A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 19 | No. 09 | 23-29 FEB 2016
Modi Government's War on Students and on DemocracyThe Modi Government has waged war on campuses and on the right to dissent. If one young life – that of Rohith Vemula – was snuffed out in this war, several other young students charged with 'sedition' are facing vilification, arrest, and custodial violence.
But two historic mobilizations on the streets of Delhi – mainly by students and youth – offered a remarkable resistance to Modi's war on campuses.
On 18 February, defying the TV channels whipping up a frenzy against 'anti-national JNU', thousands of Delhi's students and young people, supported by working class men and women, intellectuals and citizens from all walks of life, marched on the streets of Delhi to show solidarity with JNU. They demanded the release of the JNUSU President and withdrawal of all sedition charges from students, and demanded that JNU revoke the arbitrary suspension of eight student activists. They asserted that shouting slogans was not sedition, and demanded repeal of the anti-sedition law. Above all, they asserted that true patriotism lay in the determination to dissent, to care for the rights of people, and to speak truth to power.
On 23 February, students from all over the country gathered in Delhi in response to the 'Chalo Delhi' call by the Joint Action Committee for Justice for Rohith Vemula. Thousands who marched in Delhi asserted that they would not allow the Modi Government to shrug off its responsibility for the suicide of the Dalit scholar and activist.
The march culminated in a public meeting – in which the dais was shared by two anguished parents whose sons are targets of a witch-hunt by the Modi Government: Radhika Vemula, mother of Rohith Vemula, and SQR Ilyasi, father of Umar Khalid, one of the JNU students who has since been arrested.
In his suicide note, Rohith had written about how the "value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity" – his caste. Umar, before his arrest, had also spoken of how he too had been 'reduced to his immediate identity' as a Muslim man, branded as a member of a Islamic terrorist outfit based purely on his name.
Rohith was expelled from his University based on faked 'injuries' by an ABVP leader. He was branded 'anti-national' based on slogans raised by his and his comrades in a protest against the hanging of Yakub Memon. Eight students including JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar, JNUSU General Secretary Rama Naga, former JNUSU President Ashutosh Kumar and former Vice President Anant Prakash Narayan, as well as Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, have been thrown out of their University and accused of sedition based on fake videos, fake tweets and fake 'intelligence reports'. As in Rohith's case, their slogans condemning the hanging of Afzal Guru have been branded as 'anti-national.' The vilification and expulsion of Rohith and the JNU students was incited by ABVP and led by BJP MPs. Far from learning its lesson from the tragic consequences of the witch-hunt of Rohith Vemula, the Modi Government has repeated the witch-hunt of student activists on an even more vicious scale in JNU.
The courageous student and youth movement in support of Rohith Vemula and JNU has effectively ripped off the cloak of 'nationalism' and exposed the Government's authoritarian agenda of cracking down on constitutional liberties, crushing voices of dissent against the Hindutva and pro-corporate agenda, using assaults and murderous attacks by Sanghi thugs as well as the might of the police machinery.
This student movement has also thoroughly exposed the role of certain media channels in inciting hatred and violence against JNU students, using fabricated videos and other fabricated materials. This shameful conduct is in contrast to the courage shown by some journalists, including one young journalist who resigned from one such channel and exposed its role in manipulating videos to incite anti-JNU and anti-Left frenzy.
The Sanghi hate-campaign against JNU raises the slogan of 'Jo Afzal ki baat karega, voh Afzal ki maut marega' (Anyone who speaks of Afzal Guru will meet Afzal Guru's fate), even as the BJP is poised to form Government in Jammu and Kashmir once again with the PDP, which calls Afzal's hanging a 'travesty of justice' and seeks to bring Afzal's remains back to Kashmir.
But it is no longer hidden that the hatred against 'Afzal ki baat' is only a pretext: even 'Ambedkar ki baat' (ideas of Dr Ambedkar) are met with hatred and violence. The Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha, youth wing of the BJP, fired at Prof Vivek Kumar of JNU in Gwalior recently, when he was about to speak at a public meeting on 'India of Ambedkar's Dreams'. The BJYM vandalised copies of the Indian Constitution, as well as other writings of Dr Ambedkar.
The BJP, RSS and ABVP are unable to hide their hatred and disgust for Ambedkar and the Indian Constitution. By allowing 'lawyers' and a BJP MLA to beat up students, teachers and journalists unchecked inside Court premises, the Modi Government is sending a message of contempt for the Constitution.
One of the most prominent pro-BJP figures, actor Anupam Kher, has called the crackdown on campuses from HCU to JNU as 'pest control,' while leaders of BJP and ABVP have called for campuses to be 'purged' and 'sanitised' of Leftists and progressive activists. Was Rohith Vemula one of the 'pests' that the BJP purged from HCU to sanitise the campus? Such dehumanizing language is reminiscent of Hitler's Germany, and also of more recent remarks by BJP leaders comparing Dalit and Muslim victims to dogs, puppies and so on.
In the meeting of Vice Chancellors convened by the HRD Minister Smriti Irani, there was conspicuous silence on the burning issues of Dalit suicides on campuses and on the recommendations of the Thorat Committee report including the demand for enactment of a 'Rohith Act' to curb caste discrimination on campuses. There was also silence on the move to slash scholarships and impose WTO rules on India's higher education. Instead, the Minister shamefully sought to hide these burning issues under the diktat to fly the tricolour on all campuses – ignoring the fact that the tricolor already flies in most campuses.
The Sangh Parivar and Modi Government, admirers of Savarkar and Godse, have always feared and hated the legacies of Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh. Now, they are engaged in a desperate attempt to brand the followers of Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh as 'anti-national.' They will certainly fail in this bid – and the brave young followers of Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh will give them a fitting rebuff, and save democracy from the Sanghi onslaught.
On 12 February a massive march took inside the campus demanding release of JNUSU president Com. Kanhaiya and withdrawal of sedition charges against other students. The march was led by the JNUTA and over 4000 students and teachers participated in the march. Besides leaders of the left, several other scholars and political leaders addressed the meeting held after the march. Disturbed by the immense support on campus with the student leaders arrested and charged, the ABVP in keeping with its destructive politics attacked Congress leader Anand Sharma inside the campus. The next day, students, faculty members, alumni and several others joined hands to form a nearly 3 km long human chain in JNU. The students and faculty of JNU have continued to stay in the ad-block, and holding a lecture series on 'nationalism' and the 'idea of the nation' in which lectures have been given by Prof. Ayesha Kidwai, Prof. Prabhat Patnaik, Prof. Nivedita Menon, Prof. G. Arunima, Prof. Vivek Kumar, noted journalist P. Sainath, among others.
Nearly 40 teachers' associations from across campuses of this country have come out and expressed their solidarity with JNU. Teachers from some of the top universities in the world including Harvard, Oxford, Yale and Columbia have expressed their support to the JNU students. Nearly 455 faculty members from these and other universities worldwide have issued a joint statement condemning the state action on students and expressed solidarity with the JNU students. In the letter of support to JNU, they write, "JNU stands for a vital imagination of the space of the university — an imagination that embraces critical thinking, democratic dissent, student activism, and the plurality of political beliefs. It is this critical imagination that the current establishment seeks to destroy. And we know that this is not a problem for India alone". The teachers expressed a grave concern over the unfolding situation in JNU and termed the detention of students "illegal" and "autocratic". Noted scholars and writers like Noam Chomsky and Orhan Pamukh, besides other eminent scientists and writers across the world have also issued a strongly worded statement that says it is "evidence of the present government's deeply authoritarian nature, intolerant of any dissent". The letters of support have come from not just from the faculty, but even students from various universities who have sent their pictures holding the banners of 'Stand with JNU'. Protests have been organised in cities like London in support of JNU.
Within the country, CPI(ML) and AISA organized a rally in Patna demanding release of JNUSU president and withdrawal of sedition charges against other students, of whom five are ex JNUSU office bearers. The next day a joint rally comprising of several student organizations was also taken out in Patna against the BJP-RSS-ABVP designs to malign and defame JNU. Protests were also organized in many towns including Darbhanga, Fatuha and Arwal and effigy of Prime Minister Modi was burnt.
In Kolkata, several demonstrations were organized by AISA and various cultural activists to protest against the attack on JNU. In some of these demonstrations ABVP resorted to its routine hooliganism but the protestors remained undeterred.
Similar protests by left parties, students' organizations and progressive sections have also been organized in Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar, Mumbai, Varanasi, Udaipur, and several other places. Support has also poured in from students across universities in India such as AMU, TISS, FTII, DU, AU and several others.
More recently, three hundred and seventy-nine Indian scientists and academics have written a letter to the Vice Chancellor of JNU expressing their dismay at the recent events there. They write, "One may agree or disagree with this viewpoint — and, indeed, signatories to this letter hold different positions — but we are unanimous that students should have the right to freely discuss this issue... India is a vast country, and no one group can define what it means to be "nationalist" or "anti-national", in specific terms of positions to hold and causes to support. The country's fabric is strong enough to accommodate a plurality of views. It is the attempt to suppress differing viewpoints that is genuinely damaging for the country's 'democratic ethos". They also castigated the university administration for allowing the witch-hunt of students. "Senior members of the government have aggressively targeted your students. The JNU administration should have protected its students against these attacks and charges that have also vitiated the police investigation. We are deeply disappointed that you have failed to carry out this responsibility".
On 18 February, a massive solidarity march took place in Delhi in which tens of thousands of students (across campuses), faculty members, youth, progressive sections, cultural activists and common people participated. In a peaceful protest in which students carried roses, colourful banners and placards, they urged the media to stop deliberately airing fabricated news based on unverified facts, fake tweets and doctored videos which was inciting violence against JNU students and faculty. Exposing the agenda of the BJP government, the students raised the slogans of "JNU to bahaana hai, Rohith ka mudda dabaana hai" (JNU is only a pretext to bury the issue of Rohith Vemula's institutional murder). The students affirmed that they will not let the government divert the attention from Rohith's institutional murder and continue to demand justice for him. The students also demanded that JNUSU president be released, charges against JNU students be withdrawn and BJP MLA O.P. Sharma be arrested for violence against JNU community and sympathisers. They urged that the vicious attempts by RSS-BJP-ABVP to malign and criminalise the JNU community must be strongly resisted.
AIPWA organized a State level convention at Nagbhushan Bhawan in Bhubaneshwar on 13 February. About 250 women from Raigarha, Bhadrak, Puri, Khurda, Cuttack and Bhubaneshwar (6 districts) participated in the Convention, whose proceedings were conducted by Com. Savita Baraj and presided over by a 12 member board.
The women who had come from Raigarha spoke about the loot of their jal-jangal-zameen. Currently 100 houses built by the housing colony are being razed and a stadium built there. The convention opposed and condemned this move without first making alternative arrangements for re-housing. It was decided that AIPWA would protest against this on 19 February at Gunpur.
The Convention demanded that the women's reservation Bill be passed. The issue was also raised that if prohibition could be implemented in Bihar, then why not in Odisha? Speakers at the Convention also pointed out growing police atrocities in the name of the anti-Naxal drive, persecution of women, violence against women, and other issues. Mandakini Sethi, Kalpana, Meena, Premlata, Atyosi Malik, AS Kaliya, Sumati Das, Sanyukta Panigrahi, Manju Lata and others spoke at the Convention.
The Convention was inaugurated by CPI(ML) CC member Com. Yudhishthir Mahapatra and AIPWA National President Saroj Choube was the chief speaker. Com. Saroj spoke about the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, Sanghi dirty tricks and inflammatory actions in JNU, and the growing communal frenzy all over the country; she outlined the historical journey of AIPWA and discussed the current challenges facing the women's movement. She highlighted the need to build a struggle against oppression against women, organize and unite honorarium women workers, struggle for students' issues and women's rights, and stand against police crimes and State repression.
At the conclusion a 23 member AIPWA State Co-ordination Committee was constituted with comrades Mandakini Sethi and Savita Baraj as conveners. The committee targeted a membership of 10,000 before the AIPWA National convention to be held in Patna in November this year; it was also decided to strengthen AIPWA's base in at least 6 districts, and hold a rally in Bhubaneshwar on 8 March.
AIPWA Bihar State committee had decided to observe its 22nd Foundation Day with dharnas, protests, and symposiums to demand curbing of violence against women, passing women's reservation bill, total prohibition in Bihar, opening sub-health centres in every panchayat and appointing women doctors, declaring honorarium workers as government employees and making their honorarium Rs 15,000, payment of honorarium arrears, and other issues.
A symposium was organized in Patna on 11 February at the IMA Hall on the subject 'Growing Fanaticism in the Name of Culture vs. Women's Freedom' where AIPWA General Secretary Com. Meena Tiwari was the main speaker. The symposium was addressed by Prof. Bharti S. Kumar, Dr Gogi Kumar, Alka Verma, Madhu, Anuradha, Nivedita and others. Anita Sinha conducted the proceedings. In her talk Com. Meena Tiwari said that today in the name of culture, it is being decided what women shall eat, what they shall wear, and when and where they shall go. This is the same anti-women culture being that is being foisted on dalits by patriarchal and brahminwadi ideas. This is what led to the death of Rohith Vemula. We must step up our fight against this culture.
On the same day in Fatuha block AIPWA and Bihar State Vidyalaya Rasoiya Sangh jointly organized a dharna in the block office complex. The dharna was addressed by AIPWA leader and State President of Rasoiya Sangh, Saroj Choube. Block officials and mid-day meal officials accepted the memorandum and announced that there will be total prohibition in Fatuha from April. They said that there is a shortage of not only woman doctors but also of male doctors in the sub-health centre and that they have been writing about this to the civil surgeon continuously for the past one year. Questions of ration-kerosene were also raised on this occasion. ADM in-charge gave his clarifications. Over 150 women took part in the dharna.
In Bihata a protest was held at the block office on 10 February. The BDO was conspicuous by his absence. A delegation submitted a memorandum to the SDO. A convention was organized on 10 February in Dulhin Bazaar.
Tributes were paid to martyrs and flag hoisting was done in Siwan on 12 February. In Darbhanga AIPWA, Rasoiya and ASHA workers met on 10-12 February and decided that ASHA would take out a march in front of the CM on 14 February and Rasoiya Sangh and AIPWA would hold a protest on 18 February.
Protests were held in Bhojpur at Piro, Jagdishpur, and Sandesh on 15, 16, and 17 February. The delegation comprising comrades Indu Singh, Shobha Mandal, Sita Devi and Sangeeta Devi was met by the Zonal Officer in Piro.
Earlier, on 3 February an AIPWA delegation met Social Welfare Minister Manju Verma and submitted a charter of demands. The delegation included comrades Saroj Choube, Shashi Yadav, Anita Sinha, Madhuri Gupta and Anuradha Singh. The delegation was astounded by the Minister's statement that liquor was necessary for stress relief! The attitude of the Minister on the other issues was indifferent. The Minister expressed support to the demand of including rasoiyas in the standing committee report on regularizing samvida workers.
Workers demonstrated in front of the Karnataka Labour Commissioner's office at Bangalore on 17 February 2016 demanding a minimum wage of Rs. 21000 and halting of proposed anti-worker, pro-corporate amendments to Factories Act and Rules by the Karnataka State government.
Workers from Bangalore Corporation (BBMP), Bangalore Water Supply (BWSSB), Readymix concrete workers (RMC, RDC, Lafarge), public sector workers (BHEL, HAL, BEML, NAL), Race Course Workers, MICO BOSCH workers, etc., participated in the demonstration.
AICCTU Karnataka state president Balan, General Secretary Clifton D' Rozario, CPI(ML) Central Committee Member Shankar, State Secretary Appanna, and comrades Nirmala, Mohan and other activists addressed the demonstrators. Demonstrators resolved that this demonstration is only a beginning of a broader campaign and bigger struggles on the issue.
CPI(ML) and the All India Kisan Mahasabha held protests at several block offices in Bhojpur on the issue of paddy purchase from all farmers including sharecroppers. The first protest was at the Jagdishpur block office led by Tarari MLA and Kisan Mahasabha State Secretary Sudama Prasad. Farmers arrived at the block office with about 50 tractors laden with paddy and jammed the block entirely. The farmers put pressure on the SDO and BDO for purchase of the paddy. The SDO called the Primary Agriculture Credit Society (PACS) President and assured him about paddy purchase. He also agreed to purchase paddy from the sharecroppers and had a Performa prepared for this.
Similarly, protests were held at Piro, Charpokhri, Agiaon, Sahar and Tarari blocks on 2, 3, 4, 5, and 9 February respectively. Legislator com. Sudama Prasad said that the government is dilly-dallying on the issue of paddy purchase from farmers. Now that the farmers are bringing their paddy here in tractors, the administration is agreeing to keep their paddy, but not making payment for the paddy. He further demanded that the government should give a guarantee of paddy purchase from all farmers including sharecroppers without paper work, as has been done in Punjab. He also demanded that the government should declare a support price of Rs 2000 per quintal and a bonus of Rs 500.
CPI(ML) strongly condemns the attacks on tribal rights activist Soni Sori in Bastar and on Prof. Vivek Kumar that took place in Gwalior. The two horrific attacks are just latest additions to the ongoing war against democracy that continues unabated under the present regime.
On the evening of 20 February, Soni Sori was attacked by some unknown assailants near Kodenar in Bastar. They forcibly stopped her vehicle on the road and threw some black substance on her face, causing intense burning and pain. The attack on Soni Sori is not sudden. In fact, for past several months and others who are working to safeguard the rights of the tribals in Bastar and in other districts of Chhattisgarh including Dantewada, Kanker, Sukma, and Bijapur, have been receiving regular threats. Just a few days back, lawyers belonging to Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, known as 'JagLAG' (which was formed to provide legal aid to people of the aforementioned districts as they were subjected to frequent imprisonment on false cases) were forced to leave Jagdalpur. Soni Sori has been a courageous voice against state repression and has remained undeterred even after state's considerable efforts to silence her, be it by imprisoning her for long periods in false cases or the brute custodial torture inflicted on her. Once again, she remains unfazed by these attacks and assets that her fight will continue. CPI(ML) salutes the indomitable courage of Soni Sori, stands with solidarity in her and the tribals in Chhattisgarh fighting for their democratic rights against brutal state oppression and demands immediate action against her assailants.
In another attack on voices that have spoken against oppression, members of Bhartiya Janta Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the BJP, attacked activists of Ambedkar Vichar Manch who had organised a seminar and invited Prof. Vivek Kumar of JNU to speak in the same. While he was speaking, a grouo of BJYM activists led by their district president Vivek Sharma entered the seminar venue demanding that seminar be stopped. They started beating up the organisers and also attacked Prof. Kumar. BJYM activists also shot gun fires. This is not the first time that student and youth wings of the BJP have disrupted discussions on oppression based on caste, religion and gender. With BJP coming to power at the centre, vandalism by their hoodlums in venues of seminars, conferences, movie screenings and debates has become a routine affair. In most instances, their vandalism enjoys overt state and administrative support as has been witnessed recently in Lucknow University, Hyderabad Central University, JNU, DU and elsewhere.
The two incidents above and the spate of incidents involving assaults on democratic voices, especially on those speaking up for the rights of the oppressed, particularly- Dalits, tribals, religious minorities, women and sexual minorities, shows the intolerance of the sangh brigade towards anyone who espouses the cause of democracy, equality and social justice. Even as routine rabble rousing, incitement of violence and divisive speeches by Sangh members like Adityanath, Giriraj Kishore and others fail to invite any state action, it is those speaking for the oppressed who are either criminalised (as seen in the case of Rohith Vemula and student leaders in JNU) or intimated, as seen in the assaults mentioned above.
CPI(ML) stands in solidarity with all who are braving state repression in their efforts to defend democracy and speak for the oppressed. All assaults on democracy must be strongly resisted.