I thank the organisers of the 2021 Elgar Parishad for inviting me to talk at this discussion board to mark what would have been Rohit Vemula’s thirty second birthday and the 1818 victory of the battle of Bhima Koregaon. Not removed from right here, Mahar troops preventing within the British Military defeated the Peshwa King Bajirao II underneath whom Mahars and different Dalit castes had been cruelly persecuted and ritually debased in indescribable methods.
From this platform let me be part of the opposite audio system to specific my solidarity with the farmers protest that’s calling for the quick withdrawal of the three Farm Payments which were rammed down the throats of tens of millions of farmers and farm staff and introduced them onto the streets. We’re right here to specific our sorrow and anger for the various who’ve died through the course of the protest. The state of affairs on Delhi’s borders the place the farmers have been peacefully tenting for 2 months is turning into tense and harmful. Each attainable trick and provocation is getting used to divide and discredit the motion. Now, greater than ever, we should stand by the farmers.
We’re additionally right here to demand the discharge of the handfuls of political prisoners – together with those that have come to be referred to as the Bhima Koregaon 16 – jailed on ludicrous expenses underneath draconian anti-terror legal guidelines. A lot of them should not simply comrades however private pals of mine with whom I’ve laughed, walked and damaged bread. No person, not even their captors in all probability imagine that they’ve dedicated the hackneyed crimes they’re being accused of – planning the assassination of the prime minister, or plotting homicide.
Everyone is aware of they’re in jail for his or her mental readability and ethical braveness – each of that are seen by this regime as a big menace. To make up for non-existent proof, the charge-sheets in opposition to a few of the accused run into tens of hundreds of pages. It might take a choose a number of years to only learn these, not to mention adjudicate upon them.
A dangerous proposition
It’s as laborious to defend your self in opposition to trumped up expenses as it’s to get up an individual who’s pretending to sleep. In India we have now discovered that counting on authorized redress is a dangerous proposition. In any case the place and when have courts ever turned again the tide of Fascism? In our nation legal guidelines are selectively utilized relying in your class, caste, ethnicity, faith, gender and political opinions. So, whereas poets and monks, college students, activists, lecturers and attorneys are in jail, mass murderers, serial killers, daylight lynch mobs, disreputable judges and venomous TV anchors are handsomely rewarded and may aspire for prime workplace. The very best, even.
No person with even common intelligence can miss the sample of how the 2018 Bhima Koregaon rally, the 2020 anti-Citizenship AmendmentAct protests and now the farmers protests have sought to be discredited and sabotaged by agent provocateurs in precisely the identical manner. The immunity they take pleasure in speaks volumes concerning the help they take pleasure in with the present regime. I might present you ways this sample has repeated itself over a long time to deliver these individuals to energy. As state elections method, we await with dread what lies in retailer for the individuals of West Bengal.
Over the past two years the Elgar Parishad as an occasion and an organisation has been relentlessly defamed and demonised by the company media. Elgar Parishad: to many unusual individuals these two phrases conjure up a shady cabal of radicals – terrorists, jehadis, City Naxals, Dalit Panthers – plotting to destroy India. On this local weather of name-calling, of menace, dread and anxiousness, simply to have organised this assembly is in itself an act of braveness and defiance that deserves to be saluted. It’s incumbent on these of us up right here on the stage to talk as candidly as we will.
Roughly three weeks in the past, on January 6, as we watched an outlandish mob storm via the US Capitol carrying Accomplice flags, weapons, gibbets and crucifixes, carrying furs and antlers – the thought that ran via my head was, “My Goodness, in our nation we’re already dominated by the Indian equal of those individuals. They’ve taken our Capitol Hill. They’ve received.” Our establishments have been overrun by them. Our Chief seems earlier than us in a unique set of furs and antlers daily. Our favoured elixir is cow urine. They’re nicely on their manner in direction of destroying each democratic establishment on this nation. The US may need managed to claw itself again from the brink to some semblance of imperial “normalcy”. However we in India are being dragged again centuries right into a previous that we have now tried so laborious to flee.
It isn’t us – it isn’t this gathering of the Elgar Parishad that’s radical or excessive. It isn’t us who’re appearing illegally and unconstitutionally. It isn’t us who’ve regarded away from, or overtly inspired pogroms through which Muslims have been killed of their hundreds. It isn’t us who benignly watch whereas Dalits are publicly flogged on metropolis streets. It isn’t us who’re pitting individuals in opposition to each other, ruling via hatred and divisiveness. That’s being achieved by people who we have now elected as our authorities and by their propaganda machine that calls itself the media.
2 hundred years have passed by for the reason that battle of Bhima Koregaon. The British have gone, however a type of colonialism that pre-dates them by centuries, lives on. The Peshwas are gone, however Peshwai –Brahminism h– as not. Brahminism, I don’t have to make clear to this viewers, however I do for others who many not know, is the time period the anti-caste motion has traditionally used for the jaati-vyavastha. The caste-system. It doesn’t check with Brahmins alone. Brahminism has been to the workshop although, and has emerged fitted-out with a contemporary, democratic sounding vocabulary and a stream-lined caste-management guide and programme (not new, however overhauled) that has mounted an existential problem to the Dalit-Bahujan led political events that when supplied some hope.
Proper now, the chosen vaahan [vehicle] of twenty first century Brahminism is the far-right, Brahmin-controlled Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which, after a century of unceasing labour, has, via its best-known member, Narendra Modi, taken energy in Delhi.
The company class
Many, together with Karl Marx himself, believed that fashionable capitalism would finish or a minimum of override caste in India. Has it? The world over, capitalism has ensured that wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer arms. In India, the 63 richest individuals have more cash than the 2018-’19 Union Price range for 1.3 billion individuals. A current Oxfam research has discovered that in India through the corona pandemic, whereas tons of of tens of millions misplaced their jobs through the lockdown – 170,000 individuals misplaced their jobs each hour in April 2020 – India’s billionaires elevated their wealth by 35%.
100 of the richest amongst them – let’s name them the company class – made sufficient to have the ability to distribute, in the event that they needed to, nearly 100,000 rupees every to 138 million of India’s poorest individuals. A mainstream newspaper headlined this information as follows: “Covid deepened inequalities: wealth, training, gender.” The lacking phrase within the report in addition to within the newspaper headline, is in fact, caste.
The query is, does this tiny company class – which owns ports, mines, gasoline fields, refineries, telecommunication, high-speed knowledge and cellphone networks, universities, petrochemical crops, accommodations, hospitals, meals distribution shops and tv cable networks – does this class which nearly owns and runs India, even have a caste?
To a fantastic extent, sure. Most of the greatest Indian companies are household owned. To call a couple of of the most important – Reliance Industries Ltd (Mukesh Ambani), Adani Group (Gautam Adani), Arcelor Mittal (Lakshmi Mittal), OP Jindal Group (Savitri Devi Jindal), Birla Group (KM Birla). All of them name themselves Vaishyas, the dealer caste. They’re solely doing their divinely ordained responsibility – being profitable.
Empirical research concerning the possession of company media and the caste breakdown of their editors, columnists and senior journalists reveal the strangle-hold of the privileged castes, primarily Brahmin and Bania, on designing and disseminating the information – actual in addition to pretend. Dalits, Adivasis and more and more Muslims are nearly absent from this panorama. The state of affairs isn’t any totally different within the increased and decrease judiciary, the higher echelons of the civil companies, the international service, the world of chartered accountants, or plum jobs in training, well being, publishing, or in any sphere of governance. Between them the inhabitants of Brahmins and Vaishyas might be lower than 10% of the inhabitants. Caste and Capitalism have fused to create a peculiarly deadly, peculiarly Indian alloy.
Prime Minister Modi, so relentless in his assault on the dynastic politics of the Congress get together, is completely devoted to supporting and enriching these company dynasties. The palanquin through which he’s showcased, for higher or for worse, additionally rests on the shoulders of principally Vaishya and Brahmin family-owned company media dynasties. To call a couple of – The Instances of India, Hindustan Instances, Indian Specific, The Hindu, India Immediately, Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran. Reliance Industries has a controlling share in 27 channels. I exploit the verb “showcased” as a result of Modi has by no means instantly addressed the press in his almost seven years as prime minister. Not as soon as.
Whereas the remainder of us are having our private knowledge mined and our irises scanned, an opaque system has been put in place to permit the company world to repay the unflinching loyalty that has been proven to them. In 2018 an electoral bond scheme was launched which permits nameless donations to be made to political events. So, we now have an precise, institutionalised, hermetically sealed pipeline that circulates cash and energy between the company and political elite. Small marvel then that the Bharatiya Janata Get together is the richest political get together on this planet.
Smaller marvel then, that whereas this tiny class-caste elite consolidates its maintain on this nation within the title of the individuals, within the title of Hindu Nationalism, it has begun to deal with individuals, together with its personal voters, as an enemy pressure, to be managed, manipulated, waylaid, taken unexpectedly, attacked by stealth and dominated with an iron fist. We now have been was a nation of ambush bulletins and unlawful ordinances.
Demonetisation broke the again of the financial system, in a single day.
The Abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir led to seven million individuals immediately locked down for months underneath a army and digital siege – against the law in opposition to humanity being dedicated in our title – and performed out for the world to see. A yr later, a stubbornly defiant individuals proceed their battle for freedom at the same time as each bone in Kashmir’s collective physique is being damaged, official fiat by official fiat.
The blatantly anti-Muslim Citizenship Modification Act and the Nationwide Register of Residents led to months of protest led by Muslim girls. It ended with an anti-Muslim pogrom in North-East Delhi, fueled by vigilantes and watched over by the police, for which Muslims are being blamed. Lots of of younger Muslim males, college students and activists together with Umer Khalid, Khalid Saifi, Sharjeel Imam, Meran Haider, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita are in jail. The protests are portrayed as an Islamist jihadi plot.
The ladies who led the enduring Shaheen Bagh sit–in, the spine of the nation-wide rebellion, had been, we’re informed, getting used for “gender-cover”, and the general public pledges to the Structure that occurred at nearly each protest website have been dismissed as “secular cowl”. The inference is that every little thing to do with Muslims is by default “jihadi” (used incorrectly as a euphemism for terrorism) and something that’s contraindicative is simply particulars.
The policemen who pressured grievously wounded Muslim males to sing the Nationwide Anthem, at the same time as they lay piled up in opposition to one another on the road, haven’t even been recognized, not to mention charged. One in every of injured subsequently died from having a patriotic police lathi pushed down his throat. This month the House Minister praised the Delhi Police for its dealing with of the “riots”.
And now a yr after the bloodbath, whereas a battered group is attempting to get again on its ft, the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad are asserting Rath Yatras and bike parades to lift cash for the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya in these exact same colonies the place the pogrom occurred,
We additionally had the Lockdown Ambush – 1.3 billion of us locked down with 4 hours discover. Hundreds of thousands of city staff pressured to stroll hundreds of kilometres in direction of house, whereas being crushed like criminals.
Whereas the pandemic raged, responding to the change of standing of the disputed State of Jammu & Kashmir, China occupied swathes of Indian territory in Ladakh. Our hapless authorities has been pressured to fake that it hasn’t occurred. Whether or not there’s or isn’t a battle, a damaging progress financial system should now hemorrhage cash to maintain hundreds of troops outfitted and completely battle prepared. In sub-zero temperatures many troopers lives will probably be misplaced simply to the climate.
On high of that listing of induced calamities we now have the three Farm Payments that may break the again of Indian ggriculture, hand the controls to companies and blatantly deny farmers authorized recourse with out even a nod to their Constitutional rights.
It’s like watching a car being dismantled, its engine damaged, its wheels eliminated, its upholstery stripped, the vandalised shell left on the freeway whereas different vehicles, pushed by individuals who aren’t carrying antlers and furs, whizz by.
A collective expression of rage
This is the reason we desperately want this Elgar – this constant, collective, defiant expression of rage –in opposition to Brahmanism, in opposition to capitalism, in opposition to Islamophobia and in opposition to patriarchy. Patriarchy, the underpinning of all of it – as a result of if males don’t or can’t management girls, they know they management nothing.
Whereas the pandemic rages, whereas farmers are on the streets, states dominated by the BJP are speeding via anti-religious conversion ordinances. I’ll take a second to speak about these as a result of they’re a compendium of insights into this regime’s anxieties about caste, about masculinity, about Muslims and Christians, about love, girls, demography and historical past.
The UP Prohibition of Illegal Conversion of Faith Ordinance 2020 (popularly referred to as the Ordinance in opposition to Love Jehad) is barely a month outdated. Already weddings have been disrupted, households have had circumstances filed in opposition to them, and dozens of younger Muslim males are in jail. So now, along with being lynched for beef they haven’t eaten, cows they haven’t killed, crimes they haven’t dedicated (though for Muslims being murdered is more and more being seen as a felony act), along with being jailed for jokes they haven’t made (because the case of the younger comic Munawer Faruqui), Muslims can now be jailed for committing the crime of falling in love and getting married.
In our studying of this ordinance I’ll go away apart some fundamental questions, equivalent to how do you outline “faith”? Would somebody who persuaded an individual of religion to turn into an atheist turn into accountable for prosecution?
The 2020 Uttar Pradesh ordinance offers “for prohibition of illegal conversion from one faith to a different by misrepresentation, pressure, undue affect, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage…” The definition of allurement consists of presents, gratification, free training in reputed faculties, or the promise of a greater life-style. (Which roughly describes the transactions concerned in nearly each organized marriage in India.)
The accused (the one that has precipitated the conversion to happen) faces a jail sentence of between one and 5 years. The accusers could be any member of the family together with a distant relative. The burden of proof rests on the accused. The “sufferer” could also be granted a Rs 500,000 compensation by the court docket payable by the accused. You possibly can think about the infinite prospects of extortion and blackmail that this units up.
Now for one of the best half: if the transformed particular person is a minor, a girl, or belongs to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the punishment to the “faith convertor” is doubled – ie: two to 10 years. In different phrases, this ordinance accords girls, Dalits and Adivasis the identical standing as minors. It infantilises us: we’re not thought-about to be adults answerable for our personal actions. Within the eyes of the Uttar Pradesh authorities, solely the privileged-caste Hindu male has full company.
It’s the identical spirit through which the Chief Justice of India requested why girls, (who’re in additional methods than one the spine of Indian agriculture), had been being “saved” on the farmers’ protests. And the federal government of Madhya Pradesh proposed that working girls who don’t stay with their households be registered at police stations and tracked by the police for their very own security.
If Mom Teresa had been alive, underneath this ordinance she’d be serving a jail sentence for certain. My guess is ten years and a lifetime of debt given how many individuals she transformed to Christianity. This might turn into the destiny of each Christian priest working among the many poor in India.
Additionally, what about the one that mentioned:
“As a result of we have now the misfortune of calling ourselves Hindus we’re handled thus. If we had been members of one other Religion, none would dare deal with us such. Select any faith which provides you equality of standing and remedy. We will restore our mistake now.”
These had been the phrases, lots of you’ll know, of Babasaheb Ambedkar. A transparent name for mass conversion with the promise of a greater life-style. Below this ordinance, through which “mass conversion” is outlined as when “two or extra individuals convert”, these phrases would make Ambedkar criminally liable. Mahatma Phule too would possible be indicted for his overt approval of mass conversion when he mentioned:
“The Muslims, destroying the carved stone pictures of the crafty Arya Bhats, forcibly enslaved them and introduced the Shudras and Ati-Shudras in nice numbers out of their clutches and made them Muslims, together with them within the Muslim faith. Not solely this, however they established inter-dining and intermarriage with them and gave all of them equal rights…”
An amazing a part of the tens of millions of Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists who make up the inhabitants of this subcontinent are testimony to historic change and to mass conversion. The fast depletion in numbers of the “Hindu inhabitants” is what initially gave rise to privileged caste anxiousness about demography and galvanised the politics of what’s at the moment known as Hindutva.
Immediately nonetheless, with the RSS in energy, the tide has turned. The one mass conversions taking place at scale are these being performed by the Vishwa Hindu Prashad – the method referred to as “ghar wapsi” (returning house) which started with Hindu reformist teams within the late nineteenth century. Ghar wapsi includes forest-dwelling tribes-people being “returned” to Hinduism. However not earlier than present process a shuddhi (purification) ceremony to purge the air pollution they’ve incurred by straying from “house”.
How does the Uttar Pradesh ordinance then take care of this inconvenience that ought, by logic, to criminalise this observe? It features a clause that claims: “Offered that, if any particular person reconverts to his/her quick earlier faith the identical shall not be deemed to be a conversion underneath this ordinance.”
By doing this the ordinance perpetuates and legalises the parable that Hinduism is an historical autochthonous faith that predates and subsumes the religions of the tons of of indigenous tribes and Dalit and Dravidian peoples of the Indian subcontinent. Which is unfaithful and ahistorical.
Mythology as historical past
In India, these are the methods through which mythology is was historical past and historical past into mythology. Privileged caste chroniclers see no contradiction in anyway in concurrently claiming to be indigenous in addition to the descendants of Aryan conquerors, relying on what fits them. Firstly of his profession in South Africa, whereas campaigning for a separate entrance for Indians within the Durban Put up Workplace in order that they might not should share the identical entrance as Black Africans who he typically known as “kaffirs” and “savages”, Gandhi argued that Indians and the English sprang from “widespread inventory, known as the Indo-Aryan”. He made certain to differentiate the privileged-caste “passenger Indians’ from oppressed caste indentured laborers. That was in 1893. However the circus hasn’t stopped.
The vary of audio system current at the moment reveals the Elgar Parishad’s mental skill to see the concerted assault that’s coming at us from all instructions not only one or the opposite. Nothing makes this regime happier than once we seal ourselves into silos, into little tanks through which we splash round angrily, every for ourselves or our communities – by no means seeing the massive image, our anger typically directed at each other.
It’s only once we breach the banks of our designated tanks that we will flip right into a river. And movement as an unstoppable present. To do this we have now to exceed our transient, we have now to dare to dream like Rohit Vemula did. He’s right here at the moment with us, amongst us, an inspiration to an entire new era even in demise, as a result of he died dreaming. He died insisting on his proper to broaden into the fullness of his humanity, his ambitions, his mental curiosity. He refused to shrink, to contract, to suit the mould that was supplied to him. He refused the labels the true world needed to pin on him. He knew that he was made up of nothing lower than stardust. He has turn into stardust.
Past our identities
We now have to be watchful of the traps that restrict and essentialise us. None of us are simply the sum of our identities. We’re that too, however a lot rather more. Whereas we sq. off in opposition to our foes, we should be capable to recognise our pals. We should search for allies as a result of none of us can combat this battle alone. The audacious anti CAA protests final yr and the grand farmers protest that surrounds us now has proven that. The numerous farmers unions which have come collectively signify individuals with totally different ideological beliefs, totally different histories. There are deep contradictions between huge and small farmers, between landlords and landless agricultural staff, between Jat Sikhs and Mazhabi Sikhs, between the Left Unions and the Centrists.
There are caste contradictions too and horrifying caste violence, as Bant Singh who had each his arms and a leg hacked off in 2006, has informed you at the moment. These variations should not buried. They’re spoken about – as Randeep Maddoke who was meant to be right here at the moment has, his courageous documentary movie Landless. And but, they’ve come collectively to confront this state to combat what we all know is an existential battle.
Maybe right here on this metropolis the place Ambedkar was actually blackmailed into signing the Poona Pact, and the place Jotiba and Savitribai Phule did their revolutionary work we can provide our battle a reputation. Maybe it must be the Satya Shodhak Resistance – SSR to the RSS.
The battle of Love in opposition to Hate. A battle for Love. It should be militantly waged and fantastically received.