While the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, the BJP-led government is forging ahead with its dangerous agenda of destroying the syncretic culture of India and compromising the Indian Constitution itself.
An outlandish celebration of the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of Ram Janmabhoomi temple will be on display all day on August 5th in Times Square, NYC, with much extravagance and pomp and show. A section of the Indian diaspora who are transfixed by the BJP-led government have paid huge amounts of money to project the phrase “Jai Shri Ram” in both Hindi and English, portraits and videos of the Hindu deity Ram, 3D portraits of the temple’s design and architecture as well as pictures of Modi laying the foundation stone on several of the iconic Times Square LED screens. This exhortation of a mythical past is a diversion from the real economic and social marginalization of the vast majority of Indian people. The crass spectacle of Hindutva ideology also coincides – deliberately, no doubt – with the first anniversary of the abrogation of the constitutional guarantees of Kashmir’s special status.
The Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia denounces the impending display of economic and political power designed to belittle the people of Kashmir and India’s religious minorities by the Hindutva forces in the US. We stand firmly and proudly with people across the globe who dare to dream of a more just and equitable world.
We have watched with growing horror the treatment meted out to the 81 years old revolutionary poet, Varavara Rao by the Indian state. Varavara Rao has been incarcerated in Taloja jail in Mumbai for almost two years. According to the latest media reports and press conferences held by his family, Varavara Rao was exhibiting signs of serious illness, with the inability to walk and deliriousness since early July. It is shocking to learn that it took multiple pleas by his family members and an international campaign for the Taloja jail authorities to even take him to the hospital for treatment where he was diagnosed with COVID-19. Family members who finally managed to see him found him lying on urine-soaked sheets on a hospital bed, alone with no one to take care of him. Even his family members were not permitted to help him.
What happened to Varavara Rao, or VV as he is popularly known, was foretold in multiple petitions that were filed before the court pleading that he is granted bail due to the dire situation in the jail, his age and his underlying comorbidities. Yet time and again these pleas have been rejected.
India has already released thousands of undertrials on bail in order to prevent prisons from becoming COVID-19 hotspots. The Bhima Koregaon undertrials, of whom VV is one, have been accused of political crimes. The cases against them are widely believed to be false. Given that the judicial process in India is grindingly slow, one cannot but conclude that the only reason for their incarceration in these conditions is to ensure that the process itself is their punishment. This callousness of the judiciary and the investigative agencies (the NIA) amount to state-sanctioned custodial torture.
This is the second time in the last few months that VV has been hospitalized, pointing to the increasing precariousness of his health. On May 28th of this year, VV was taken to JJ Hospital, in an unconscious state according to his family members. However, he was returned to jail before he made a full recovery. In only about a month his condition started deteriorating sharply. After pressure from his family and an international campaign by intellectuals and human rights activists, he was again taken to hospital on July 13th when he tested positive for Covid-19.
As is well known by now, COVID-19 carries very serious risks for people above 80. We fear for VV’s life and we call upon the jail authorities, the judiciary, and the police to release him so that his family can provide adequate medical care. The next few days are critical. We call upon the justice and freedom-loving people the world over to stay vigilant and continue to pressure the Indian government to act with humanity.
The lengthening shadows Have reached the plinth. Who will answer then For these lives battered and lost? — Varvara Rao, from “The Captive Imagination”
We, the undersigned, are outraged at the harassment and recent arrests of students and other activists on fabricated charges under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The Government of India (GoI), acting through the Delhi Police, is targeting activists who participated in non-violent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the GoI is arresting and throwing activists into crowded prisons. It is criminalizing dissent and has created an atmosphere of terror in Delhi.
Recently, Shifa-Ur-Rehman, the President of the Jamia Millia Islamia Alumni Association was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for alleged involvement in the Northeast Delhi pogrom. The Delhi police seized the mobile phone of Kawalpreet Kaur, the All India Students’ Association (AISA) Delhi President, citing an FIR (that included a slew of charges under the UAPA). The Delhi police also used the UAPA to book former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid for his alleged role in the Delhi pogrom. In an earlier incident, Jamia Millia Islamia students Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar were detained and placed in prison on charges under the UAPA. Each day they are in prison or in police custody increases their chances of contracting COVID-19, especially Safoora Zargar, who is three months pregnant.
In light of the global pandemic, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged all countries to release “every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views”.
The students and activists, who participated in the CAA protests and helped people who suffered as a result of the Delhi pogrom have been wrongfully arrested and imprisoned. While the people who actually incited violence and engaged in hate speech, such as Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur, and Parvesh Verma, roam free. Is this justice according to the Delhi police?
We demand that:
All the activists and students who have been arrested should be released immediately and all the charges, including those booked under the UAPA, be withdrawn.
The Delhi Police must stop arresting and intimidating the peaceful and justice-minded activists, who have participated peacefully in the CAA protests.
The real culprits of the Delhi pogrom (like Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur, and Parvesh Verma) should be charged with inciting violence and making hate speeches and arrested.
Saturday, October 26, 2019 Award-Winning Documentary “Reason” With Director Anand Patwardhan
Bartos Theatre MIT, 9:30 am film start – 12:30 – 1:30pm lunch 1:30pm panel A conversation with film director Anand Patwardhan & Professor Sana Aiyar, History, MIT Professor Amartya Sen, Economics & Philosophy, Harvard