CEDRIC PRAKASH S.J.
The past couple of weeks, particularly these first days of September, have been a defining period in the history of India. It is no longer about the ‘writing is on the wall’; it is much beyond, not any more a reality show, but reality itself! It is about THE WALL which divides, denigrates, demonises and decimates. About a regime which has become completely insensitive to the cries of millions of people, which just does not care!! In the garb of ‘democracy’, it is hard-core fascism! There is however, a silver lining with more and more coming out (at least virtually in this time of the pandemic), becoming much more visible and vocal, and saying in one loud voice, “We must arise!”
The eleventh of September was a day of great significance: several anniversaries on one day! In 1893, Swami Vivekananda gave his famous speech at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago; in 1895, Vinoba Bhave was born; in 1906, Mahatma Gandhi launched the ‘Satyagraha’ movement in South Africa; in 2001, the world witnessed the violent attacks on the US; and now in 2020, we have just learnt the news of the sad demise of Swami Agnivesh. All seemingly unrelated events, spanning 127 years; yet in every single one of them, is that defiant assertion, “We must arise!”
Swami Vivekananda was palpably direct when he said in Chicago, “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now? But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal”. Today, the bhakts of the Sangh Parivar are doing just what the Swami has condemned. Christians and Muslims are at the receiving end of an agenda of hate, fanaticism and bigotry. We have seen it happening in these past days. A Muslim barber from Panipat had his hand chopped off because he had ‘786’ tattooed on it! Four Christian organisations had their FCRA suspended because of ‘conversion’ activities! But the minorities of India are no pushovers; the sanctity and rights guaranteed in the Constitution belong to every single citizen. The minorities have literally no choice today but to say in unison, “We must arise!”
Mahatma Gandhi launched his non-violent resistance campaign at a historic mass meeting in Johannesburg South Africa. It was the birth of a new movement ‘Satyagraha’ – the relentless pursuit of truth and justice. Gandhi believed that they were non-negotiables; two-sides of a coin. More than three thousand Indians (both Hindus and Muslims) and others, gathered to support the beginning of civil obedience. Later with ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence), ‘Satyagraha’ would ultimately become Gandhi’s twin-doctrine in belief and in practise. He used it effectively in his struggle against British colonial rule in India. Many Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela have over the years embraced this twin doctrine. Sadly, the India of today does not have the courage to learn from the past; casteism, xenophobia, exclusiveness, pseudo-nationalism and discrimination have a stranglehold on the nation. The emergence of the ‘hindutva’ ideology wedded to fascism and fundamentalism is destroying the country! Some are ‘building walls and fences’ to keep ‘others’ out but “We must arise!”
The ‘Prashant Bhushan final judgement’ was delivered on 31 August after holding him guilty for contempt of court earlier. The punishment was a one-rupee fine, which today has become symbolic of the resistance also growing in India. Earlier when Bhushan was asked to tender an apology by the Supreme Court he categorically said, “Therefore, I can only humbly paraphrase what the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi had said in his trial: I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal to magnanimity. I am here, therefore, to cheerfully submit to any penalty that can lawfully be inflicted upon me for what the Court has determined to be an offence, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen”. A defining statement for the cause of justice and truth; for freedom of speech and expression and above all for freedom of conscience. This struggle is still on for “We must arise!”
Any and every form of violence is non-acceptable and needs to be strongly condemned. No violent act can be justified, whatever the provocation! That unprecedented violence in the US is remembered and defined by a date “9/11.” The very utterance of it evokes all kinds of emotions: from undiluted hatred to a feeling of utter helplessness, in the face of rabid terror; from inconsolable grief at the loss of a loved one to heated debates on imponderables. A visit to ‘ground zero’ brings back painful memories of the almost three thousand lives, which were lost in just one place. One is also reminded of the millions of people who suffer every day in Palestine and Yemen, Syria and Iraq, DR Congo and Sudan, Myanmar and Afghanistan, Venezuela and El Salvador and so many other parts of the world. Though 9/11 will continue to remain etched in memory of many, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Vietnam and Cambodia, Germany and Poland and other places will never be forgotten. We need to stop all war and violence just now; we must close down the military-industrial complex and all nations need to de-nuclearize immediately! These days we have witnessed any number of despicable acts of violence: yet another rape and murder in UP: this time of a three-year-old child; a navy veteran is bashed up in Bombay because he forwarded some message on WhatsApp. The perpetrators of these acts of violence get away with impunity! To ensure a non-violent society, “We must arise!”
Vinobha Bhave would have completed 125 years on 11 September. This great but unassuming Gandhian initiated in 1951 the ‘Bhoodan Movement’ (Land Gift Movement) which was a voluntary land reform movement in India. The Bhoodan Movement attempted to persuade wealthy landowners to voluntarily give a percentage of their land to landless people. Philosophically, Bhave was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi's Sarvodaya movement. Women volunteers carried the message of Bhoodan to all parts of India. Women played a significant role in the Telangana Peasants Armed Struggle which challenged the feudal system. As their region became free from bonded labour, women also found freedom from this torment. Very ironically and sadly, one of the last orders of Justice Arun Mishra in the Supreme Court before his retirement was the eviction of thousands of slumdwellers who lived along the Railway tracks in Delhi. The judgement among other things stated, “We also direct all the stakeholders that a comprehensive plan for removal of jhuggies be made and executed in a phased manner. The encroachments which are there in the safety zones should be removed within a period of three months and no interference, political or otherwise, should be there and no court shall grant any stay with respect to removal of the encroachments in the area in question. In case any interim order is granted with respect to encroachments, which have been made along with railway tracks that shall not be effective.” Writing in ‘The Wire’ (6 September 2020) V. Venkatesan says, “The order smacks of complete absence of concern for the right to housing and dignity as part of the right to life. With such a poor record in rehabilitation, imposing a stringent deadline seems not only unjust but an invitation to a humanitarian disaster” and further, “With COVID-19 still raging, the court appears to have learnt no lessons from that initial abdication of its responsibility, which invited universal condemnation. The eviction order smacks of a deep disconnect of the court with the realities of urban poverty and the contribution of the urban poor to the city’s growth and prosperity.” So, at the receiving end are clearly the poor who need to say “We must arise!”
Swami Agnivesh left this earth on 11 September! His death is a great loss to all those who struggle for a more secular, tolerant, equitable and democratic India! Swami was a well-known social activist who founded the Bandhua Mukti Morcha (Bonded Labour Liberation Front) and worked relentlessly on behalf of the oppressed and exploited of society! He fought against every form of injustice and very especially against the hatred and divisiveness which is gnawing at the heart of the nation! In 2018, he was attacked by BJP henchmen and their ilk in in Jharkhand when he was there to attend the 195th Damin Mahotsav at Littipara and once again at Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, Delhi while on his way to pay tribute to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He never seemed to have recovered from these violent attacks. The perpetrators once again have gone scot-free! In a tribute to him Shabnam Hashmi of ANHAD says, “We have lost a fighter, but his teachings will always be with us. He believed in the idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, a vision that encapsulates the world as one family. His struggle for achieving social justice and casteless society will be carried forward by thousands of those who were inspired by his life.” He has left us all a rich legacy! If Agnivesh was with us today his voice would be emphatic, “We must arise!”
Silencing those who take a stand for truth and justice, the human rights defenders, those who dissent, those who side with the poor and the excluded, the marginalized and the minorities- is a fundamental of fascists. The past few days have witnessed this in no uncertain ways. Freedom of speech and expression is being throttled. Even a virtual ‘question hour’ in Parliament was a no-go! Those who took a stand against the CAA and the NRC, have cases foisted on them and have been incarcerated. Many of them are Muslims; then we have the case of a huge 50-lakh surety being imposed on the 24 year old Dalit student Suvarna Salve by the Mumbai police.Salve, a lead singer and activist of the cultural troop Samata Kala Manch, was one of the thirty-one persons to be booked by the police for participating in a peaceful rally from Hutatma Chowk to Gateway of India in South Mumbai on January 6. Over 300 people from across Mumbai had joined that anti-CAA rally. Then we have the BK-12 (11 in jail and one still to be imprisoned) who took a stand on behalf of the Dalits and the down-trodden. They were once again in the news because of their plight. The message however is unequivocal truth can never be silenced and, “We must arise!”
On 5 September thousands observed the third anniversary of the brutal murder of Gauri Lankesh; also remembering the others who have been killed because of their efforts to preserve the secular and pluralistic fabric. A huge national effort #IFWEDONOTRISE, brought together thousands of citizens from every walk of life from 3-5 September. The statement signed by thousands said, “On the one hand, India is recording the largest daily increase in corona cases in the world, and deaths are on the rise. On the other hand, the country's economy is in deep crisis. Lakhs of people have lost their jobs, unemployment is soaring. However, the central government has provided a niggardly relief package to tackle the crisis: neither has it substantially increased the investment on our public health services; nor has it provided any significant economic relief to the people in the form of sufficient rations and cash transfers. It has also not provided sufficient cash transfers to the states to fight the corona crisis – in a complete violation of federal norms. At the same time, taking advantage of the lockdown in which people cannot protest, the Modi government has accelerated its pro-corporate policies. It has announced a massive privatisation drive of all public sector undertakings and banks, it is accelerating the corporatisation of agriculture, it has announced a new education policy which only promotes more privatisation of education and makes it more elitist, it is dismantling labour laws to make it easier for corporations to exploit labour. Simultaneously, it has launched a vicious fascist attack to suppress all dissent, harassing and imprisoning activists opposing its anti-people policies and reporters exposing the lies of the government under false charges; attempts are being made to silence even progressive lawyers.
“We – the working people, farmers, students, youth, intellectuals, all the common people, need to unite, overcoming our religious, caste-based, gender-based, regional differences, and fight this onslaught on our livelihoods. We need to demand that the country be run according to our Constitution, which calls for building a country that guarantees good quality and free education and health care, decent jobs, and adequate shelter to all people, and also guarantees our democratic rights of speech and dissent. The people, united, can never be defeated. History has witnessed that whenever injustices were done on people, they have united and fought back and ultimately changed and advanced society. Not very long ago, we defeated the world's biggest empire and won independence for our country. Now we need to unite to further advance the dreams of our freedom fighters and fight for getting the Constitution implemented. More than 600 human rights groups, Farmer-Worker-Feminist-Student organizations, LGBTQIA community & intellectuals from all over the country are taking part in this movement, #IFWEDONOTRISE”. Now with an extremely flawed and biased report on the recent Delhi riots by the Delhi police – the ones implicated are intellectuals and civil society leaders(among them are Sitaram Yechury, Jayati Ghosh, Apoorvanand, Yogendra Yadav) ; last night the JNU student Umar Khalid was arrested. The situation is going from bad to worse! It is not going to abate! Therefore “We must arise!”
There is much more: The economy is in a terrible mess; millions are unemployed! India’s GDP has fallen to a record minus23.9% and the Finance Minister terms it ‘an act of God’! Meanwhile the regime and their party are amassing a huge amount of wealth! The COVID-19 pandemic is holding India with an iron grip; with over four million cases India is the country with the largest numbers affected and killed by the pandemic in the world after the US; in the daily spike India is on top. India has no answer to the almost daily incursions by the Chinese! Yet at the launch of the Raffaele jet in India- which is clearly one of the most corrupt cases in the history of the country – many unthinking Indians are clapping hands because some prayers were said from other religions! No God blesses corrupt deals or machines that kill other human beings! The regime is destroying the environment, ensuring that some corporates loot our precious natural resources and fragile biodiversity for their own profiteering! Adivasis are systematically being evacuated from the forest lands! The Education system is being tampered with as never before and students are left in the doldrums. All this and much more in just a few days. So, “We must arise!”
And in all this rot – ‘Godi’-fied, paid, corporatized media tries to make us believe that the only thing that maters in the country today is the suicide or murder of a Bollywood actor and the shenanigans of an actress acting on behalf of the regime! We forget that the Bihar elections are round the corner and the Maharashtra Government has to be taught a lesson! In short, they seem to be ‘convinced’ that the average citizens of India are a bunch of morons who cannot think for themselves any longer! Before it is too late “We must arise!”
Like the Phoenix, the mythological but legendary bird of the ancient world, “We must arise!”
*(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights & peace activist/writer Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org )