It is tempting this week to just write on the snippets that played out this week while the overwhelming theme is the Bihar elections. Which way will the electorate go; will there be a Delhi-like respite to the majoritarian juggernaut? In hope…
Much happens with the Regime trying to lay down diktats a la Gujarat model and then the wider issues of accountability and governance stopping them in their tracks. A quick look at the past week’s evidence through a calendar like lens is illuminating.
The land grab, anti-Adivasi and Kisan policies of the Regime continue… unsuccessful with its design to hand over, without consulting original owners and India’s farmers, their precious fertile land to corporates, the Regime has come up with a novel way to ensure a paralysis of the pathbreaking Forest Rights Act enacted by the last government, a decade ago. It took even the UPA several years to enact the rules to the law and make it effective but finally the Supreme Court of India upheld the validity of the Act.
But what does this crony capitalistic Regime do? New Central guidelines from the Environment ministry headed by our very own Javadekar, state that private companies can undertake commercial plantations on “degraded” forest land up to 40 per cent of the country’s forest land area. (According to a website dedicated to the land rights of tribals, the Campaign for Survival and dignity, www.forestrightsact.com the existing forest and vegetation will be replaced by monocultural plantations with the rights of forest dwellers restricted to 10-15 per cent of the leased patches. This is after the disastrous impact of mono-culture driven agriculture of the kind Maharashtra has seen with sugarcane that has made our regions chronically drought affected and the water table awfully fragile. Their legal rights, hard won after centuries old mobilization by mass movements, over the remaining 90 per cent of the leased forests will be simply neutralized by a stroke of the Environment Ministry’s pen: the Regime wants to reduce their self dignity from independent entrepreneurs and owners to beggars at the mercy of the crumbs of large giants. The state government enacted ‘village forest rules’ in both Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh ignore the rights of the Forest Dwellers to manage and protect the forests.
Neo-liberal policy has meant the enacting of policies and signing of MOUs without taking them through Parliaments and Legislatures. After this assault on our precious forest lands that remain protected only because of the Adivasi and Forest Dwellers’ conservation of them, the Regime has dealt a body blow on the fundamental rights to life and dignity of seven per cent of our population nationwide, our Adivasis – the indigenous peoples.
And then in Chhattisgarh run by the BJP, as if neighbouring Gujarat state text books were/are not bad enough we have a class X social science text book stating to young minds that "working women are one of the causes of unemployment" in the country". A courageous young teacher in tribal Jashpur district in Chhattisgarh has confronted the government, questioning the content being served to young minds in schools. Soumya Garg, a 24 year old, has petitioned the state women's commission against the content arguing that women have equal rights in employment with men. What will be the result?
It seems we are back to an era of undeclared emergency. A sinister policy plan to criminalise receipt and deletion of WhatsApp messages and other encrypted mails was hastily back-peddled a day before the prime minister flew off to his foreign sojourn. But not before a 3 million dollar deal had been signed with Boeing!
India is Secular and Secularism is India no matter what the Bhagwats of the world may have to say. Centuries old genuine sense of equality, dissent and co-existence flows through this country’s veins. And hence we see that while the Muslims of Musahra village in Uttar Pradesh's Sant Kabir Nagar are struggling for their right to offer qurbani (sacrifice) on Eid ul-Zuha, Ayodhya the temple town that witnessed the sacrilege of a Mosque being demolished on 6.12.1992 presents a contrast to the situation. Though there is a total ban on slaughter and sale of meat throughout the year in the temple town, this curb is unofficially lifted during three days of Eid. And in Bengalaru a novel petition demands a ban of vegetables on Bakri Eid Day. Eid Mubarak!!!
And then, back then to our struggle for justice for 2002. For the past week, at intervals, the Supreme Court of India has been hearing the petition filed by Sanjiv Bhat formerly of the IPS, removed from service by a vindictive state.
The arguments are not even being reported by the ‘national’ corporate driven media.
He is one of the important witnesses in the ongoing Zakia Jafri case. Advocates for him, Indira Jaising and Prashant Bhushan have been exposing the nexus between the RK Raghavan-headed SIT (answerable to the Supreme Court of India) and its nexus with high-ups in the Gujarat government. The ‘national’ media has been barely reporting the story. Prashant Bhushan tweeted a few days ago, “Smoking gun shows Modi & Shah's involvement in Guj riots and fake encounters: Addl Sol Gen Tushar Mehta's emails to the lawyers of accused!’” Another Bhushan tweet, “ASG Tushar Mehta's emails show that Modi's Guj govt was hand in glove with riot accused. They were drafting each others affidavits for court!”(sic) …where were the Times of India, Hindu, Indian Express, Times Now, NDTV etc reporters when this was being argued? The arguments are not even being reported by the ‘national’ corporate driven media. Self censorship at its dangerous worst.
And then: the Zakia Jafri case has therefore been adjourned until October 19. The hearing in the Gulberg trial concluded in September. Advocate SM Vora pointed out that how the then police inspector KG Erda himself lodged the complaint and took up the investigation and pointed to the sinister conspiracy. He alleged that it was criminal negligence by Erda who “deliberately didn’t make any effort to identify the dead bodies of victims, neither he took any step to preserve the bodies for investigation, instead he allowed the bodies to decay”. Vora argued that the whole incident was part of a conspiracy to target Muslims as the mob kept shouting slogans to “kill people from the minority community”. Vora also accused that SIT didn’t investigate the case in a professional manner and had the victims’ lawyers not got involved many of the accused, including Erda, would not have been made accused. (http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/gulberg-case-defence-sticks-to-reaction-to-firing-theory-115092801277_1.html)
Vora saab was Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP)’s lawyer for the Survivors, in the Trial Court. We were given special audience and argued, independently of SIT for over four hours on September 21 2015. (Detailed written arguments have been submitted by us. The matter is now reserved for judgement.
An important point to note: This work has carried on despite and inspite of the crude and disgusting efforts of the Gujarat, and now the Central government to tie us down; repress us, jail us and silence us.
Bravo CJP team, bravo survivors to stand by the truth, whatever the cost…..
One more painful episode of a ghastly carnage, resisted by an exemplary and courageous battle for justice, concludes. At least the first rung, the first Order.
In Hope of justice we remain…
A version of this appeared as the author’s weekly column in the daily, Rashtriya Sahara in late September 2015