Of Dalit upsurge and national insecurities
India’s over-arching Dalit movements don’t require the Maoist movement; if anything, it’s the other way around
Name, place, animus, taint. The modus was applied to the arrests and attempted arrests of five writers and activists on 28 August, to link them first to the violence around a pro-Dalit event near Pune on 1 January, and also the Maoist rebellion—a key national security taint.
The modus is identical to the one adopted on 6 June this year when five others were arrested on the charge of being over-ground Maoists. Some were linked to the January violence. And the residence of one allegedly contained a letter that, quite incredibly, mapped an intent to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The letter also named conspirators, indeed, the entire plan—unusual for a secretive organization.
While government spokespersons and government-friendly media played up that angle, several security analysts and even the right-wing Shiv Sena questioned the convenient discovery of the letter.
This time around, Pune Police, the same arresting authority as in June, left out any link to Modi, but played up the Maoist angle to the arrests when it applied the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and brought charges of criminal conspiracy and creating enmity. The pattern of arrests in June and this week reflects a broad-spectrum net by the police force of one city now radiating beyond its “home” state of Maharashtra to New Delhi, Haryana, Goa and Andhra Pradesh.
What’s going on, beyond the geographical imprint that shows the security apparatuses under control of the ruling party in New Delhi, or friendly with it?
Pune Police allege that inflammatory pro-Dalit speeches were made on 31 December at a rally in Pune celebrating the 200th anniversary of a defeat of the Peshwa’s army—seen by Dalits as being those of traditional oppressors—against the East India Co.’s forces that included the Mahar Regiment. The following day, violence broke out in Koregaon Bhima near Pune. Police blame Elgar Parishad, the pro-Dalit event that they allege have links with Maoists. But those who visibly led attacks against Dalits on 1 January remain free.
Maoists have supported Dalit movements, the same as they have movements of identity in Jammu and Kashmir and North-East India; alongside making caste oppression, farmers’ rights, land-grabs and systemic corruption their decades-old platform. Maoist blueprints also encourage ties with organizations of a wide range, including pro-Dalit ones.
But that is overshadowed by the fact that the Dalit movement is far larger and deeper than equations that drive the Maoist rebellion.
The Dalit movement is also non-violent, though it carries the capacity of violent fightback against upper-caste attacks—Bihar in the past being a notable example. India’s over-arching Dalit movements don’t require the Maoist movement; if anything, it’s the other way around.
But that doesn’t automatically suggest there’s a link between one movement and another; at most, a link with one splinter, or one aspect. It could be construed that, to emphatically colour Dalit political manoeuvring, even a Dalit upsurge in India’s western and northern states, with Maoist taint is a way to discredit the entire movement—for some a favourable turn of events leading up to next year’s general elections to the Lok Sabha.
Varavara Rao, one of those Pune Police were after on 28 August, hasn’t pretended to be anything but a poet of the revolution. Gautam Navlakha openly defends the Maoist movement and has written a sympathetic book on it. Arun Ferreira was in 2007 falsely accused by Mumbai Police of being the Maoists’ communication chief, and Vernon Gonsalves of being a Maoist money bag.
As a lawyer and activist, Sudha Bharadwaj stood by the victims of police atrocities and corporate strong-arming in Chhattisgarh. Police conducted a search and seizure operation at the Goa home of Anand Teltumbde, a noted writer of Dalit history, politics and rights.
What’s their link with Pune? It’s unclear. What is clear, though, is that a long-winded process of trial, which incarcerates a person and can devastate a person’s will and wherewithal, can be used as an instrument of state that masquerades as public will and public safety; and of political insecurity masquerading as national security.
This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights and runs on Thursdays.
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