrest of a Tamil folk singer, S. Sivadas or Kovan, for writing and propagating songs with ‘allegedly derogatory’ lyrics on Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, has not come as a surprise.

Yes, but as it is to be, and as it is, the anger and the outrage is pouring all across – including from the political establishments anti to Jayalalithaa.

Activists or people like Kovan or many like him, like, for that matter, Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra who was arrested for circulating emails with cartoons of Mamata Banarjee, the West Bengal chief minister, are not known beyond their immediate field of activity or their immediate geographical spread – before their unjust arrest.

They have every right to criticise anyone within the democratic norms. The Constitution gives them this freedom.

But who takes guarantee of ensuring that when the administration acts on the contrary, compromising the rights given by the Constitution?

Courts have to intervene then like the top court did with Section 66A. But it doesn’t happen in a day and the struggle with the controversial IPC Sections takes years for saner voices to prevail, like we saw in Dr. Binayak Sen’s case.

Why can’t our political establishments accommodate voices like Kovan or Ambikesh Mahapatra or Binayak Sen or many others who have a different conscience than our ruling establishments?

What about culture of tolerance in our political establishments?

This May, the Kerala High Court observed in a case, “Being a Maoist is of no crime, though the political ideology of the Maoist will not synchronise with our constitutional polity. The police cannot detain a person merely because he is a Maoist, unless the police form a reasonable opinion that his activities are unlawful.”

This and other similar court observations follow from a landmark observation in 2011 given by the Supreme Court while granting bail to Dr. Binayan Sen. The court had said, “We are a democratic country. He may be a sympathiser. That does not make him guilty of sedition. If Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography is found in somebody’s place, is he a Gandhian? No case of sedition is made out on the basis of materials in possession unless you show that he was actively helping or harbouring them.” (Here ‘materials’ means Naxalite/Maoist literature.)

If Kovan has done anything that goes against the state then his arrest can be justified but not on the pretexts like his songs are maligning the image of the state’s chief ministers or he is openly criticising the state sops selling liquor/alcohol – especially when ‘prohibition’ has become a sensitive issue across the country.

Kovan’s case reminds me the Marathi movie ‘Court’, India’s official entry to the Academy Awards (Oscars) this year. In the movie, the main protagonist is jailed time and again as police links his anti-establishment songs to the ‘alleged’ suicide of a person, even if there is evidence on the contrary.

Here are links to Kovan songs. I don’t understand Tamil but I am free, and rightly, to express my solidarity.

Shut down TASMAC and Amma TASMAC (Tamil songs – TASMAC is the Tamil Nadu government outfit that runs the liquor shops in question.)

And here is a photograph, sourced from Twitter, showing S. Sivadas or Kovan performing his art.

Kovan-Twitter

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

IROM SHARMILA RE-ARRESTED: PATHETIC IRONIES OF THE STATE CONTINUE

It was expected. It has been happening ever since.

We have seen it happening year after year – Irom Sharmila is released and is re-arrested.

And yes, we know, the state has been behind it- complicit, willingly and comfortably. Her annual release is basically technical in nature otherwise the state would not let her go, unless the court rules so, something that happened this time, something that that gave her a freedom of more than a day.

Indian rights activist Irom SharmilaImage courtesy: Reuters

The court order came on August 19 quashing the charge of ‘attempt to commit suicide’ – she was released on August 20 evening – the police approached her on August 21 for the usual round as Sharmila continued with her fast not taking food and water and refusing medical checkup – and on August 22 morning, she was taken by the police again to the same ‘isolation’ ward of the Imphal hospital where she has spent so many years demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act – and where a chief judicial magistrate remanded her to 15 days of judicial custody.

So, the pathetic annual exercise of the state had a differentiator this time – Sharmila had some extended hours of freedom where she expressed about and broke down on her desire for freedom – she spent some time at the site of her protest where she began almost 14 years ago – she spent some time without the tube attached to her nose, something she has been with since November 2000 – she met people – she spoke and she interacted – and the whole world wrote about her freedom this time – because the extended hours gave us the direct access to her – one to one – reaching out,  speaking out.

Irom Sharmila-IEImage courtesy: Indian Express

In previous years, this window was not available, as without a court ruling freeing her of the charges of ‘attempted suicide’, the police would release her as one year would come to an end – only to meet the technical requirement of the law – the Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with ‘attempted suicide’ and has a jail term of one year – and then re-arrest her immediately.

This year, when the Sessions court of Manipur East ruled that Sharmila never said ‘fast-unto-death’ and freed her of charges under the Section 309 of the IPC, a Section that is set to be decriminalized by the Indian government, many of us thought the sense would prevail and the state would act with sanity.

But – but, the state is notorious by its stubbornness – it is one of the bottlenecks of our functional democracy – a democracy that has been able to survive and grow – we saw it in case of Dr. Binayak Sen – we saw it in case of Himanshu Kumar – we have seen it in many other cases – and there is no end to it in the near future – the re-arrest of Irom Sharmila reaffirms that.

The state’s pathetic ironies continue.

THE NORTH-EAST CRISIS

Yes, both, the pro- and anti- AFSPA debates have takers but what negative has happened and is happening due to the AFSPA – with many incidents including the November 2, 2000 Malom Massacre – the massacre that called Irom Sharmila, who was 28 then, to begin her protest fast-until-the AFSPA-repeal on the same day – must be accepted honestly by the state in order to come up with some better and ‘acceptable-to-most’ alternative – like has been the demand always – like has been the need always.

It is true some North-Eastern states like Nagaland, Assam, Meghalaya, and Manipur have deep-rooted insurgencies and terrorists there enjoy local ethnic support and survive by exploiting the anti-mainland India sentiments. The intense ethnic divide among the tribal groups has only exacerbated the crisis. They are fighting with the Union of India and they are fighting among themselves.

Tripura was the similar story until it got a sensible political leadership in Manik Sarkar, one of the few honest politicians the country has. The security apparatus of the Union of India and the local wing of the state’s politics can learn from Tripura’s experience to look for tools to adopt in handling and overcoming the insurgency. But, so far the condition remains volatile in other crisis hotbeds of the North-East India.

Yes, the political mismanagement and apathy has been largely responsible for it. The whole North-Eastern region is still a largely disconnected landmass with poor infrastructure and almost no industries. The agrarian economy that has the potential to evolve into big-ticket industrial units has been neglected while bilateral trade with neighboring countries that has not much scope has been made the focus of the industrial policy on the North-East so far. The whole region doesn’t produce industrial materials except coal, petroleum products and minerals meant for internal consumption and cannot be exported. Also, there is not enough local talent to support if large-scale industrial units are brought in the region. The paradropping of industries exercise was one of the central reasons that led to the proliferation of insurgencies as the economy was centralized in few hands and the locals did not benefit.

And the hostilities still continue, in spite of the Government of India making serious efforts now. There is a separate ministry in existence for the North-East region for over a decade now. The average per-capita central assistance to the North-East is almost four times of the all India average, Rs. 683.94 Vs Rs. 2574.98, as was in the 10th Five Year Plan and the Special Category Status is to continue till 12th Plan.

But, the hostilities continue, as the crisis has been in making for years and will take time and tough measures handling the insurgents and safeguarding the interests of the common people. The anti-mainland sentiment is still very much there to be exploited by the insurgents.

The experience of the people from the mainland has been pretty bad there, especially in Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur. Hindi cinema was banned by an insurgent group in Manipur in 2000 and is still in force. Even the biopic on Mary Kom, the Manipuri icon of the contemporary times, starring a Hindi cinema actress and produced by a Mumbai based production house has not been allowed screening. Tens of thousands have been internally displaced and thousands have been killed in the ongoing insurgency.

TOUGH MEASURES NEEDED BUT THE STATE NEEDS TO BEHAVE

The security establishment of the country does need special measures to deal with such hostile situations where the terrorists enjoy the ethnic support like is the case in Jammu & Kashmir.

But that never means allowing the security forces to go on rampage. And the AFSPA has seen many such cases – like some other draconian laws, used by the state regularly that put activists like Dr. Binayak Sen behind bars.

All such laws and special acts need to be scrutinized for the changes to be incorporated. The archaic laws need to be made contemporary. The special acts like the AFSPA need to come with enough of the stringent measures to set examples for the officers breaching the code or need to be replaced altogether with better and logical mechanisms that serve the purpose of the people as well as of the security needs of the state.

Yes, it is easier said than done. But nothing is easier in running the governments in an ethnically, religiously and culturally complex country like India that is also a functionally successful democracy. There are still many stakeholders who rightly feel left out of the process of democracy and the insurgents grow parasitic on the state and such stakeholders by exploiting the state’s apathy and the stakeholders’ frustration and such hostilities are there in the mainland India as well.

The state needs to behave when it acts with activists raising voices in democratic ways. They are our own people. They are from among us, speaking for their people, for us, and not for the insurgents.

The state needs to give space to the voices like Dr. Binayak Sen or Irom Sharmila in place of implicating them in silly cases under the draconian sections of the legal code. The wide support to these voices tells they represent for the millions who cannot speak or are not allowed to speak and the state must listen to them.

In place of forcing them in jails or in confined spaces, like has been done again with Irom Sharmila.

See the fallacy of the pathetic ironies – the law the Indian government feels is illogical and is to be done away with as explicitly told to the nation – has been used once again by one of its state governments to arrest Irom Sharmila, now a global icon of the Gandhian way of protest – by a Congress-run state government the chief minister of which invited Irom Sharmila to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha election on Congress ticket as she said after her release this time.

And see the irony holding-up the system – a judge released her quashing the ‘attempt to suicide’ charges as the state could not prove if Irom Sharmila had ever said so (fast-unto-death) – and she certainly didn’t say so since her release on Wednesday evening.

Even then, another judge found her case fit to be filed under the Section 309 of the IPC – under the charge of ‘attempt to commit suicide’ – the same IPC Section that is soon going to be decriminalized by the Government of India.

There was no need to arrest her this time or charge her for ‘attempted suicide’ and remand her to the judicial custody.

Yes, as she refused medical checkup and any nutritional intake, the police was bound to act on concerns of her health, as the Manipur East court ruling ordered, but it could have been done without arresting and charging her.

But, there is no sanity still – it was just the fear of the court order to come clean on acting in time on her health worries the police response told us – the way the police almost dragged her, as the whole nation saw in the news broadcasts, even if acting on the pretext of ‘preventing her health from deteriorating further’ – even if she was screaming – was shameful and utterly disgusting – and is to be condemned.

NDTV video: Irom Sharmila, shouting, forcibly removed from fast venue by cops

Irom Sharmila CollageImage courtesy: NDTV

Yes, the chores of the state’s pathetic ironies continue.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

INHUMAN HUMANITY, MY BLOG-POST ON THIS DAY IN 2009

Inhuman Humanity was the first article that posted on my first blog, ‘Beyond This Life’. Dr. Binayak Sen, the noted human rights and civil liberties activist was recently released on bail after a protracted court battle where he was pitted against the might of the state machinery of the Chhattisgarh government who did all to prove him an active Naxalite leader.

The battle was fought nationally and internationally, with noted people and social activists from India and across the world running campaigns to put pressure on the Indian government to do justice in Dr. Sen’s case. The short-lived respite finally came with the Supreme Court decision on May 25, 2009. Dr. Sen was jailed again in 2010 when he was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Raipur court.

The Supreme Court again came to the rescue when it granted him bail on April 15, 2011, with an eye-opening remark:

“We are a democratic country. He may be a sympathiser. That does not make him guilty of sedition. If Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography is found in somebody’s place, is he a Gandhian? No case of sedition is made out on the basis of materials in possession unless you show that he was actively helping or harbouring them [Maoists].” – The Hindu, quoting the Supreme Court Justice C.K. Prasad

After five years now, the satisfactory things is Dr. Sen is still out of the jail and his appeal against the local court’s ruling convicting him of sedition is pending in the high court.

The other issue that I wrote about in the article was themed on human rights violations in Asian countries in India’s neighbourhood – Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, and Afghanistan – and in India – and focused primarily on the miserable conditions of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) – due to internal and external factors.

Through the reasons of displacements were different then, at least in Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, the aftermath of the factors forcing the people to be displaced internally continue to put their life in tough conditions where surviving every day is all that matters for them.

Here is the article that I wrote on July 1, on my Personal Blogging Day, in 2009:

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