Bhima Koregaon raids: Arrests reflect persecution for dissent against govt practices and Hindutva politics

On a rainy day in Delhi, where, it seems, all revolutions come to die, the Pune police raided the residence of civil liberties activist and journalist Gautam Navlakha, and took him into preventive detention. In a similar lethal trans-regional onslaught, the Pune police raided the residences of human rights activists, lawyers, and writers across Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Telangana, subsequently making preventive detentions of and for most of those raided.

As illustrious figures in the totemic political history of human rights and socio-political movements such as Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Anand Teltumbde and Navlakha join the sharpening numbers of those besieged in un-wonderful, but unsurprising, ways, it is noteworthy to acknowledge that those raided — however disparate in name, professional capacity, and regional belonging — are united in their meaningful advocacy of the voice of subaltern groups and only to that end, in their dissidence against the present political dispensation, and even more wide-rangingly against the developmental state in India and its pestilential desire to leave its many constituents behind, forgotten and ungrievable.

Gautam Navlakha being taken into police custody. PTI

Gautam Navlakha being taken into police custody. PTI

For the purpose of journalistic memory, these raids, also dubbed as the climax of an undeclared political emergency, have been given the wherewithal of the Bhima Koregaon incident from earlier this year when a prominently Dalit gathering of commemoration and affective memory was attacked and violently evacuated by an identifiably 'Maratha' mob.

A figure of significance in this scheme is Bharadwaj, a human rights activist and eminent lawyer whose work with Adivasi groups in Chhattisgarh has been a testament of political alleviation and virtue. Such a distinction is ably demonstrated in this piece where Bharadwaj, with a characteristic poignancy, expresses that “we are fighting for a new Chhattisgarh… a Chhattisgarh for the toilers of the state. Here is a state rich in resources. It has water, forests and land in abundance, but its people are so poor. The state is witnessing disproportionate growth and there is no equitable distribution of benefits to everyone. If I am fighting for the marginalised communities, I have no choice but to fight against those oppressing them — from corrupt politicians and forest departments to companies not giving proper wages and safety to workers".

It is evident, or to be made evident, that those raided and arrested in the process of the probe are culpable for their dissidence, but it is less obvious what the texture of this dissent is to be. On one level, more sensationalist than reflective, the probe strikes at the heart of dissent against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, an act which everyone made culpable in the probe has committed, albeit by a variety of political persuasions. Central to such a fixture has been the so-called plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah which the police, in its own testimony, has unearthed. Such a plot, invoked imaginatively but without certain evidentiary basis, has been jettisoned to the application of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention Act) against those detained.

"The definition of ‘unlawful activities'," as this piece drives to erudition on the act, "includes 'disclaiming' or 'questioning' the territorial integrity of India, and causing 'disaffection' against India. These words are staggeringly vague and broad, and come close to establishing a regime of thought-crimes."

It is certainly undisputed that the probe evidences persecution for dissent against the political practice of the government and the insidious politics of Hindutva, but to narrow the range of dissent to the opposition of a regime, blinkers the more fundamental dissent of Bharadwaj, Gonsalves, Rao, Navlakha, Ferreira, and Teltumbde. For in their culpable participation in the struggles of subaltern groups subjugated and left behind by the developmental state — a tendency punctuated by an aggressively neoliberal conception of political economy — these dissidents invoke a pre-history of protest and imagine a more wholesome democratic present.

The grievance, the protest, and the persecution, in pre-dating the present dispensation, may not absolve it of its anti-democratic crimes, but it must, if one were to do dissent justice, learn to broaden the grammar of dissent and the force of its critique.

In positing critique not only at a particular dispensation but at the more essential orientation of politics, development, and nationhood, asking more difficult questions — and finding more meaningful answers — can be made possible. For as Bharadwaj courageously declares, “Now I want justice for the poor of the state. It’s okay that I will make some difficult enemies in the process. The struggle will go on.”

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Updated Date: Aug 29, 2018 14:05:35 IST

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