Occupation, Disappearance and Democracy


Bishwadeep Mitra delves deep into the headlines that mainstream media chooses to ignore, and asks the very important question: ‘Democracy: Who is she when she is at home?’

Words are of essence here. Precisely because time is of essence here. While this article is being written, the powers that be are vehemently changing the political topography of the country. Nationalistic arrogance hides the secret alliances seeking to perpetrate crimes, while the keepers of the State, armed with the arsenal of law and guns, continue to curb those who still try to think. Let’s not waste any more words and concentrate on the untold headlines of the past week:

  • Kashmir witnessed the largest clampdowns by security forces in the past 15 years in Baramulla district on October 18 and October 22. If it is still news, it has been 108 days since Burhan Wani was killed and the Indian government started preaching democracy to the population with pellet guns, late night arrests and custodial deaths. The structural violence remains the same. Its intensity does not.
  • Communal riots are raging the four districts of Bengal. RSS and Hindu Sanhati, the two Hindutva groups rule the land with guns and bombs while the police walks carefully around it. On the other hand, the police allegedly prevented a public rally that started its march from Halisahar to protest against rioting.
  • Najeeb Ahmed, a muslim student in Jawaharlal Nehru University, has vanished into thin air after being allegedly lynched and threatened by members of ABVP. Nine days and counting and all that the University Administration has given to the students is brutal arrogance, lies and deceit.

The mainstream media is too obtuse to report such events. Even if it is not, the events fail to reach the position of ‘top priority’ of all the large gatekeepers of information and opinion makers.

And all these events thread to a single question: ‘Democracy: Who is she when she is at home?’

100 Days of ‘Democracy’

The hundredth day of the Kashmir uprising and its suppression by the state was celebrated by the most massive crackdown in the past fifteen years. Khurram Parvez, the civil rights activist failed to reach the headlines of mainland India newspapers, but it has been a month since Kashmir Police has allegedly kidnapped him on no charges. The Old town area in Baramulla of Northern Kashmir was cordoned off at around 3 AM on October 18 for a search operation, reported Greater Kashmir. While Kashmir Reader has been banned under the pretext of inciting violence, voices fail to reach the domain of democracy from the faraway land of ruthlessness, oppression and occupation. It was the longest ever joint crackdown conducted by security forces, the police and the Army. Door to door searches were done in pursuit of stone pelters and protesters.

The official reason stated for the crackdown was the search for three militants presumably hiding in the Old town. In the course of the ‘search’, houses have been vandalised, 35 young people arrested and their family members harassed and booted mercilessly.

The grand celebration repeated the same week in the same Old Town. Another crackdown of equal intensity followed four days later arresting 44 youths who are involved in stone pelting. It is the same narrative that has been recurring all this time while the Prime Minister uttered a dangerous truth about the Indian Army. It was not really a declaration; it was more of a fact just getting confirmed by the highest authority of India. He compared the Indian Army with the Israeli Defence forces. The veracity of the statement cannot be questioned precisely because both the forces have led to the brutal occupation of two lands, Kashmir and Palestine.

In both these lands, mass arrests, open firing on protestors, ferocious subjugation of any form of protest has been taking place for more than sixty years, unabated, uncontrolled.

Kashmir and Palestine has seen stone pelters getting shot, young boys with catapults, late night disappearances. Novels can be written on the systematic torture by the two states of their respective people. The symptoms, the stories, the trajectories of cruelty of these two states are violently similar.

Communal riots in four districts of Bengal

Kashmir will continue to burn. But the fire is starting to wreak havoc in four districts of Bengal as well. A militant Hindutva outfit called Hindu Sanhati backed by RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) is playing the ruler of the land, roaming and bombing around. The Urdibazar area in Chandan nagar witnessed considerable amount of violence on the day after Dussehra. Shops belonging to muslims were allegedly destroyed by RSS goons accompanied by pitched battles with the police. That marked the start of the communal frenzy. Areas of Naihati, Chanchal (Malda district), Kharagpur (Medinipur district) and Chandan Nagar (Hoogli district) are riot torn with little police intervention. Sanghi goons roam freely around the streets and bombs have been hurled at the minority communities, The Hindu reported. The report of Hindu did not mention any particular community being affected, which makes way for conjectures. It all started with dispute over roads to be taken for two different processions:  the tazia processions and the procession for immersion of the Durga idol. With Hindus being the obvious majority in the areas coupled with the presence of armed religious outfits there have been reports and videos of violence against the minority communities residing in the areas. Hate speech and inciting of violence continues unabated through Facebook. The police at Halisahar stopped a public rally, a part of which was also to act as a fact-finding team, on October 19. They were even threatened by arrests and detention. This is the same police or state machinery which has been largely unable to control the riots or even arrest a single right wing worker actively taking part in the same.

While the Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee refused to name any party or individual for the communal fury, the party has broken its silence on the issue but refused to accept the burgeoning communalism raging the land as the root of the problem.

The police inaction hints largely at the under table settlement between TMC and BJP to reap political benefits, as mentioned by Adhir Chowdhury. Expectantly, the videos of the riots have been taken down on account of incitement of violence.

Najeeb: The student who ‘disappeared’ in broad daylight

Najeeb Ahmed, a student of JNU has been ‘missing’ since the morning of 15th October after he was brutally assaulted and threatened by members of ABVP the night before. The President of the Students’ Union, who was a witness at the violent scene, was beaten up too. The usually arrogant administration blatantly defied its legal responsibilities. Najeeb’s parents and the Students’ Union lodged a missing person’s complaint and an FIR against the ABVP members respectively, who are still roaming free on campus. The students had blocked the administration building for 24 hours, which was called off later. The Press Release from the administration boasted of prompt action and investigation, which is a blatant lie as, told by most students.

JNU has been at the epicentre of controversy and a victim of the Hindutva coup since the inception of this year. Today while the authorities have chosen their sides, students have ceased to get astonished at the supercilious and bigot bureaucracy currently residing in the form of administration.

Najeeb’s family is helpless and currently staying in the campus participating in the movement. They are being treated like tennis balls; called in the police station to identify dead bodies only to hear from the university administration that it is not their responsibility to find its own student. Till now they have not identified any of the dead bodies they saw with Najeeb. Only 5 days since the incident, the mainstream media granted it its grand myopic vision. The complete lack of cognizance of the incident at the part of the University authorities and resorting to cheap tricks of propagating false accusations of being held without food and water and false propaganda campaigns, again point to the single thread which connects all the incidents together.

The single thread: Preaching ‘Democracy’

The blood from the memories of the Gujarat pogrom has not dried yet and the next victim of communalisation is West Bengal. For riots to take place, two factors need to be at continuous play: (a) Silence of the enforcers of the Law and (b) Continuous fuelling of incidents. For the past week, the four districts have been the most fertile lands for these two factors to materialise. Underneath lies a more sinister act as all communal riots do. It can be understood with a relatable example. Four years after the Gujarat holocaust, Tata entered the market of Hindutva laboratory occupying lands allotted to farmers and Dalits for the sake of ‘development’. Divided, scattered and polarised, the population was unable to prevent its exploitation at the hands of the capitalist class. Today we see the defiance of Dalits and landless farmers deep inside the devil’s belly. Let’s not forget that the hunger strike of Honda workers is on its 38th day now.

How do you control the anger of a population oppressed for thousands of years? How do you speak the rhetoric of the oppressed when you need to obliterate their script for your survival? You don’t.

You break the script and channelise the anger. The key to riots and the psychology of the ruling class to orchestrate them lies in the understanding of class contradiction. With the ever-widening gap between the capitalists and the general population, it is not a fight between the haves and the have-nots anymore. It is a fight between two classes, one suffering from gluttony and the other dying of hunger: mental, institutional and physical.

It is a critical juncture in the political architecture of our country where the latter class is not only barely trying to survive the onslaughts of this neo-liberal economic regime but also fighting back with all its might.

Therefore, for the ruling class to survive it is utmost necessary to channelize that anger of the downtrodden into the labyrinth of religion. Here the enemy becomes nebulous pitting one person against the other, transforming differences into opposition, societal anger into religious fundamentalism. Mass psychological paranoia and anger lead to riots giving in to polarisation marking the final nail in the coffin of any social movement. It had happened in Gujarat. It is happening in West Bengal right now. If given into this trap, all narratives of oppression (Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Manipur and so on) shall be washed away by its jingoistic counterpart. Bengal has always been a fault line of communal tension ever since its partition took place. Yet, communalism and mass mobilisation along its lines has not been much witnessed here even during the tumultuous nineties. Since the coming of the BJP in power, the tense political scenario surrounding Muslims makes the areas bordering Bangladesh vulnerable to communalism with armed Hindutva outfits increasing manifold everyday. To preach nationalism, the wounds need to be forgotten and that is exactly what is being tried in this country.

The final thorn in the state’s project of preaching ‘democracy’ is the progressive section of various universities. This progressive section includes the leftist students’ political parties and the faculty of teachers supporting them.

Heterogeneity of such spaces comes in fervent clash with the tunnelled homogeneous vision of the state accounting for such voices to be quelled by the latter. This gamut of leftist students, teachers, professors and intellectuals is the only aberration, which continues to show up in the urban middle class imagination of the Nation. This aberration talks of the brutal norms of the State applied on the downtrodden, the forgotten people.

It forces the Nation to talk about the elephant in the room and the shoved off skeletons in the cupboards.

Thus, it is not out of the Hindutva narrative to attack this gamut. It has happened in every part of the world and India is no exception. Still, it is ironical yet terrifying to think of disappearances taking place in premier institutions like JNU. For the nation, disappearances were just heard to be happening in Bastar, Kashmir, Manipur and in places where the state wears its most grotesque spectacle; places which are too far from the mainland collective imagination of India. Disappearances used to be tales of the bloody sixties when under the ruthless Congress regime students used to disappear every day and never come back. But not now. Not Delhi; the fountainhead of democracy. Unfortunately, this is not a nightmare, which we can wake up from rather one we have to wake up to before the class of ‘democracy’ gets over and the Hindutva coup takes over the land. Time is of the essence here!


Image via http://www.technova.gr/

Bishwadeep Mitra completed his masters in film studies from Jadavpur University. He has also worked as a freelance videographer and editor. He likes writing and researching about socio-political events that continue to affect our lives, directly or indirectly. He is engaged in journalism with a passion for photography and films.

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