STIFLING THE VOICE OF DISSENT

“They Tried to Bury Us, They Didn’t Know We Were Seeds”

The world has been shaken up by protests everywhere since the turn of last decade. 2019, which was already jolted by student’s protests across India over fee hike and privatization of education, witnessed one of the most widespread protests in the Indian history in the form of Anti NRC-CAA-NPR protests. Even today, spontaneous agitations by migrant workers over food, shelter and the demand to go back to their villages can be seen all across the country. All these protests signify the simmering anger and dissatisfaction brewing amongst the masses against the anti-people and fascistic disposition of the government. And now, the state, taking advantage of the corona virus pandemic and the resultant lockdown, has wreaked havoc on the protestors by using the arsenal of draconian laws like UAPA, NSA, Sedition, etc. Recently, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, students of JNU and Anti-CAA activists, were arrested on fabricated charges relating to the February Delhi Pogrom, of whom Narwal has now been slapped with charges under UAPA in the same FIR (59/20) under which Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider, Umar Khalid and others have been booked. There have been numerous arrests since last year, when amendment to the UAPA was done, to give more teeth to the already oppressive laws and the NIA. Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Sudha Bhardwaj, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde and Masrat Zahra are a few names from the list of hundreds who have been charged with UAPA.

The concept of being ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is gone now. When such arrests are viewed closely, a sinister pattern can be seen in them. For instance, let’s take up the case of Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita. They were arrested primarily on 23rd May 2020 from their residence without any prior information. This was under an FIR lodged on 24th February under which bail was granted by the sessions court judge on 24th May, but after that they were immediately rearrested under another FIR (50/2020) lodged on 25th February on grave charges of murder and attempt to murder, among others. Where Natasha has been booked under UAPA, Devangana, on the other hand, has been booked under a third FIR (250/19) which was filed during the lathi charge on the Daryaganj protest on 20th December 2019. As it is known to all that an instigating speech was made by Kapil Mishra in the same area where the Delhi pogrom started, yet not a single FIR contains his name. The Delhi Court dealing with the Northeast Delhi violence were forced to address the elephant in the room by saying that, “the investigation seems to be targeted only towards one end”. The Delhi pogrom occurred during the last week of February and resulted in the death of 53 individuals, of whom 38 were Muslims. A report from Indian Express, dated 13th April, reveals facts which paint a much gruesome picture. It said that after the lockdown, when the officials slowed down the investigation as they started working from home, Ministry of Home Affairs intervened with a directive which instructed them that the arrests should not stop under any circumstances; till then more than 800 people had already been arrested. Another sinister revelation came up from an article, by Radhika Chitkara and Vikas Kumar, secretaries of PUDR (Peoples’ Union For Democratic Rights), was published in The Hindu on May 16th which said that after the analysis of around 40 FIRs it is evident that the Delhi Police was prosecuting the victims of Delhi Pogrom, rather than the perpetrators of the violence.

Bail is the exception, jail is the rule. This dictum is being enforced through indictment under UAPA. The FIR (50/2020), which was lodged regarding the violence that broke out outside Jaffarabad metro station, did not name Natasha or Kalita. But since, all the FIRs have the ‘and others’ clause, that is, mention a number of unidentified people relating to the incident, it can be traced back to almost anyone and the charges can be blatantly slapped on them. It almost seems that the state maintains such FIRs so that they can be used against anyone at any point (more than 700 FIRs had been filed till 11th March regarding the North-east Delhi violence). As soon as one manages to get bail from the lower courts in one FIR, the police is ready with a list of other FIRs under which the activist can be booked, thereby providing no relief to the ‘accused’ once they’ve come in the eyes of the state. The judicial system, entrusted to serve justice to all, is now playing a crucial role in putting the ‘nagging’ protestors behind bars. Similar handling can be seen in Gautam Navlakha’s case as well. Amidst Delhi High Court’s hearing of his interim bail plea, NIA rushed him to Mumbai jail, out of the purview of the said court, without even informing his lawyer or family. The 68-year-old human rights activist, who pleaded bail given his chronic ailments and the pandemic, was not even allowed to complete his hearings in the Delhi HC. The whole exercise was carried out in such a way that the Delhi HC had to inquire about the haste of NIA’s investigating officer in Mumbai. Sudha Bhardwaj’s interim bail plea, based on the imminent danger to her as she was in the high-risk category ailments given her age during the covid-19 pandemic and that one of her jail inmates has been tested corona positive, was rejected by Mumbai’s Special Court on 29th May. The same law which constantly parrots the phrase ‘bail is the rule, jail is the exception’ without actually meaning it, also provides such loopholes which are being used by the state in order to punish innocent activists who dare to raise their voice in the face of terror.

The fascists, upon learning from history, have resorted to relatively peaceful (if it may be called so) means to slowly, but steadily, take over the entire state machinery from within. The courts watch in deafening silence as the democratic fabric of the constitution is ripped to shreds. The fact that Justice Muralidhar of Delhi High Court was given transfer orders hours after giving orders to Delhi police to file FIR in north-east Delhi violence cases against the three BJP leaders who gave instigating speeches just days before the violence broke out, namely Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur and Pravesh Verma, reveals the extent of takeover of the judicial system. Human rights and student activists, lawyers, professors, doctors, intellectuals, writers are all being put behind bars under the diabolical UAPA, in which it is almost impossible to get bail and also, the onus of proving oneself innocent lies on the accused itself (unlike the acts of IPC where the burden of proof falls on the prosecutor). This leads to the trial continuing for years and the accused rotting in judicial custody, away from the streets and passing each day in oblivion, as desired by the State. Isn’t it as good as the punishment itself? So much for the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

Sedition is yet another draconian act, which was constituted by the Britishers and has been adopted in the constitution of independent India as well. The act says that anyone who, by any means possible, brings or attempts to bring disaffection, meaning ‘disloyalty and a feeling of enmity’, towards the government can be booked under this act. As is fairly visible, there are wide scale implications of this act which can be slapped on anyone for protesting (of any kind, whatsoever) against the government even for basic rights or even dare to question the government. In February, a Karnataka school was charged with sedition on account of an anti-CAA play performed by the children of that school.

The rights of many stand snatched away for the likes of few. A kind of ‘social emergency’ has been declared by the government, as hinted by PM Modi in one of his addresses to the nation, that it’s a war-like situation that we’re facing and the public should be ready to make sacrifices. Little was known that the sacrifices as referred here would mean doing away with all our rights as citizens. Apart from the evident attack on dissenting voices, the hard-earned rights of the workers are also being smothered mercilessly. These rights were not offered by any ruling class out of the goodness of their hearts but actually have a history of ruthless struggles which demanded blood to further the cause of workers’ movements all over the world. And now, they are being taken away to serve the interest of the crisis-ridden bourgeoisie and the workers are being converted into mere insignificant creature like beasts of burden. As many as thirteen states have increased their working hours from 8 to 12. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have suspended their labour laws almost entirely, with which workers lose their basic rights such as right to safety at the workplace, right to form unions and right to protest peacefully. Also, with the suspension of labour rights, factory owners won’t be required to provide basic amenities to them needed for survival such as ventilation, drinking water, toilets, lighting, rest intervals, weekly holidays and other essentials. The brutal proceedings of the past, where in 2017, Maruti workers, fighting for their right to form unions and against the contract-labour system, were subjected to massive repression and thirteen worker leaders were given life imprisonment under purely fabricated murder charges, shall become the new normal in the days to come.

The situation created by Covid-19 pandemic and the nation-wide lockdown is being used to patch up the ruptured economy and ferry the capitalist class away from the storm of world capitalist crisis unscathed. The increased arrest of activists and dissenters and the complete dismantling of labour rights show the restlessness of the ruling class. The seemingly permanent world economic crisis, which appears to be worsening day by day, has made the government resort to desperate measures. For the capitalists, the wheel of profit is stuck due to the crisis of overproduction inherent in capitalism. Before the pandemic as well, the market was already in a glut and the industries were forced to operate at almost two-third capacity. And now, after the pandemic, where the economic situation of the country has worsened and the purchasing power of the people has gone down considerably given the lay-offs and the unemployment rates going off the charts, the capitalist class is finding its future bleak and is thus growing anxious. Their insatiable thirst for profit needs a free hand to plunder all the resources available to mankind. And for this, all the dissenting voices need to be stifled, all the raised fingers need to be chopped. This precisely is what the Indian state is up to with all the arrests and the dismantling of human rights.

But every step taken by the current fascist regime towards smashing the dissenting masses, brings the capitalist class closer and closer to their doom i.e. capitalism is inching closer to its doom. The lifting of the veil of democracy and the overt shift to drastic measures by the fascist ruling class, won’t go unnoticed by the people at large. The ongoing arrests amidst such a humanitarian crisis involving hunger, poverty, unemployment and homelessness made much worse by covid-19 pandemic have forced the people question the intentions of the government. We know, a fascist regime creates an imbalance and upheavals in the society; the increasing oppressions will ultimately compel the masses to fight back and shift the balance of power thereby toppling over the status quo. History is replete with such examples where the harshest of oppressions have been met by the strongest people’s movements, be it the French Revolution where the hunger-stricken and impoverished peasants waged a war against the ruling class, or the Russian Revolution where the atrocities and ignorance of Czar amidst World War I caused the masses to uproot the existing order on the question of land, peace and bread.

Today, in India, the masses have once again been pushed to their limits. Where on one hand, the working class’s shield of labour rights is being readily taken away, on the other, the voices raised by the oppressed sections in defiance is being stifled in the throat. They, along with other progressive sections of the society, who have constantly raised their voice against the atrocities of state, need to understand the historicity of the fact that such tyranny has always knelt before the mightiest power of the masses. The disease-ridden capitalist regime, whose excessive rot has led to the current fascistic rule, has become a poisonous outgrowth which is constantly being rejected by the great revolutionary masses of workers and toilers relentlessly. Now, their survival and eventually the survival of the whole humanity requires them to get rid of this fascist order and with it, its very soil i.e. capitalism, that breeds such a system.

Down with the bourgeois-fascist state that stifles the voice of dissent!

Originally published in the Editorial of The Truth: Platform for Radical Voices of The Working Class (Issue 2/ June ’20)

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