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Members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India honoured Niranjan Takle - a courageous journalist who exposed the mysterious death of Justice B.H. Loya - in Delta on Monday, September 17.

Takle was in Vancouver on the invitation of South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy. He was presented with a medal by IAPI members, including its President Parshotam Dosanjh, Outreach Secretary Rakesh Keshu, Organizing Secretary Sarabjit Singh Baaz, Treasurer Navtej Johal and spokesman Gurpreet Singh.

Takle had published an investigative story on the death of Loya for Caravan magazine in November, 2017. The story was previously ignored by other publications, including The Week magazine for which Takle worked. As a result he had to resign to do the story independently. However, Caravan magazine gave an opportunity to Takle to cover the issue, despite the fact that other outlets were under extreme pressure from the government, and a section of the mainstream media in India has even tried to discredit the story.

In 2005, a Muslim named Shohrabuddin Sheikh was murdered in custody by the Gujarat police. His wife, Kauser Bi, who had witnessed his arrest, was raped and murdered. Amit Shah, the  current president of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was complicit in the conspiracy. Being a home minister of Gujarat back then, he was in charge of the law and order in the state.

The Supreme Court of India ordered an inquiry into these murders, and appointed a Special court to try Shah and police officers involved.

Justice Loya, who headed the Special Court, was allegedly pressured to give a favourable verdict and exonerate Shah. The story done by Takle revealed that Loya had died under mysterious circumstances, leaving many unanswered questions and raising doubts over the nature of the autopsy and the actions of those who conducted postmortem procedures.

Subsequently, the new judge discharged Shah and others. Takle’s story is based on the interviews he did with Loya’s family, and autopsy documents that point to many gaps. Takle continues to be under surveillance for trying to unearth the truth.
***

 
 

 

The members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI)  held a rally against the recent arrests of five political activists in India.

 

The Friday rally organized at Holland Park in Surrey was attended by the representatives of various progressive groups. The speakers unanimously condemned the the arrests of  revolutionary poet Varavara Rao, Human Rights lawyer Sudha Bhardawaj, besides authors and activists Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira, and retired teacher Vernon Gonsalves. .

 

IAPI believes that they have been framed to suppress the voice of dissent, as they have always stood for the oppressed and marginalized. 

 

The participants raised slogans against draconian laws and state repression in the world’s so called largest democracy and held out placards carrying the pictures of those arrested to show their solidarity with them. Among those in attendance were seniors, women and youngsters. Progressive poets and activists like Amrit Diwana and Sarabjit Baaz recited rebellious poems om the occasion. Renowned story writer Harpreet Sekha and documentary filmmaker Ajay Bhardwaj were also in attendance to show support. Those who spoke at the event included IAPI cofounders Parshottam Dosanjh, Rakesh Kumar and Gurpreet Singh. Veteran community activist Chin Banerjee spoke at length to explain what is going on in India under the right-wing Modi government. None of the elected officials who were invited by the organizers showed up, even though Surrey has a significant number of Indo-Canadian MPs and MLAs.    

The members of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India have unanimously condemned the arrests of five political activists in India.

In all, ten resolutions were passed at the emergency meeting of the IAPI in Delta on Tuesday evening, August 28.

One of the resolutions condemned the arrests of political activists and raids on the houses of others across India.

Those arrested include revolutionary poet Varavara Rao, Human Rights lawyer Sudha Bhardawaj, besides authors and activists Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira.  Ferreira was arrested and imprisoned in the past too.

The Indian police have arrested these individuals on malicious charges. They are being accused of having links with Maoist insurgents and for being involved in a plot to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

IAPI believes that they have been framed to suppress the voice of dissent as they have always stood for the oppressed and marginalized. IAPI has decided to hold a protest rally in Surrey on Friday, August 31.

The IAPI also condemned the recent attack on student activist Umar Khalid in Delhi by supporters of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party.

Another resolution condemned the opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi’s statement absolving his party from the charge of being involved in 1984 anti-Sikh massacre.

Though IAPI condemned the attack on a visiting Akali leader, Manjit Singh GK, in California by the Sikh separatists, and threats being made to Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu by the Hindu fanatics, it clarified that they do not agree with the bourgeois politics of the two leaders and will continue to oppose their policies that are only good for the elite.

The IAPI also remembered the victims of Kandhmal violence on its tenth anniversary. The Hindu extremists murdered scores of Christians in Orissa in August, 2008. Many of the victims of this violence have migrated to other states, while the perpetrators of the massacre remain unpunished. IAPI demanded the prosecution of those involved.

A resolution was also passed to show solidarity with the people of Kerala who continue to grapple with the crisis caused by massive floods, and to condemn the central government for meting out step-motherly treatment to the state and not doing enough to help those affected.

Other resolutions included condemnation of the declaration of a Jewish state by the Israeli government, and online racist threats being made against South Asian candidates running for city election in Vancouver.  IAPI also welcomed the United Nation’s indictment of Army officers in Myanmar for their involvement in genocide of Rohingya Muslims.

 

Gurpreet Singh

 

This month marks the first anniversary of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI).  

Formed in Surrey, BC on July 8, 2017, IAPI was created in response to the growing attacks on religious minorities in India.

Ever since the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in India in 2014, violence against minorities has grown in the world’s so called largest liberal democracy.

It is only a matter of time  before the BJP government officially declares a Hindu state, as cultural and religious diversity remains under constant threat from the Hindu chauvinists who continue to terrorise Muslims, Christians and Dalits or those considered untouchables with impunity.  In light of the recent declaration of a Jewish state by Israel, and a deafening silence of the west, the possibility for a Hindu India in the  near future cannot be ruled out.

Under the current government in India, not only minority communities, but people from the majority Hindu community who denounce the ideology of the BJP, are also frequently targeted by the Hindu extremists.

IAPI represents various religious and cultural sections within the Indian Diaspora in Canada and stands for a pluralist and tolerant society.  Among those who came forward to establish the group were people of Indian origin from different faith groups. Those who participated in the first meeting included two Hindus, two Muslims, three Sikhs, two Dalits and at least one Christian. Others were atheists or free thinkers. They unanimously condemned growing attacks on minorities in India and resolved to raise a voice for a secular and tolerant India. They decided to hold a big demonstration against killings of Muslims suspected of carrying beef by the self-styled cow vigilantes.

It was also decided not to limit the focus of IAPI to criticising the BJP, but also to act like a watchdog against other political parties, to discourage them from indulging in majoritarianism. The opposition Congress, which has been involved in sectarian politics for opportunistic reasons in the past under the garb of secularism, must also take the blame for the gradual growth of Hindu fanaticism in India.

Though IAPI is yet to formulate its constitution and set up a governing body, the active members and cofounders include myself, Parshotam Dosanjh, Navtej Johal, Rakesh Kumar and Amrit Diwana. There are others who are not actively involved, but remain a big support.   

On July 30 last year, we held our first public rally outside Surrey City Hall. More than 50 people participated, including a significant number of women and children. Unfortunately, no South Asian politician showed up, while the media also ignored the rally.

A month later, IAPI invited Rana Ayyub, a courageous Indian journalist who had exposed the politicians and state officials involved in the killings of Muslims under BJP government in Gujarat in 2002. The current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was the Chief Minister of the state when the anti-Muslim pogrom was organized by his party. Ayyub had investigated the involvement of BJP leaders and police officers in these killings during a sting operation she did for Tehalka media group. She later published a book based on her undercover investigation.  Gujarat Files remains a popular book which has been translated into different languages. IAPI helped in publication and distribution of the Punjabi translation, done by an activist friend Buta Singh, who lives in India. She continues to receive threats for being critical of the BJP.

On August 12, Ayyub spoke at a Surrey Central Library event organized by IAPI. The program was held inside the room named after Dr. B.R. Ambedkar the architect of the Indian constitution that guarantees religious equality and freedom. He had forewarned Indians about a threat by the Hindu right to peace and harmony.

This time, the response was huge and an unprecedented number of people came to listen to Ayyub’s lecture. She was duly honoured by the group for her bravery.

On August 27, we held a rally at the Komagata Maru memorial in Vancouver. The Komagata Maru ship carrying more than 300 passengers from British India was turned back in July 1914 under a discriminatory immigration law that was passed to discourage Indian immigrants from permanent settlement in Canada. Those aboard the ship belonged to different faith groups. IAPI decided to hold one demonstration right near the memorial that symbolizes unity and diversity of the founding fathers of India, who not only fought against British occupation back home, but also racism abroad. The idea was to make people in the mainstream aware of unfortunate incidents taking place in India.

We marched from the Simon Fraser University Harbour Center to the Komagata Maru memorial, and stopped at the Indian Consulate where slogans were raised and flyers were dropped to let the Indian agents know what we want. Speakers from different religious communities spoke at the memorial and condemned the policies of the BJP.

On September 5, the world was shocked at the news of the assassination of Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh by suspected Hindu extremists. We promptly condemned the murder. Lankesh was critical of the BJP and had translated Ayyub’s book in Kannada, which made everybody in IAPI anxious about her safety. A day later, we held an emergency rally against the murder of Lankesh at Holland Park in Surrey. This time, other than Rachna Singh, the MLA from Surrey Green Timber, no other elected official showed up. (For the record Singh is my wife, but her decision to join the rally was her own.)

IAPI was also prompted to intervene on the Rohingya issue when the Indian government got embroiled into an unwanted controversy.  Thousands of Rohingyas were slaughtered by the military and Buddhist extremists in Myanmar, forcing many to flee to India for safety. However, the Muslim Rohingyas did not get a good reception in India. Several BJP leaders suggested that they should be deported. Some went to the extent of saying that only Hindu Rohingyas be allowed to stay back. This was in violation of the Indian convention of accepting refugees without discrimination. So much so, the Hindu fundamentalists also attacked Khalsa Aid – a Sikh humanitarian group that was helping the refugees languishing in various camps - on social media.

IAPI held a rally at the Holland Park in Surrey again on September 23 demanding that India accept all Rohingya refugees with open arms, without discriminating against Muslims, and show its support to Khalsa Aid. Not only Muslim activists from Myanmar attended the rally; Surrey Center MP Randeep Sarai, and Conservative Party supporter Harpreet Singh also joined the gathering. Sarai later wrote a letter to the Prime Minister forwarding the demands raised at the rally. Few days later, IAPI supporters joined a rally for Rohingyas outside Vancouver Art Gallery. 

On October 12, IAPI honoured a retired school Principal from Punjab, Swaran Singh Aujla, at an event held at Strawberry Hill Library in Surrey.

Aujla had located the family of Muslim Indian revolutionary Rehmat Ali Wajidke in Pakistan. Wajidke had died fighting against British occupation of India. His family had migrated to Pakistan following religious partition of the country in 1947. Aujla had served as the Principal of the school at Wajidke’s native village. He not only located the family of Wajidke in Pakistan, but also got the school renamed after the national hero. This was an important step to build cultural ties between the two neighbouring countries. The recognition of Aujla’s work also became important in the light of growing attacks on Muslims, whose nationalism and patriotism is frequently questioned by the BJP. IAPI presented Aujla with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Rachna Singh was the only elected official to be present on the occasion, while Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism Ravi Kahlon made a statement in the BC Legislature to recognize IAPI’s work and the contributions of Aujla.

On December 2, University of British Columbia researcher Dr. Kamal Arora was honoured by IAPI for her study on the female victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh violence engineered by the then Congress government following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. MLA Rachna Singh and her party colleague Amandeep Singh from the New Democratic Party were in attendance at the event held at Strawberry Hill Library.

On December 9, IAPI held a rally to mark 25 years of the demolition of Babri mosque by the BJP supporters on December 6, 1992. The BJP continues to claim that the ancient mosque was built after destroying a temple that was originally built at the birthplace of Lord Ram, a revered Hindu god. This time, not a single elected official turned up at the event that was held at Holland Park in Surrey.

On February 4, 2018 IAPI held another rally at Holland Park in commemoration of political figures, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Lankesh, who were killed by Hindu extremists. This year marks 70 years of the assassination of Gandhi by the supporters of a Hindu state. Gandhi had invited the wrath of the Hindu extremists for standing up against repression of Muslims during partition. Most media outlets and politicians ignored it.   

On February 11, IAPI again held a rally at Holland Park demanding the arrest of Jagdish Tytler, a senior Congress leader involved in anti-Sikh carnage. Tytler had made startling revelations during a media sting about the killings of innocent Sikhs. Most speakers agreed that a prompt action was needed against Tytler and other Congress politicians, but the BJP cannot be allowed to take advantage considering its own controversial background. Though this rally received good media coverage, some of the TV footage was disturbingly selective, omitting the statements made against BJP. The rally was started with a moment of silence for Asma Jahangir, a human rights activist from Pakistan who had passed away a few days before. Jahangir always stood for the rights of minorities in her country. 

On February 18, IAPI held a rally in commemoration of the Samjhauta express blast. The rail service that runs between India and Pakistan and was started to strengthen relations between the two neighbouring countries was targeted by the Hindu extremists on February 18, 2007. The blast had left 68 people dead. Most victims were Pakistani Muslims. An equal number of candles were to be lit in memory of the dead at Holland Park, but due to cold weather and snow, the candles couldn’t catch fire. Once again the media and elected officials ignored the rally that was attended by several known activists.

On March 20, another rally and vigil was organized at Holland Park in memory of the victims of Chittisinghpura massacre and subsequent incidents. 36 Sikhs were murdered in Chittisinghpura village of Indian-administered Kashmir on March 20, 2000. The story behind the bloodshed remains a mystery, although it is widely believed that this was either done by the Indian army or by state sponsored Hindu vigilante groups to discredit Kashmiri militants who are fighting for independence. This had happened when US President Bill Clinton was touring India. In order to cover up the affair, Indian forces killed five local residents, wrongly accusing them of being Pakistani militants involved in the massacre. This was followed by the deaths of nine protesters in the police firing. Those killed were asking for justice to the families of the five people killed by the Indian forces. Since the whole episode left 50 people dead (including 36 Sikhs) IAPI lit 50 candles in their memory.   

On April 13, IAPI honoured visiting activist from India Teesta Setalvad. Setalvad has been fighting for justice to the victims of the 2002 anti-Muslim massacre. She was invited for keynote address on the relevance of the history of Jallianwala Bagh massacre that happened on April 13, 1919. Scores of peaceful protesters were killed in an indiscriminate firing by the troops on a peaceful assembly at Jallianwala Bagh public park in Amritsar in British-occupied India. The demonstrators had gathered to raise their voices against draconian laws and the arrests of leaders of the passive resistance movement against colonialism. Among those who died were Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The Jallianwala Bagh story symbolizes secular unity. Setalvad’s great grandfather Chimanlal Setalvad had cross examined the British officer responsible for the unprovoked firing. The Indian authorities tried their best to block her visit to Canada by slapping false cases against her.

She spoke at length about the history of the bloody event and its relevance today under BJP rule that continues to muzzle any voice of dissent and threatens the secular fabric of the country. Following an impressive event held at Surrey Central Library, she was honoured with medal of courage.  Buta Singh who translated Gujarat Files also joined the event where the Punjabi edition of Setalvad’s memoir, Foot Soldier of the Constitution was released. Singh, who had translated Setalvad’s book, also spoke on the occasion.

On April 22, IAPI held a rally for Asifa Bano, an eight-year-old Muslim girl who was raped and murdered by Hindu extremists in Kathua region of Jammu and Kashmir in January, 2018. The crime was committed to instil fear in the minds of Muslims and force them to migrate out of fear. Clearly, sexual violence was used as a weapon to humiliate one particular community. A rally was held near Surrey Newton Library. Teesta Setalvad and Buta Singh also joined the rally that followed a presentation by both of them on rape as weapon at the library.

MLA Rachna Singh was the only elected official to show up. She later raised the issue in the BC legislature.

In the meantime, Teesta Setalvad was also taken to the Legislature in Victoria where she met Premier John Horgan and apprised him of the current situation in India.  IAPI also arranged an informal meeting between her and Federal New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh during the Vaisakhi parade in Surrey.

On June 24, IAPI launched the autobiography of Dr. Chandra Sankurathri who lost his wife and two children in the Air India bombing on June 23, 1985. The midair blast above the Irish Sea had left 329 people dead. The crime is widely blamed on Sikh separatists seeking revenge for repression of Sikhs in India.  Sankurathri had turned his grief into strength and started a charity in the name of his beloved wife in India. The foundation runs a free school and a free hospital respectively named after his daughter and son. Since the Air India incident was also an attack on diversity, IAPI decided to support Sankurathri.  In the absence of Sankurathri, who was in India, the book was launched by other victims’ families. Georgia StraightEditor Charlie Smith and former Globe and Mail reporter Robert Matas were the guest speakers at the event, held at George Mackie Library in Delta.

On July 22, IAPI held a rally at Holland Park to condemn the attack on Swami Agnivesh.  

Agnivesh, who is a Hindu reformist and vocal critic of superstition and Hindu extremism was assaulted by the supporters of BJP in Jharkahd.  The IAPI also condemned the vandalizing of the office of senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor in Kerala. Tharoor was targeted for warning against the attempts of turning India into “Hindu Pakistan”.

The demonstration coincided with the first anniversary of IAPI. Elected officials and the media once again ignored this important rally, even though many of them were present at a festival that was taking place in the same park. 

Apart from organizing its own events, IAPI took active part in similar demonstrations held by Ambedkar Internation Social Reform Organisation (AISRO) in Surrey. AISRO has taken leadership in organizing rallies against growing attacks on Dalits or so called untouchables in India in the recent months. IAPI has joined them time and again to show its solidarity with them.  

IAPI has just started its journey and we have a long road ahead, and we will continue to raise our voice against bigotry in any form. Even though our numbers have never exceeded 50, or we haven’t received much media support, we are still thankful to few dedicated friends in media, politics and community for their continued solidarity. Considering that we have just completed first year, with limited resources, we are proud of having been successful in inviting real heroes from India, like Teesta Setalvad, Rana Ayyub or Buta Singh who continue to fight against real challenges on the ground. We are also proud of being consistently vocal against sectarian violence of any kind in any part of the world. Hopefully, our caravan will grow as we continue to march ahead.   

 

 

South Asian activists came together at Holland Park in Surrey on Sunday evening to raise their voices against the recent attack on Swami Agnivesh in India by Hindu extremists.

Agnivesh is a well known Hindu reformist and a social justice activist. He has been very vocal against sectarian politics of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in India. He is a staunch critic of superstition and repression of minorities and marginalized sections of the society under the BJP government that wants to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. Organized by Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI), the rally was attended by people from diverse backgrounds. The speakers unanimously condemned the attack on Agnivesh and expressed their solidarity with the secularists who are being frequently targeted by the supporters of BJP. 

An associate of Aginvesh, Acharya S.P. Dwivedi – who is a Hindu preacher himself - was among the speakers. He noted that the assault was an attempt to suppress the voice of reason.

The event was started with a poem dedicated to Gauri Lankesh, a progressive journalist who was murdered last year by suspected Hindu extremists.  The poet Amrit Diwana said that the attack on Agnivesh cannot be seen in isolation as it involves similar forces that earlier assassinated Lankesh and other rationalist thinkers.

The cofounder of IAPI, Gurpreet Singh, clarified that the mandate of IAPI isn’t just confined to opposing the BJP; it is also critical of the opposition Congress which has also played the politics of majoritarianism under the garb of secularism. Nevertheless, the organizers also condemned the attack on the office of a senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor for cautioning against the attempts to turn India into a Hindu state by the BJP government. 

Others who spoke on the occasion were Muslim activists Sayed Wajahat and Imtiaz Popat, Dalit activists Roop Lal Gaddu and Rashpal Singh Bhardawaj, rationalist activists, Harjeet Daudhria, Avtar Gill, Parminder Kaur Swaich and Bhupinder Malhi and well known Sikh broadcaster Harpreet Singh, who is running for the next federal election. Though Singh is a Conservative candidate, he stopped by to show his solidarity, whereas South Asian elected officials remained absent from the rally. So much so, most South Asian media outlets ignored the rally, even though representatives of several known media channels were present at the Fusion festival in the same park. 

The demonstration coincided with the first anniversary of IAPI, which was formed last year in response to growing attacks on religious minorities in India under the BJP government.

The participants carried posters of Agnivesh that read; “An injury to one is an injury to all.” They also raised slogans against the BJP government. The event concluded with a song, “We shall overcome” by Imtiaz Popat.

 

Vancouver-based Indians Abroad for Pluralist India (IAPI) has condemned the recent attack on Swami Agnivesh by supporters of the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Agnivesh is a vocal critic of superstition and religious fundamentalism. He has been speaking out against growing intolerance and attacks on minorities under the BJP government in India. He was viciously beaten during his visit to Jharkhand by those affiliated with the BJP.

The attack was aimed at intimidating Agnivesh and muzzling a voice of reason. This follows a series of murders of rationalist scholars and activists by those who are seeking to turn India into a Hindu theocracy.

According to IAPI, the incident that left Agnivesh badly injured must be taken seriously in the light of the killings of Narendra Dahbolkar, Gobind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh by the Hindu extremists.

The IAPI statement issued to the press also deplored the recent attack on the office of senior Congress Party leader Shashi Tharoor who came under sharp criticism from BJP supporters for denouncing attempts to turn India into an exclusionist Hindu state.

"Though we don’t agree with the policies of the Congress party and will continue to question its secular credentials for its involvement in sectarian politics for opportunistic reasons, we believe that Tharoor should not be targeted for saying the right thing. Any act of violence to suppress the voice of those who believe in a diverse and pluralistic society must be condemned by everyone".

 
 

 

Gurpreet Singh

The biopic based on the hardships of Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt remains a crowd puller.  

Directed by Rajkumar Hirani, Sanju is focused on Dutt's struggles with the justice system and a hostile press for possessing a gun, as well as his fight with drug addiction. 

The film is a good attempt to educate people about the sufferings of an actor who had to face police brutality and an unfair trial by media. This was for keeping a weapon for self-protection in the aftermath of an anti-Muslim pogrom in Bombay (now known as Mumbai) and subsequent bomb blasts blamed on Islamic extremists.

However, Sanju fails to situate his story in the broader context of the persecution of minority communities under draconian antiterror laws in the world’s so-called largest democracy.  

Dutt was detained under the infamous Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (TADA) for possessing an unlicensed AK-56.

The law was passed in 1985 to deal with militancy in various states, including Punjab where Sikh extremists had launched an armed struggle for a separate homeland of Khalistan.

The TADA gave sweeping powers to the police, making people of minority communities, such as Sikhs and Muslims vulnerable to forced disappearances and arrests for indefinite periods of time. The law was taken back in 1995 following widespread criticism and tireless campaigning by human rights activists.

Sanju reveals that Dutt was forced to keep the gun due to threats from Hindu extremists. This was around the time when Hindu fanatics demolished an ancient mosque in the town of Ayodhya in December 1992.

These extremists continue to claim that the mosque was built by Moghal rulers at the birthplace of Lord Rama, a revered Hindu god. They wanted to build a huge Rama temple at the same spot.

This incident led to Hindu-Muslim violence in different parts of the country. Bombay also experienced violence against Muslims carried out by the Hindu fundamentalists with the backing of the police.

Dutt’s father, the late Sunil Dutt, was an actor turned political activist with strong secular credentials. A Hindu married to a Muslim actress, he tried to save Muslims during the violence.

This enraged Hindu extremists who threatened to kill the Dutt family and rape Sanjay Dutt’s sisters. Later, Bombay was rocked by serial bombings that left many people dead.

The blasts were blamed on the Islamic extremists. It was then that police came to know about the gun in the possession of Dutt.

Dutt was arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail by the police. The media also portrayed him as a terrorist without listening to his side of the story, mainly because of the hysteria created by the bombings.

The speculative media stories suggesting his complicity in the explosions not only ruined his career for some time, but also his social relationships.

This went on even after the court never found him guilty of terrorism or being involved in the bombings, and punished him with several years in prison for possessing a gun.

It became difficult for Dutt family to change the perception that was created by hawkish politicians and the media.

The whole affair also left Sunil Dutt in a pathetic situation as his own political colleagues turned their backs on him.

Though Sanju is worth watching to see how the Indian system works when dealing with people after a court judgement, it must be borne in mind that Dutt is not the only victim who deserves our sympathy.

He was still very privileged to have the film made and his story heard. On top of that he survived several years of difficulties.

Think about the many unknown Sanjus, who were kidnapped, tortured, or even killed by the police in staged shootouts under the TADA.

In Punjab, ordinary Sikhs became frequent targets of police violence.

Dutt still had a gun, whereas in Punjab, men and women whose only fault was their failure to refuse shelter to armed extremist—for fear of their lives—were detained and tortured by police with impunity.

Nobody in the mainstream was bothered as they were seen as “anti-nationals”.  The media too willingly obliged by publishing the police version of the events, branding them as “terrorists” without even waiting for a fair trial.  

Father objected to writer's question on the radio

Ironically, Sunil Dutt was associated with the then ruling Congress party that brought in the TADA in the first place in spite of many objections from the civil society.

I remember having made Sunil Dutt angry over this when he once visited Canada when I used to work for Radio India.

Dutt Senior was here to attend an event organized by the cancer foundation named after his late wife, Nargis Dutt. During a live interview, I asked him how he felt about ordinary people who suffered because of the TADA, while his film star son has got so much sympathy and support.

An agitated Dutt said that my line of questioning was unacceptable and "unfortunate".

He insisted that we let the courts decide whether his son did anything wrong or not. However, he later cooled down and asked me to join us for a group photo. 

Sanju is not just a reminder of the past, but is relevant even today as some new draconian laws have replaced the TADA.

Activists, writers, and artists are frequently arrested under the right-wing Hindu nationalist government to suppress any voice of dissent. In most cases when these individuals stand up for the oppressed communities or raise voice against injustice, they are branded as “anti-nationals”. Or, in the worst scenario, as sympathizers of Muslim or Maoist insurgents, which creates animosity against them in the media.

Hopefully, someone like Hirani will look into their stories one day and bring to light many of these unheard tales before the mainstream that is consumed by majoritarianism and narrow nationalism. 

Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine.

Anand Teltumbde

Even in these times of growing sense of hopelessness in the country under the present regime, the arrests of the five activists by Maharashtra’s Pune Police had stunned people all over the world by the blatancy of misuse of power and impunity it reflects. The continuing spate of condemnation by scores of people within and outside India would not affect the unruly regime that parrots the law would take its course. And what law? The draconian law like Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) that gives Police an unaccountable authority to arrest anyone, torture, fabricate evidence, slap any number of charges they want and rot them for years in jail as the law charts its meandering course in the courts. And what courts, when the four senior judges of the highest court had to take a desperate step to hold a press conference to voice their concern to the people that all was not well with even the Supreme Court? It has been more than clear that these laws have been singularly misused against the people who took cudgels for oppressed people and in course, spoke against the elitist bias of the state. But the courts that proactively grudge the misuse of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act would refuse to see the misuse of UAPA and permit decimation of innocent people who may otherwise be seen as the model of selfless humanists dreaming to realize the constitutional promise of India as the secular, socialist, sovereign, democratic republic as dreamt by our founding fathers.  

The rot may be traced to the constitution itself of the post-colonial state that adopted entire apparatus of colonial governance including its draconian laws under the veneer of democracy. It has been used by all governments irrespective of parties in power paving the way for its motivated use by the present regime to decimate descent. The manner in which the arrests of Sudhir Dhawale from Mumbai, Advocate Surendra Gadling, Prof Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut from Nagpur and Rona Wilson from Delhi were carried out following raids on theirs and some other activists’ homes marks a new low in lawlessness under the garb of the rule of law.

The Context of Bhima-Koregaon

The rapid shifting of narratives of these arrests by the police could not hide the thick context of the violence at Bhima-Koregaon on 1 January 2018 by the Hindutva forces in which scores of Dalits were injured, their property was damaged and a youth lost his life. It had a backdrop of a conference called Elgar Parishad that took place the previous day. This parishad was convened by P B Sawant, retired justice of the Supreme Court and BG Kolshe Patil, ex-justice of the Bombay High Court and joined by 200 odd liberal and Dalit organizations in Maharashtra to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle, believed by the Dalits to have been won by their ancestors to end the oppressive regime of Brahmin Peshawas. It gave a call to “Bury the New Peshwai” of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seen by the Dalits and minorities as the revival of Brahmanic rule and to “never vote” for it. It naturally irked the Hindutva forces who decided to teach lesson to Dalits when they congregated in large numbers at the obelisk at Koregaon. They instigated Marathas against Dalits raking up the controversy over the samadhi of Govind Gopal Gaikwad near that of Sambhaji Maharaj, son of Shiwaji, who was tortured and killed by Aurangzeb in 1689. The legend is that Gaikwad had gone against Aurangzeb to carry out the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj and built his Samadhi on his land. The tension ensued when on 29 December the board at his samadhi was removed and a canopy over it damaged. It is said that this was used as the immediate trigger for the attack on 1 January. A police complaint was filed by one Sushma Ovhal against 49 people, including village sarpanch Rekha Shivale, deputy sarpanch Sanjay Shivale, and former sarpanch Sunita Bhandare, under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, for damaging the board, the canopy, desecration of the samadhi and for making “casteist comments”. The last line of her complaint also named Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote but the police FIR did not carry it. A counter-complaint also was filed by Shivale accusing Dalits of threatening them of retaliation on 1 January when they gathered in large number.

 

The riots on 1 January started as Hindutva activists led a procession to Bhima-Koregaon. On 2 January, an FIR was registered against Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide with Pimpri Police Station by one Anita Ravindra Savale under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, Arms Act, 307 (attempt to murder) of IPC and rioting, serious enough for the Police to act. Ekbote had worked as a BJP corporator in Pune between 1997 and 2002 and reportedly had 12 cases of rioting, trespassing, criminal intimidation, and attempts to spread enmity between two communities against him and had been convicted in five of these cases.  His entire family is associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). After losing the corporation election in 2007, he formed the Hindu Ekta Aghadi. Sambhaji Bhide, a former RSS activist is the founder president of the Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan with a history of many Hindutva campaigns in Western Maharashtra. Narendra Modi, Devendra Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray are among his followers. Despite a continuing agitation by Dalits demanding their arrest, the Police would just not act. Over the full three months, Ekbote sought anticipatory bails from the lowest court to the Supreme Court that at the end it had exasperatedly rapped the State government and probe agencies for their tardy progress in their probe against Ekbote, and questioned the agencies’ claims that he was allegedly ‘untraceable’. Only when Ekbote’s anticipatory bail was rejected by the Supreme Court that the Police arrested him just to be bailed out after little over a month. About Bhide, none other than Fadnavis would summarily attest his innocence. 

Shifting Police Narratives

The 29 December incident was warning enough for the Police to deploy adequate force to thwart impending trouble on 1 January but it let the miscreants have free run. They refused to act against the named culprits. Instead they began insinuating that the violence was caused by the inflammatory speeches made in the Elgar Parishad. On 2 January, a complaint was filed against Jignesh Mewani, Gujarat MLA and student leader Umar Khalid for allegedly inciting people through their provocative speeches. Their speeches could be easily examined within less than an hour to see that there was nothing. As protests against shielding of the culprits began getting louder, the police conducted raids on 17 April at the homes of activists of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), Rupali Jadhav, Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe, Dhawala Dhengale in Pune and Republican Panther activist Sudhir Dhawale and Harshali Potdar in Mumbai and also at homes of Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Rona Wilson, who were not even remotely connected with Elgar Parishad.  While the search warrant clearly mentioned “Bhima-Koregaon”, the chief minister stated that they did not have anything to do with Bhima-Koregaon. On 6 June the police arrested four of them and Mahesh Raut, a noted social activists and a fellow of prime minister’s rural development (PMRD) who after passing out from TISS devoted his life to tribals of Gadchiroli. The police made out a story that the Elgar Parishad was organized and funded by the Maoists, duly publicized by media ignoring the repeated explanation of Justice Kolshe Patil that he along with justice Sawant was its convener, did not spend any money, and none of the arrestee had much to do with it.

On June 6, Deputy Commissioner of Police Ravindra Kadam called a press conference where he explained the police investigation and the accusations against the five in minute detail. He maintained that the five were arrested in connection with an “Elgar Parishad” in Pune on December 31, which he claimed was funded by Maoist outfits and led to violent Dalit-Maratha clashes. The next day, even before the arrestees were produced before the court, two letters – purportedly recovered from Rona’s laptop – that discussed a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi made their way to media houses and television channels, where they were intensely debated. It was clearly in contravention to the Bombay High Court circular of 7 November 2014. Criminal lawyers saw it as the blatant violation of the law laid down by the Bombay High Court and the Maharashtra Police circular. Rahul Thakur, on whose petition the court had passed the binding directions in 2014 said, “Those arrested should file contempt petitions against the police officers and the public prosecutor for violating the High Court’s order”.

 

Most analysts including politicians and ex-police officers doubted the authenticity of these ‘fantastic’ letters purportedly written by a banned underground party and preserved by its sympathiser. The first letter revealed the plan of the party, with real names of people, and even their phone numbers. The pitch was escalated in another letter that spoke of “Rajiv Gandhi” like assassination of Narendra Modi. This drama of plotting Modi’s assassination was enacted in Gujarat several times to justify encounters of innocent people. Many people commented that whenever Modi’s popularity declined, the murder plot was released to garner public sympathy and as an image boosting tactics. Severally ludicrous, but it helped police to justify their arrests, support its theory of the Maoist urban network, slap UAPA, do media trial and amass sympathy for Modi, so necessary in the face of the increasing exposures of his performance deficit in the election year. The script writers obviously did not know that the Maoists had discarded such “annihilation of class enemy” line almost a half century ago and even then they would not do it with suicidal method.

Urban Maoists

Each of these five people has an exemplary record of selfless activism to protect democratic rights of people, particularly Dalits, Adivasis, women and minorities. They had excellent academic and professional credentials to live comfortable lives but their extension motivation impelled them to live modestly and serve people. They would obviously not agree with the rulers whose obsessive politics has been impoverishing this rich landmass and pushing majority people to bear its brunt. How could they endorse destruction of institutions, trampling of constitutional ethos, decimating dissent, othering of certain people and unleashing gangs to lynch them? The ‘urban Maoist’ is the figment of their imagination, sans contours or legality and is only meant to whip up baser instincts of people. Every thinking Indian is a potential ‘urban Maoist’; it is just the mercy of police that you are out! 

 

Dr Anand Teltumbde is writer, political analyst, and civil rights activist with CPDR, Maharashtra. 

 

 

If you really want to know how different real Hinduism is from political Hinduism of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, Shashi Tharoor’s latest book has the answer.

Why I am a Hindu comes at a time when attacks on religious minorities continue to grow under the BJP government.

Hindu extremists who've been targeting Muslims and Christians—as well as Dalits, or so-called untouchables—with impunity want to turn India into Hindu theocracy.

Calls for a Hindu India are being made shamelessly under hawkish Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though it is still a matter of time before the Indian constitution can be amended to make that happen. 

Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 when an anti-Muslim massacre was organized by the BJP supporters following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims.

More than 50 people died in the train incident, which was blamed on Muslim extremists.

Human rights activists and survivors continue to allege Modi’s complicity in the violence against Muslims, though he's denied this.

Since Modi became prime minister in 2014, there has been a spike in religious violence.

Tharoor is a practising Hindu, former diplomat, and an MP with the opposition Congress party, which describes itself as the secular alternative to the BJP.

In his book he throws light on the history of Hinduism, a great religion that has always been liberal and tolerant.

He writes how Hinduism gave refuge to Jews and Parsis in India over the centuries and allowed Christianity and Islam to grow. Hinduism itself is very diverse and eclectic.

Tharoor points out that Hinduism has no one scripture or deity to follow and allows self-criticism and even agnosticism. In his book he takes a critical look at the brutal caste system that has been practised among Hindus for centuries, and emphasizes the importance of breaking these barriers.

In addition, Tharoor goes into great detail about the narrow brand of Hinduism practiced by BJP supporters in a section titled "Political Hinduism".

Based on his understanding of Hinduism he counters their divisive politics and misinterpretation of the religion. He repeatedly writes how political Hinduism or Hindutva—based on the idea of a Hindu theocracy—can divide the soul of India, which has always been known for its pluralism and diversity.

However, Tharoor glosses over the inconvenient truth of his party’s culpability in the growth of Hindutva forces. After all, it was Congress leader and former prime minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi, who started hobnobbing with Hindutva forces during the mid 1980s.

Gandhi's party was responsible for the anti-Sikh massacre of 1984 that followed the assassination of his mother and then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards.

The widespread attacks on Sikhs helped her son win the general election with a brute majority and set a precedent for future pogroms, including the one that happened in Gujarat in 2002.

Although Tharoor briefly mentions that, he does not show courage by going into details of the pogrom to reveal how Hindutva forces were used as foot soldiers in the crime.

On the contrary, he tries to rationalize Gandhi’s decision to allow the public broadcast of Hindu epics that actually helped the BJP. For instance, several stars in the TV serial of Ramayana ended up becoming BJP MPs.

Rajiv Gandhi was also responsible for opening the doors of a disputed site of Ayodhya to let Hindu priests perform rituals, which finds no mention in the book. Hindus claim that the ancient Babri mosque that stood at Ayodhya was built by a Muslim ruler after demolishing a temple originally built at the birthplace of Lord Rama, a revered Hindu god.

The BJP started a campaign to rebuild the Ram temple at the disputed site. Once access was granted, it emboldened the Hindutva brigade.

On December 6, 1992, when BJP supporters pulled down the structure, the late Congress leader P.V. Narsimha Rao was prime minister. Tharoor obviously knows all of this and yet he chose to overlook these facts in his book, which essentially deals with Hindutva politics.

By simply pointing fingers at the BJP, he cannot exonerate the Congress party that has to take blame for the majoritarian intolerant society that India has become. This only creates more doubts about the sincerity and honesty of the Congress in the eyes of those who are looking for an alternative to Modi in the 2019 elections.  

Despite all this, Tharoor has undoubtedly done an important work that helps people understand key difference between Hinduism and Hindutva. 

This gives hope to ordinary Hindus to reclaim their faith from the self-styled gatekeepers of their religion, who are giving it a bad name worldwide.

In a fight against such forces, we do need allies from within the Hindu community who can hold up a mirror to Modi and his supporters—and for that reason Tharoor’s narrative will come in handy in educating masses.

 

 

South Asian activists came together to protest against recent arrests of political activists in India on Saturday evening.

Organized by Radical Desi, the rally was held at Holland Park in Surrey.

Police had recently arrested five political activists across India for inciting violence and allegedly being involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Among them are human rights lawyer Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson. 

Most of these individuals have been raising their voices for political prisoners and the rights of marginalized sections of society. Their relatives and supporters believe that they have been framed to stifle the voice of dissent under a right wing Hindu nationalist government. Doubts have already been raised over the authenticity of the evidence of conspiracy to assassinate Modi. 

Notably, Gadling has been advocating for jailed Delhi University Professor, G.N. Saibaba, who is ninety percent disabled below the waist. Saibaba is a political activist who was arrested after being branded as a supporter of Maoist insurgents. He has been raising his voice against the repression of Indigenous peoples in the name of war against Maoists by the Indian forces. He has also been vocal against attacks on religious minorities. The United Nations Rights’ experts recently urged his release on humanitarian grounds and questioned the validity of charges against him.

The rally was started with a moment of silence for Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa who committed suicide in March.  Khalsa was a Sikh activist who was campaigning for the release of Sikh political prisoners. He had jumped from a water tank during his fasting for the freedom of Sikh detainees. 

The organizers also expressed their solidarity with indigenous political prisoners languishing in North American jails. They demanded the release of Leonard Peltier, a 73-year-old indigenous leader who has already served 42 years in US jails. 

The speakers were unanimous in their demand for the release of the five political activists and strongly denounced ongoing state violence and draconian laws being used to suppress freedom of expression. They resolved to fight back together against growing attacks on religious minorities and oppressed communities in India. 

The participants, who included women and seniors, carried “Free Saibaba” and “Free Azad” signs and raised slogans against the high handedness of the Indian government. Azad is a radical Dalit activist who has been fighting for the rights of the so called untouchables. Much like Saibaba, he is also being incarcerated under repressive laws.

Those who addressed the gathering included: Ambedkar International Social Reform Organization leaders, Rashpal Singh Bhardawaj and Rattan Paul; Indian Rationalist Society leader Avtar Gill; Progressive Intercultural Community Services cofounder Charanpal Gill; veteran Sikh activist Kesar Singh Baghi; Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation leader Sahib Thind; and Radical Desi cofounder Gurpreet Singh.  

 

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