Incensed by George Floyd? (Re)Start protests in India

black lives matter 1
Photo credit/Ted Eytan

America has two lessons for India right now, one for the government and one for the people –

1) The government should not ally with a falling power (America) against a rising power (China), notwithstanding India’s racist outlook towards the Chinese and its disgustingly servile love for the white of colour.
2) Protests can and must happen despite coronavirus. In fact, this is the best time to engage the police and the military and hurt the government as it is in way over its head with Corona.

I am focussing on the second lesson in this article. India was in the midst of intense and widespread protests when corona struck. The protests were understandably disbanded. None of the underlying causes of the protests have changed. If anything, they have become even more protest-worthy. I am going to list some of them to make my point.

NRC/CAA – The most mediatised and popular protests happening in March were against NRC/CAA. Shaheen Bagh was on everyone’s mind till Tablighi Jamaat overshadowed it and obliterated it from TV channels and social media feeds. There is no reason why those protests shouldn’t start again from where they left off. The government listened to none of the demands the protestors made and no changes are being made to either NRC or CAA. The protests, as far as the government is concerned, weren’t even worthy of a good hiccup. Far from changing its own stance or the policies, the government has doubled down by arresting a bunch of the protestors. To begin with, Sharjeel Imam remained imprisoned even as prisons were asked to de-congest due to Covid. The others added to the infernal mix during the lockdown were Gulfisha Fatima, Safoora Zargar, Ishrat Jahan, Sabu Ansari, Khalid Saifi, Shifa-Ur-Rehman, Natasha Narwal, and Devangana Kalita (my sincere apologies to anyone whom I have missed). While some of these people have got bail, most of them are still imprisoned. The case of Safoora Zargar, who is pregnant and thus in grave danger in India’s excellent prison conditions, is the most outrageous.

Arrests of intellectuals – Speaking of outrageous cases, let’s get to Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde, both over 65 years old and imprisoned during the lockdown. If you are an intellectual in this country, you will either be shot to death outside your home by an outfit with Hindu in its name or you will be imprisoned by the government with Hindu in its heart. One of them writes for the annihilation of caste, among other things. The other one works for Adivasi rights and thinks Maoists are human beings with valid political demands. Both of them are eminently reputable, in India and internationally, for their commitment to intellectual integrity and honesty. That they were imprisoned during Covid, thus amounting to a virtual death sentence, is as big an attack on the freedoms of speech and expression as you can get.

Destruction of Adivasi habitats – The government has not only attacked intellectuals speaking up for the Adivasis, they have gone ahead and attacked the Adivasis too. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) released a Draft Notification on Environment Impact Assessment 2020 (EIA Notification 2020) on 12 March 2020, calling for responses in the next 60 days. The EIA notification, first issued in 1994, under the Environment Protection Act 1986, is a critical mechanism which regulates clearances granted to all kinds of development projects and economic activities in the country. Over the last two decades, the notification has been amended several times to increase the ‘ease of doing business’. This amendment follows the same trend. The destruction of the environment affects all of us in the long run but it is a direct war on the Adivasis as these projects happen in predominantly Adivasi areas where Adivasis have been claiming the right to self rule for centuries. ‘The communities directly affected by such crippling changes to the environmental policy are the ones whose lives are closely intertwined with nature: the Adivasis and other forest-dependent people, pastoralists, farmers, fish workers and women … Asking the people for objects and suggestions regarding such a crucial notification at this time of a public health, social and economic crisis is a complete travesty of justice and democracy.’ The amendment will affect Adivasis the worst and they have virtually been locked down from engaging with it due to the literal lockdown.

Colonization of Kashmir – Kashmir is still the most militarized area on Earth. The colonization of Kashmir only picked up pace during Covid as the Jammu and Kashmir administration notified the Jammu and Kashmir Grant of Domicile Certificate (procedure) rules, 2020. These rules provide a fast-track procedure for issuance of Kashmiri domicile certificates, within 15 days, to people from any part of India. This is a major blow to Kashmir’s claim to independence as India aims to change the demographic setup of Kashmir and thus neutralize their demand for self-determination. In India’s paradigm of settler colonialism, if you can’t change the demands of the people of Kashmir, then you change the people of Kashmir themselves. The army has ramped up its offensive against ‘insurgents’, known as freedom fighters in Kashmir, to further terrorize the people into submission. The police also seem to be on amphetamines as they go about hounding people for social media posts. Masrat Zahra, a photojournalist, was charged with UAPA for ‘uploading anti-national posts with criminal intention’ on social media, and ‘uploading photographs which can provoke the public to disturb law and order.’ Gowhar Geelani too was booked under UAPA for ‘indulging in unlawful activities through social media posts’. The internet is still restricted, even after doctors from Kashmir and around the world have underscored the importance of access to the latest research to deal with the exigencies of Covid.

Military occupation of the Brahmaputra basin (‘north-east’) – ‘What is happening is that the surrenders of militants have increased as the insurgent outfits are under pressure since last year due to intense operations by security forces. Due to the lockdown, the police presence has also increased and each village is being visited by the local policemen. Though the insurgents are trying to ambush the security forces and target them, they are being effectively neutralised,’ said Satya Raj Hazarika, DIG in Assam Police. During Covid, India also arm-twisted Myanmar into handing over 22 ‘militants’, for the first time in history, thus closing an important door for the freedom-fighters to strategically retreat in the face of an Indian onslaught. An article in Swarajyamag gloats, ‘The days of militancy, which has kept the Northeast backward and under-developed, may soon be coming to an end. The blow suffered by the rebels of the region in Myanmar, thanks to Modi and Doval, could well have been the debilitating one that broke their backs’. The militancy, rather than keeping the Brahmaputra basin under-developed and backward, has saved it thus far from being totally plundered by the corporate-government nexus. What has kept the region backward and under-developed is India’s overbearing ‘militarization as development’ policy which has kept the people under constant terror and disallowed them to choose and embark on their own destiny.

Trans rights – The transgender community was already protesting against the trans bill which purports to protect them but does the exact opposite. Over 50 people at the gay pride march in Mumbai were charged with sedition for allegedly chanting pro-Sharjeel Imam slogans. To add salt to festering wounds, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) ‘posted on 18 April on its website Draft Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules 2020 as provided for by the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 and sought comments and suggestions by 30 April’. The ministry didn’t inform the public through print and electronic media, but just uploaded the Rules on their website, and it certainly did not give 30 days for consultation. Instead, it gave 12 days during the lockdown. The letter written to the MoSJE by concerned representatives of the transgender community says, ‘The Rules were uploaded on the website of the MoSJE … at a time when the nation is in lockdown, no physical interaction between members of the community is possible for deliberations and consultations and transgender people are struggling for basic survival. Besides the Rules have been placed only on the website and in English while a majority of the community neither has access to web-based portals or the English language. An Act which claims to be “inclusive” cannot adopt a rule-making process so exclusionary.’

Chronic poverty and unemployment – Do I even have to mention the plight of migrant labourers as they were stranded far away from their homes, abandoned by the government and their former informal employers? That these people also belong to the most marginalized and excluded communities—Dalits, Adivasis, and Muslims—has not made their lives easier as they have been actively discriminated against even during a worldwide emergency. Labour laws in the country were already too lax and they have been loosened further, in the interests of the poor of course. Poverty and unemployment, chronic problems of The Great Indian Republic of Caste, have only become worse. (The only silver lining is that the businesses which treated their workers like shit are now having trouble opening up again as labourers refuse to come back from the villages they had to walk to on empty stomachs. A little natural selection of businesses as those who acted humanely at the beginning of lockdown get to have workers now while more and more losses accrue to the ones who thought they didn’t need to treat workers with basic humanity.)

The point being

We can’t do anything about the protests in America no matter how much we claim to be incensed. What we can do is protest in India. Legitimizing protests by protesting ourselves is, in fact, the only way to show solidarity with American protestors. There really is no other way of saying ‘black lives matter’ and not being a total hypocrite.

(For left-liberal purveyors of divinely ordained righteousness—stop going after easy targets, like celebrities who support black lives matter but don’t talk about caste discrimination at home, to make yourselves feel better and superior; you are way worse hypocrites than the celebrities; all angry and righteous about American protests, going so far as to claim solidarity with blacks in America, while you sit your ass down at home without protesting because protests are unsafe; protests are also unsafe in America, but you support them there, so why no protests here? Just like you ask celebrities to condemn caste at home if they support black lives matter, you should also protest at home if you support American protests. If you can’t do that, stop with the virtue signalling on social media, ain’t nothing you post there gonna help black people in America or your allegedly beloved caste victims in India, so just stop. Or at least don’t go after others when your house is made of the thinnest glass.)

Akshat Jain is a writer currently residing in India. He uses the debate methodology of Syādvāda to piss people off. Like a good Syādvādist, he claims that all his claims fall within the ambit of falsifiability. 




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