“DeshkiGaddaronko!” screamed Anurag Thakur. “GoliMaaro Salon Ko”, responded the mob. This was weeks before horrific violence broke out across Delhi, in which Muslim dominated neighbourhoods were targeted for their opposition to the divisive Citizenship Amendment Act. The Delhi Police did little to contain the violence. Scores died, mainly Muslims. Despite complaints against Thakur for encouraging and causing mob violence, Anurag Thakur was blessed with a Minister of State for a Finance position in the Union Cabinet.
Disha Ravi of Bangalore is in police custody now on grounds of sedition because Delhi Police accuses her of editing a document which encouraged people to join farmers protesting anti-farmer laws and also for having participated in a global zoom call in which one of the foreign participants was a proponent of Khalistan.
Thakur actively incited people to go kill. Disha Ravi merely encourages young people to peacefully resist anti-farmer laws. This contrast in so many ways defines what’s going on in India of today. The narrative of the ruling BJP – that anyone who disagrees with its agenda is anti-national, and increasingly frequently also dubbed seditious – is more than a tad boring.
In this backdrop, we must recall Karnataka Education Minister S. Suresh Kumar’s comment on Facebook when Arnab Goswami was arrested last year: “The Country condemns the Emergency mindset exhibited blatantly in Maharashtra. #IndiaStandsWithArnab”. The same Minister, who in fact was suffered jail terms during the declared Emergency in 1975, has had nothing to say over the arrest of Disha Ravi, especially the brazen manner in which Delhi Police ‘picked her up’, flew her to Delhi, and produced her in Delhi Court the next day to secure police custody – all of this in brazen violation of the rule of law and particularly after the Delhi High Court had established meticulous procedure that ought to be followed in inter-State investigation and arrests in the Sandeep Kumar case.
The situation gets worse. When asked why he has not raised a protest against an act that has been termed as extra-judicial abduction, Karnataka Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai replied: “There is nothing called a protocol. We also go and arrest so many people outside our state.”It is like Mr Bommai did not care to worry that Disha’s arrest in every way was a blatant violation of the Delhi High Court judgment.
The Government of India is increasingly frequently working up narratives of conspiracy and jailing away human rights activists and environmental defenders. In Bhima Koregaon case, leading journalists, lawyers, social activists, academics have been thrown in jail for over two years now, and bail systematically denied them by various Courts, including the Supreme Court of India. Despite life-threatening conditions of Varavara Rao who had Covid and Fr. Stan Swamy who has Parkinson’s’, bail was denied. Sudha Bharadwaj who gave up her American citizenship to come work amongst Adivasis of India as a lawyer, and has absolutely no intention of fleeing the county, is denied bail even when her health is worsening. Contrast this with Lalit Modi, Nirav Modi, Chokshi, Mallya, et al being assisted to flee the country even when there were arrest warrants against them.
RashtriyaSwayamsevak Sangh, an organisation built on indoctrination and conformism, and narratives of hocus-pocus history, is not a system that can tolerate dissent and vibrancy of India’s youth. A growing number of young people today are feisty, articulate, argumentative, like to wear their politics stylishly on sleeves, and some of them have no hesitation speaking truth to power. They ask questions about Bhima Koregaon case, farmers protest, climate change and much more.
It is that kind of spirit which was celebrated by several who were part of the Jan Sangh, the precursor to BJP, and with that spirit fought to overthrow the repressive regime of Indira Gandhi regime who imposed Emergency in 1975. And three of those who led such mass protests have gone on to become Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Minister of India. That is how democracy works. But when RSS’s political wing BJP assumes absolute power, the dictum is that everyone must conform with their view else face retribution.
In the case of Disha Ravi, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that she has been organising masses at a scale that Suresh Kumar did as a young member of AkhilaBharatiyaVidyarthiParishad (student wing of RSS), and for which he was jailed during the Emergency. Disha has been a part of an international network of young people – called Fridays for the Future – all of who are deeply worried that governments across the world are simply not doing enough to tackle global warming and consequent climate change.
To make their governments work to secure their future, these youth organise seminars and protests, and also online campaigns. They work to expose laws and policies are being aligned to support the interest of the top 1% super-rich. For which they suddenly become anti-nationals and conspirators? Greta Thunberg who started this movement, for instance, has been invited to speak in the UN General Assembly and also at Davos summits, which Prime Minister Modi attends. Clearly, she was no global conspirator then. But how is it that she has suddenly become one now, as per the Delhi Police version? Does this suggest that intelligence agencies were sleeping all this while about the growing threat to India’s security and that United Nations is a co-conspirator?
A confident government would invite Disha Ravis and Greta Thunberg’s into a conversation, in a spirit that truly reflects the oft-heard phrase: VasudaivaKutumbakam. However, in justifying Disha Ravi’s highly questionable arrest, what we get from the Delhi Police are snippets released on TV, that she edited a tool kit and participated in a Zoom call, and that has disturbed the security of India!
India clearly is not such a vulnerable country that can be shaken by some tweets and sharing of toolkits. But for RSS and BJP, the youth of India speaking their minds, and freely too, is intolerable. Such liberal democratic spirit is against the DNA of RSS which demands conformism to its narrative. Disha Ravi and millions of young people like her have a different imagination for the country. They truly believe in VasudaivaKutumbakam and want all 6 billion humans to work together to protect the only living planet in the universe. They want equity and justice for all. They want a paradigm of development that does not produce 1% super-rich and leaves Earth bereft of life-supporting systems.
These young people argue that governments who work for the super-rich will leave for them a scary future. They point out with precision that the outcome of current laws and policies being rushed through Parliament is not what the idea of India as per the Constitution. These young people are intelligent enough to understand what must be resisted and why. In India, in China, in the USA, across Europe, Africa, Brazil and just about everywhere. They are the voice of the future demanding the current dominant voices must listen to. So everyone has a future that is secure and sustainable.
For which they are targeted as conspirators? I think Delhi Police must go back to read the Constitution of India and the UN Human Rights Charter. Every police office must introspect if they are even now slaves to the British Empire which used sedition against our freedom fighters? The stark contrast in how sedition is now used by the Modi administration is this: the British used this draconian provision of Indian Penal Code sparingly, not as frequently as Delhi Police now uses, perhaps under the diktat of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
(Leo F. Saldanhais part of the Coalition for Environmental Justice in India.)