Conversations with 'Urban naxals', Ep#5 Nakul Singh Sawhney: 'It'll be nice of those who coined the term, to tell us what it means'

Are you an Urban Naxal? How many Urban Naxals do you know? Would you be able to spot an Urban Naxal in the wild? Do you even know what an Urban Naxal is? We don't, so we thought we'd track down a few who've been tagged so, sit down with them and ask each of them a bunch of fundamental questions about who they were. These podcasts are a result of our "field studies". The following conversation was with Nakul Singh Sawhney who is an independent filmmaker and founder of ChalChitra Abhiyaan, a film and media collective based out of West Uttar Pradesh. He is the director of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai and Izzatnagri Ki Asabhya Betiyan and others.



Shubhra Dixit: In this episode, we are talking to Nakul Singh Sawhney, an independent filmmaker. He’s the director of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai and Izzatnagri Ki Asbhaya Betiyan, among others.

Hi Nakul, thanks for talking to me.

On Twitter you hashtagged yourself ‘Me Too Urban Naxal’, how would you define the phrase?

Nakul Singh Sawhney: I’ve no idea, you’ll have to ask those who’ve come up with the phrase or with the term Urban Naxal. I don’t know what it means. Some people came up with the term urban naxal, I think it was Vivek Agnihotri or some other people who are close to the BJP, or take sides with the BJP and the ruling government.

I just know that for some reason I suddenly find myself fitting in that category as well. So, I thought, theek hai ab... Many of us felt that if you want to slap it on us then fine, we’ll claim it. It’ll be nice of them to tell us what it means though, since that’s what we have been accused us of being — Urban Naxals.

I’ve never been a member of any Naxal organisation, I’ve never been a member of the maoist party, so I really don’t know what they mean by Urban Naxal.

I think the term anti-national has lost its currency, because I think they over-used it and overdid it, and people were getting irritated with it, so they had to find something new for the people who are opposed to the government. So, it’s Urban Naxal now.

Shubhra Dixit: Would you say you are a Naxal sympathiser?

Nakul Singh Sawhney: I’ve definitely, like I told you, never been a member of a Naxal organisation, I’ve never been a member of the Maoist party. The term, in itself, is also a very broad term. By Naxal if you mean the Maoist party, then no, not really, I don’t entirely agree with the Maoist party.

What I do sympathise with, are the democratic demands that are raised especially in states like Chattisgarh, and the fact that it raises the voice of some of the most marginalised people.

The fact that it is an organisation that depends entirely on armed tactics to achieve their goal is something I don’t agree with, the fact that these are violent organisations that depend entirely on violence to achieve their goals is something I don’t agree with.

So, I don’t think it’ll be right to categorise me as a sympathiser.

Shubhra Dixit: Arnab Goswami on his show, in a debate, conflated the Naxals with the Islamic State, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and so on, would you say there’s a difference?

Nakul Singh Sawhney: I think Arnab Goswami is… I don’t know what he is smoking, I mean, I want what he smokes. Jaish-e-Mohammad to Naxal to Islamic State, matlab kya mast hai yaar, kuch bhi... just conflate whoever the hell you want.

Well, I have also claimed the tag Urban Naxal, I did hashtag #metoourbannaxal, so yes, let me assure you, I can speak for myself personally... and I do know a lot of other people who on Twitter tweeted the hashtag #metoourbannaxal, and I know many of them are very strongly opposed to the idea of the Islamic State or Jaish-e-Mohammed, or any of these organisations.

Shubhra Dixit: What do you think about the timing of these raids and arrests?

Nakul Singh Sawhney: Well, timing is quite obvious, no? I mean suddenly you have people from Sanatan Sanstha… In fact, Arnab Goswami needs to deconstruct the timing more than anyone else, because when Gauri Lankesh was killed, he was the one who jumped the gun and started suggesting on his show that Maoists are in some way responsible for her murder.

Sanatan Sanstha people are now being accused for her murder, they’ve been picked up by the police. And when they’ve been picked up, suddenly now… they’ve stopped talking about Sanathan Sanstha, and the massive terror network called Sanatan Sanstha in this country.

Clearly one is directing attention from that reality and from that organisation... suddenly attention is diverted. We have Urban Naxals now. Ta da!

You never know what charges will be levelled at you. Many of us, when we have spoken against the growing attacks on the minority communities of this country — sometimes in the name of beef lynching, sometimes in the name of love jihad, and whatever may be the reasons — then we’ve often been accused of being Islamist sympathisers.

And when one is not an Islamist sympathiser, one is actually equally vociferous of Islamists attacking minorities in Muslim dominated countries, Muslim majority countries, the same way that we are critical of majoritarian Hindutva organisations attacking religious minorities in Hindu dominated India.

Shubhra Dixit: What would you say about the state of national discourse in the country?

Nakul Singh Sawhney: It’s at an all time low if you ask me. On the rare occasions when I do watch one of these debates on the internet, and you have people like Sambit Patra... they are constantly sort of digressing and deflecting attention from facts onto things like Urban Naxals, and anybody who challenges this government is now a Maoist, an Urban Naxal, and anti-national, Islamist sympathiser, Tukde Tukde gang... so we’ve reached a stage where people don’t want to discuss…

Actually, I don’t think people don’t want to discuss government policies, but at least those who have the resources at their disposal to influence public discourse don’t want serious discussions to happen on anything.

Shubhra Dixit: Do you think that the seizing of Communist literature suggests that reading Communist literature is now a crime?

Nakul Singh Sawhney: Haan, I mean, that’s the sense one gets. I remember sometime back, someone was, I think, beaten up in Maharashtra because he had some Ambedkarite song which was his ring tone. Similarly now, if you have Communist literature, you’re being treated as an “Urban Naxal”.

Kya hai Communist literature? Communist literature is so vast. Even Bhagat Singh was a Marxist, right?. So, is having a book on Bhagat Singh Communist literature which is banned?

The Communist parties in this country have been in power in three states, and in one state for a record 34 years. So, since when has Communist literature in this country been blasphemous? Or illegal?

In a democracy people read all sorts of things. And that is the idea of a democracy, that we have a multiplicity of ideas.

Shubhra Dixit: The raids and the arrests happened in relation to the Bhima Koregaon violence, but suddenly then there was this plot to assassinate the Prime Minister, where did this originate from and..?

Nakul Singh Sawhney: Where did it originate from? It originates from some very fertile minds who are just desperately trying to find escape routes for this government.

Whenever it find itself on the backfoot, if there is growing agitation, if there is growing anger, if there’s anything... then you throw up these terms and come up with conspiracy theories, like, there’s a plot to assassinate the PM, and there is a Tukde Tukde gang... and look what it has led to, I mean, another young student, Umar Khalid, was very, very, very nearly murdered.

Look, what it has led to, look at what this government has actually created. They’ve created… The government has made some sort of a confluence with some sections of the mainstream media. They’ve created lynch mobs. People just out to kill anybody... and they’re, probably, under the massive misconception that they are saving the nation. They don’t know anything about Umar Khalid, they just know the projected image by Times, Republic TV and Zee News.

Shubhra Dixit: The UAPA was used even under the UPA government. Back in 2007, some of the same activists were arrested, and now the BJP government is also using the UAPA, is there a difference in the way both of these governments have used it?

Nakul Singh Sawhney: Look, I am under no misconception that the UPA government was also not authoritarian when it needed to be. I mean, there were many arrests, like if you remember, the arrest of Dr Binayak Sen had also happened under the UPA government. So, I will definitely not go out of my way to give the UPA government a clean chit. Many of us were opposed to the UPA government as well.

However, such arrests, and this kind of witch-hunting was actually a lot less. But this time, it’s just… the scale of it is unbelievable.

In Uttar Pradesh, there have been 1200 encounters, 1200… there is something very scary about the way this government is functioning, both the state governments and the government at the Centre.

So yes, while I am very critical of UPA’s misuse of draconian laws as well, but the stuff that is happening right now is unbelievable.

Let us not forget that in the Bhima Koregaon case, the dominant class people from Maharashtra have also been accused of instigating and of attacking Dalits, they’ve been accused of actually starting the violence, but there is no action against them. Nothing is happening against them. And so many Dalits have been arrested in Maharashtra for Bhima Koregaon violence. So many.

So, if anything, going by what they’re saying -- Urban Naxals or Rural Naxals, Semi-urban Naxals or Semi-rural Naxals, they think they’re the only ones defending the democracy.

Shubhra Dixit: Arnab has suggested that these Urban Naxals are club-hopping people, who are drinking wine and eating cheese, and are plotting against the government. What do you have to say about that?

Nakul Singh Sawhney: What’s with wine and cheese and all yaar? I mean, I am just curious, doesn’t Arnab have any expensive liquor himself? Or cheese? And what is this connotation with wine and cheese?

If someone is having wine or cheese, it’s none of Arnab’s business or my business. Whether it’s nationalist… I mean, Modi wears a 15 lakh rupay ka suit. So, don’t accuse anybody else of leading a slightly elite lifestyle, really.

Shubhra Dixit: So, that’s everything. Thanks so much for talking to me.


Co-produced and edited by Sonali Jain.

Listen to parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 here, here, here and here.


Updated Date: Mar 05, 2019 20:38:55 IST