All posts by Chinmoy Banerjee

Democracy and Elections


Dear Irom Chanu Sharmila

Democracy is more than elections. Mere numbers cannot undermine your contribution to India.

Written by Basant Rath | Updated: March 29, 2017 4:53 pm

Irom Chanu Sharmila, irom sharmila, manipur elections 2017, manipur polls, democracy manipur, who is irom sharmila, sharmila hunger strike, rohith vemula, indian express news, indian express opinion, india news

Irom Sharmila. Express photo by Oinam Anand.

India’s democracy, with all its problems and polemics, owes you a huge thanks. You are an inspiration. You are a hero to millions of students of democracy and believers in the might of a human being who is willing to sacrifice everything for a worthy cause. You are my hero. You will always be my Iron Lady. A number can’t define your name. Election results can’t define your political contribution. And they should not. They won’t. Heroes don’t come from a school of political arithmetic.

In the history of human civilisation, written or otherwise, heroes never had it easy. No matter how great their causes, notwithstanding their personal sacrifices. Jesus of Nazareth left this planet on a cross, bleeding real blood and breathing real breath, after soldiers hammered nails into his body. Prophet Muhammad left earth after living a life of insults, insinuations and daily tribulations. Martin Luther King Jr. left after a single .30-06 bullet fired by an assassin felled him. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Mahatma to his millions of followers, left after bullets were pumped into his chest by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fanatic who has been an evil inspiration to his ever-growing number of unabashed admirers in these times of cow nationalism and cinema hall patriotism. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the Mahar boy who made the single largest contribution to India’s Constitution, left as a disheartened man despite his efforts to give justice to the Dalit Bahujan masses.

You are a great human being, Iromji. You have been a name and a voice for millions of people who are faceless and voiceless. You invite us to see beyond our drawing rooms, compel us to go beyond a Twitter handle here and a Facebook like there. In an age of selfie leadership, you are a lone selfless voice. In times of corporate-funded media houses and their direct-to-home shouts and criminal silences, you are a whisper, soft, yet soothing and sublime.

Iromji, Hitler, that failed painter-turned-mass killer, a megalomaniac monster and a vegetarian to his last day, came to power through elections and electoral machinations. This is how the business of politics takes care of its bottom line. Oratory has no time for a truth spoken in whispers. Elections, as important as they are in a democracy, are no guarantee that only selfless, public-spirited leaders will enter the political executive. Let’s not forget that too many criminals, real or potential, have come to power in too many countries after winning elections.

As of May 2014, the 16th Lok Sabha has the highest number of MPs with criminal cases. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which analysed the election affidavits filed before the Election Commission, 34 per cent of new MPs face criminal charges. The percentage in 2009 and 2004 stood at 30 and 24 respectively. Among the elected leaders to Parliament, as many as 112 have declared that they have serious criminal cases.

Nine leaders in Parliament have murder cases, while another 17 have attempt to murder against them. There are two MPs who have cases related to crimes against women.

With all its warts and weakness, election-based democracy is still the best model of governance. But, Iromji, democracy is as much about principles as about elections. Justice for the voiceless, accountability of the state machinery and the legitimacy of institutions can’t be reduced to a numbers game. You are a spiritual and political force to reckon with. This country of Rohith Vemula and millions of Ambedkarites deserves you. India’s students, who are fighting for democratic space, deserve your time and energy.

As of today, every third district in this country experiences some sort of armed rebellion against the state. More often than not, these districts are blessed with rich natural resources and populated by the deprived and dispossessed. Not all of these armed groups are a direct or indirect result of Pakistan’s attempts to destabilise India. These extremist groups put a strong question mark on the credibility and legitimacy of the country’s democratic institutions. Media conglomerates, fuelled by corporate money, have always spoken about bringing these districts to the mainstream. None of them have ever expected the mainstream to go to these districts and their people.

You made the mainstream go to the periphery. You were the one who made New Delhi’s media stars go to Manipur with their iPads and OB vans and take note of a worthy cause. Without bloodshed. Without organised PR networking. Without any help from a political party, local or national. Without unaccounted corporate donations. At a time when surnames make leaders out of spoilt brats and communal riots make statesmen out of criminals, you have been a glimmer of hope. When even the colour of an apple from an orchard in Sopore is political in the eyes of the buyers in Delhi’s Azadpur subzi mandi, the photograph of you, having refused food and water and having been force-fed through a tube, sitting on a hospital bed, your eyes looking into the television cameras with determination, will stay etched in India’s collective memory.

Iromji, I’m not too worried about what you will do after this election, how you’ll chart your political future and where your decisions will take you.

This is a humble attempt to convey my gratitude to you. Elections come and go. Candidates win and lose. Never has a person deprived herself of food and water for so long, for a cause that affected millions. You did that for 16 years.

Heroes like you don’t come by easily. Stay strong, my inspiration. Take care of yourself. India’s democracy and its elected representatives and their embedded media houses would do well to remember your name. You’ll always be “Mengoubi” (the fair one) in my book of prayers.

The writer is an IPS officer and DIG, Jammu and Kashmir police. Views expressed are personal

Copyright © 2017 The Indian Express [P] Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Gurmehar Kaur forced to retract protest by rape threat

Gurmehar Kaur’s retraction of campaign shows how women who voice dissent are gagged in India

From Kaur to Zaira Wasim, those who’ve challenged authority or seemed to have ‘displeased’ it, have received hate threats and been forced into submission
Written by Radhika Iyengar | Updated: February 28, 2017 7:16 pm

gurmehar kaur, kargil martyr daughter, kargil soldier daughter, kiren rijiju, rahul gandhi, venkaiah naidu, ramjas violence, ramjas abvp violence, du violence, abvp goons, abvp violence, delhi university violence, kargil war soldier daughter, not afraid of abvp, kiren rijiju, virender sehwag, sehwag, virender sehwag twitter, Gurmehar Kaur, virender sehwag ramjas violence, ramjas violence, ramjas college, virender sehwag randeep hooda, ABVP, sports news20-year-old Gurmehar Kaur

Let’s cut through the chase and not call ourselves a “democracy” anymore. Let’s put a lid on the debate regarding this so-called “freedom of expression” we proudly claim to have – for when it comes voicing dissent, we are the first to jump to quell it. Particularly when the dissent comes from a woman. Past incidents hold evidence that whenever women in India have tried to voice an opinion, which have contradicted or clashed with the opinion held by right-wing political authorities, women have been held by the collar and verbally beaten down into silence.

WATCH | Gurmehar Kaur Withdraws Save DU Campaign: Here’s What Happened

When Gurmehar Kaur raised her voice against the appalling violence spawned, stirred and inflicted allegedly by the ABVP (RSS’ political student arm) in Delhi University last week, she did it in the simplest, hard-hitting manner. Her activism – of a mug shot with a placard stating: “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP” – did not defame ABVP. The language in the message was not anchored in ridicule or abuse. All it did was challenge ABVP’s authority.

Kaur’s message – the vortex of her political activism – spiraled into a viral storm. It fulminated a backlash from right-wing conservatives, of colossal proportions, against her. Troll messages grounded in disturbing, unfounded misogyny, ricocheted off her Twitter page.

Kaur went on record to say that she received rape threats.

Rape has been used as the universal instrument to subjugate, silence and conquer women. In patriarchal societies, women asserting themselves has been viewed as toppling the ‘norm.’ The only way to maintain the norm, is to rein in their tongues. Instilling a paralyzing sense of fear through rape, or rape threats, is the most convenient and preferred modus operandi for those who wish to uphold the patriarchal order. Violating a woman’s body violates her identity and her sense of being. You trample over that and she’s conquered, quietened down. The only way to control her – is to sexually humiliate her.

WATCH | Virender Sehwag Tweets Following Kargil Martyr’s Daughter’s Anti-ABVP Post

What is disappointing is that it works. Kaur retracted from her #SaveDU campaign today on Twitter saying, “I’m withdrawing… Congratulations everyone. I request to be left alone. I said what I had to say.. I have been through a lot and this is all my 20 year self could take :)”.

Kaur is not alone. A little over a month ago, sixteen-year-old Zaira Wasim, who performed the role of wrestler Geeta Phogat in Dangal, was publicly berated on Twitter for meeting Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Wasim received countless death threats from Islamic conservatives, which bullied her into publishing an apology on a social platform. “I know that many people have been offended and displeased by my recent actions or by the people I have recently met,” she wrote in January. “I want to apologise to all those people who I’ve unintentionally hurt and want them to know that I understand their sentiments, especially considering what has happened (in Kashmir) over the past six months.”

Then of course, there was the all-girl’s rock band called Praagaash (From Darkness to Light) from Jammu and Kashmir, which disbanded in 2013 after a Muslim cleric issued a fatwa against them saying it was “un-Islamic” for teenage girls to sing in front of unknown men in public spaces. The girls were diabolically trolled on social media, receiving multiple rape threats.

WATCH VIDEO | Olympian Wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt Tweets Against Gurmehar Kaur

Kaur’s withdrawal, Wasim’s apology, Praagaash’s disbanding are indicators of forced submission; a push to align to the norm maintained a male-reigned world. Disconcertingly, their submission perpetuates the age-old narrative, that through threats steeped in violence, particularly rape, women can be gagged.

Last year, JNU student and activist Shela Rashid received rape threats when she participated in a protest opposing a seminar by Yoga guru Ramdev in JNU on Vedanta. The protest led the seminar to be cancelled but Rashid got a letter addressed directly to her. ‘The letter, written anonymously, called me everything under the sun…. I have been trolled and abused by people on Twitter, and I have learnt to ignore them. But this letter tried to create a fear psychosis,” Rashid had told The Telegraph in 2016. She too, had noted that such threats were used to control women: “This is a threat of physical abuse. This is not just about one letter, it is about broader women’s issues. The kind of language used in the letter or the rape threats on social networking sites against women deter them from entering public spaces. It also forces women who oppose to shut up.”

In the midst of bellicosity launched against Kaur – primarily by men – her older messages have been excavated. Daughter of a soldier who died fighting in Kashmir, Kaur back in April 2016, had released another string of placard messages that described her stance against war. However, one particular message from her campaign – “Pakistan did not kill my dad. War did” – has been strategically pulled out of context and is being looked at in isolation.

Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju asked who had been “polluting” Kaur’s mind. Actor Randeep Hooda too, went ahead and ridiculed Kaur, saying that she was a “poor girl” being used as a “political pawn” by political leftists.

WATCH |Randeep Hooda Writes An Open Letter After Being Accused Of Trolling Kargil Martyr’s Daughter

Two important, troubling things emerge in this context: One, that a woman cannot build or have her own political opinion – if she does, she has been “taught”. It trivializes not only a woman’s right to voice her opinion, but also her ability to build one. Disappointingly, Kaur has been man-interrupted for her views, because no one saw the context of her older campaign relating to her comment on war. At that time, the intent of her campaign was not one that supported Pakistan, but one that supported peace. It was a message aimed at both Indian and Pakistani governments, requesting them to not embroil in wars, because countless fathers were lost in such ordeals.

Here’s the larger point to think about though: If we, as Indians, threaten to rape our own women under the garb of nationalism, then we carry an alarmingly warped sense of nationalism. Our definition of nationalism is being disintegrated into a despicable charade and no one is doing anything about it.

While there have been the likes of many, like Javed Akhtar, who have voiced solidarity with Kaur, the unfortunate reality of things persists: women who voice dissent will be gagged or pushed into a corner to retract. And that’s what happened with Gurmehar Kaur today.

Hindutva attack on universities, academics and students



JNUTA Statement on ABVP violence in Delhi University


Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers Association


Issued on February 23, 2017 

The JNU Teachers Association condemns in strongest terms the violence and hooliganism perpetrated in Delhi University by the ABVP over the last two days, reported widely in the media. What is also worrying, along with the violence unleashed is, that by all accounts, the police seemed unwilling to control the violence and remained a mute spectator. The events at Delhi University are part of a larger pattern by which the university as a space for freedom and the adventure of ideas is being relentlessly attacked.

The Delhi University Incidents

The latest event in this series of attacks on the universities in Delhi University unfolded in two related episodes. Two JNU students, Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid, were invited to speak at a seminar on “Cultures of Protest”, organized by the English department of Ramjas College. On 21st February, the seminar was not allowed to begin and hooligans went on a rampage: stones were thrown on the seminar hall, the electricity connection to the hall was cut, the students and teachers were locked inside. The college principal was forced to cancel the talks by both JNU students, as the police expressed an inability to guarantee their safety and protests, in what is a serious infringement on their fundamental right to speak and express their thoughts and opinions in any part of the country.

The second episode in this event of ABVP orchestrated violence happened yesterday (22nd February). Some students and teachers of Delhi university had given a call for a march from Ramjas College to Maurice Nagar police station to protest the previous day’s violence and the police inaction and to file FIR against the perpetrators of the violence. After 1 pm on the 22nd, when the protesters had gathered near Ramjas college, violence was again unleashed by the ABVP that went on for hours. Many students and teachers of the university were roughed up, media persons were attacked and their equipment damaged. In these incidents, some of our colleagues, including Dr. Prasanta Chakravarty of the English Department, were injured and had to be taken to the hospital. By most media accounts. it is also clear that police, while present at the site, appeared to unwilling to take any action against the perpetrators of the violence, and chose to look the other way most of the time.  

The grand design

In the last couple of years, the universities in India have witnessed a consistent pattern of attack on the universities as spaces of the adventure of ideas and freedom of thought by the votaries of Hindutva wherein the student wing of RSS, the ABVP plays the role of their foot soldiers. This was seen in Hyderabad Central University, Jadavpur University, JNU, the Central University of Haryana, Mahendragarh, JNV University Jodhpur, and latest in Delhi University. In a similar incident, Dr. Rajshree Ranawat of the English Department of JNVU, Jodhpur, is being hounded by the same Hindutva fascists along with our colleague Prof. Nivedita Menon. Dr. Ranawat has been suspended by the Jodhpur University. Her “crime” is that she had invited Prof. Menon to speak at a national seminar. In a similar incident last year, the students and teachers of the Central University of Haryana, Mahendragarh, were hounded, harassed and threatened for performing a play by Mahashweta Devi! What is common in all these incidents is that all cultural and intellectual programmes, all thoughts, ideas, and forms of expression perceived to be objectionable by the Hindutva forces are threatened and in effect forcibly stopped using violence, threat, and the use of various means of intimidation. As a matter of fact, any ideological-political formation that doesn’t agree with their ideas of nationalism and patriotism feels threatened by the continuously haunting spectre of being called “anti-national.” This is an extreme form of intolerance that needs to be resisted and rebuffed by all means at our disposal as a responsible academic community committed to the democratic pluralism guaranteed in the constitution.

Another worrying aspect of this pattern is the state’s abdication of its responsibility as a protector of constitutional rights of the citizens. The protection of citizen’s fundamental rights should be the default position of the state authorities. Unfortunately, in most of these case, what we have seen is just the opposite of this as the police, in most cases, have miserably failed to perform its constitutional duty by either remaining mute spectator to the unfolding violence and intimidation or as seen in some cases, by siding with the perpetrators. Institutions of higher education in fact need special protection as they are spaces for the adventure and experiments in ideas, and freedom of thought and discussion is the very prerequisite of research and experiment in ideas.

Like teachers across the country, the JNUTA finds that there is a grand design underlying this orchestration of violence against freedom of speech, thought, and expression—the extermination of the very idea of university. The JNUTA expresses its profound solidarity with the teachers and students of the Delhi University and stands in unequivocal support for the defence of our fundamental rights.

Ayesha Kidwai, President

Pradeep K. Shinde, Secretary



The Roots of Savagery

ACCORDING to the high priests of public morality, many normal Pakistanis have become so heartless that they rape and kill little girls or sell deadly poison under the label of essential drugs, or foodstuffs — because the moral order has collapsed. But they are unlikely to offer this explanation for the recent carnage in Sehwan.

Such simplistic answers prevent identification of the material factors contributing to the wave of savagery in the country and make remedial action difficult, if not impossible.

The foremost cause of the rise of beastliness in society is that the law has ceased to be a deterrent to crime. The state’s effort to meet this situation by making penalties for offences harsher misses the point that the majesty of the law rests not so much on punishments as it does on the public belief that nobody can escape paying for his misdeeds. In today’s Pakistan, most wrongdoers believe they can get away with anything.

One major cause for this is a sharp fall in the conviction rate, generally believed to be less than 10pc. The main contributing factors are known to be: primitive and flawed investigation, inefficient and corrupt prosecution, and the privilege of the rich and the influential to beat the law.

For example, in a recent case of illegal trade in human organs the defence team comprised about 60 advocates, headed by one of the country’s most talked about lawyers. The ability to engage the topmost lawyers is considered conclusive proof of a party’s being in the right. A glance at the legal armada assembled for the defence of Lahore’s Orange Line train project is enough to confirm this.

In murder cases, however, the conviction rate is much higher than the average. But resourceful offenders are able to secure reprieve by buying out key witnesses and often the complainants too. The recent instances of complainants’ dropping the charges against rich young men should have surprised only the less informed citizens. The use of money and social/political power to defeat justice has been going on since ancient times.

The foremost cause of the rise of beastliness in society is that the law has ceased to be a deterrent.

The capacity of the legal system to punish for murder has been grossly undermined by making the offence compoundable and a private affair between the killer and the victim’s family. Anybody who has resources to pay blood money to the victim’s family or who is capable of causing the latter further harm can get off scot-free at any stage, from within days of the occurrence of murder to minutes before the time of hanging. Stories of corruption in judicial ranks, often confirmed by the superior courts, have done not a little to rob the law of its grandeur.

Pakistan is also paying for the disconnect between its legal code and socially accepted practices. The law says the giving away of minor girls to compound a crime is an offence, but the state has done little to undercut the social sanction for such transactions in large parts of the country. Women’s vulnerability to offences against them has been aggravated by ignoring the social and psychological fallout of discriminatory laws, such as Zia’s evidence law. By prescribing capital punishment for rape, gang rape and abduction, the state has given the offenders an incentive to kill their victims and thus dispose of the most essential prosecution witnesses.

Besides, the law has suffered considerable decline after the emergence of pressure groups in support of its violators. The public clamour against houbara hunting has no effect because influential waderas and sardars have hitched their economic fortunes to this game. They ensure that the stock of houbaras on their lands is not depleted by indigenous poachers; they also provide the foreign princes with local guides and trackers who like to stay in five-star hotels, ride in luxurious vehicles and get expensive gifts.

Further, Pakistan always had a tendency to follow the theory of the ends justifying the means. The use of tribals in missions that could be disowned became an excuse for keeping them out of the mainstream. Gen Zia did a great deal to sanctify this theory. Charlie Wilson’s role in the Afghan war justified his being draped in the field marshal’s uniform and the grant of a licence in Zia’s own handwriting to hunt any endangered species. The general saw no harm in socialising with thieves and smugglers who did his bidding. One doubts if such blatant circumvention of the law has ceased.

We must also realise that many of those who excel in callousness began with petty crime when they were denied fair opportunities to make a living, or their merits were rejected, or they simply wanted to emulate the ways of privileged sections, including the rulers themselves. While lamenting the progress of a criminal from petty larceny to direct or indirect homicide, it is perhaps equally necessary to question the non-criminal sections of society about their guilt in passively tolerating much that must never be tolerated. The principle that society must accept a part of the responsibility for each crime an individual commits is inviolable.

As if all this were not enough to wreck the system of retributive justice firmly embraced by Pakistan , we are now challenged by a new breed of zealots who justify their utterly brutal acts as a duty enjoined by their faith. They have turned the principles of jihad upside down and given everybody a licence to slit the throat of anyone suspected of nonconformism.

Mausoleums and shrines have been targets of these extremists for years. The massacre in Sehwan, which the orthodoxy will not attribute to a collapse of moral values, was the inevitable follow-up of the bloodshed at the Noorani shrine in Balochistan, and the latter was the inevitable follow-up of the attacks on the Rahman Baba shrine and others. Mischief tolerated at its birth grows exponentially.

How long will it take for the custodians of power to realise where the roots of organised savagery lie?

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2017