Ashley Tellis says that we are the real reason for the recent arrests and raids.
By Ashley Tellis
In the rush of action and reaction around the arrests of and raids on the houses of various human rights activists, some deeper questions have been left unasked.
Central among these is: so what if many of these activists are Naxal sympathisers? Is that a crime? Does that justify raids on their houses and their arrest? Does not a democracy allow for plurality of political opinion? Are we not buying into the logic of the state in demonising Naxals by refusing to confront the issue of a citizen’s basic right to be a Naxal sympathiser if she or he so chooses?
Even if one ignores the absurd category ‘urban Naxal’ (sic), so what even if one is an actual Naxal? If you study the manifestos of Naxals since the 60s, their demands fall well within the Constitution. They demand rights for the underprivileged. What makes these demands illegitimate to the state which claims to protect those very rights?
If the key issue is the use of violence, there are many ideologies that legitimise violence, starting from the state. Why is the state’s form of violence legitimate, why are the RSS and ABVP forms of violence legitimate and other forms of violence illegitimate? Who decides what is legitimate violence?
Who are the Naxals today? They are mainly adivasis, adivasis pushed to the wall, their habitats, livelihoods and lives destroyed. They are citizens of India demanding their rights and their voices are not being heard. Instead, they are snuffed out brutally. Are they the real problem in India or the people snuffing them out?
Who are these activists? These are ordinary citizens of India who are doing their job. The question should be rather: why are there not hundreds and thousands more of them? Thousands of law students pass out of law schools every year. Why are they not breaking down the doors of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group eager to fight for the rights of adivasis? Thousands of people are doing courses in Human Rights. Where are they when human rights activists are being hounded in areas like Chhattisgarh? Thousands of journalists pass out of Journalism schools every year. Why aren’t hundreds of journalists swarming the states in the ‘Red Corridor’ reporting on what is actually going on? The shallowness of the hashtag #MetooUrbanNaxal is too obvious to even engage with critically.
Why is the state hounding these lawyers and not allowing them to practice the rule of law, a fundamental part of democracy? Why is the state hounding human rights activists instead of joining them in their work? Why are journalists threatened and thrown out of the states in which they are reporting? Why is the existence of lawyers, journalists and human rights activists a threat? Who are they a threat to?
Is this because the real rogue is the state? What is the state hiding?
The answers to these rhetorical questions are obvious. The state is destroying the nation at so many levels – the ecological, the social, the political, the economic and the cultural – and throwing up the appalling smokescreen of lawyers, human rights activists and journalists being the real criminals.
The only anti-national force in this nation is the nation itself which uses national rhetoric to justify its blatant plunder and destruction of its own people. That a large section of the middle class, the soldout media owned mainly by corporations and lumpen fascists buy into this rhetoric is only to be expected. They want a piece of the pie and whether the wretched of the earth survive is not a concern for them.
However, the more difficult questions to ask are why are we – the liberals, the non-institutional Left – complicit with this? Why are law students only interested in working in the corporate world? Why are journalists only interested in reporting on film stars and fashion and US popular culture trends? Why are human rights only discussed in seminar rooms in rightwing, private Universities and airconditioned conference rooms? Why is protest reduced to a hashtag which makes us feel like we have done our job?
We are on a suicidal mission and no hashtag is going to stop the juggernaut of ‘development’ and GDP and MoUs with MNCs. Unless we wake up and realise this, we are only going to be ‘collateral damage.’ The activists who have been raided and arrested are only doing what each one of us must be doing: giving dense and deep accounts of what is actually going on on the ground and ripping the fabric of the rhetoric that the nation-state spins around it.
If there are a million lawyers, how many can they arrest? If there are a million journalists, how many can they hound out? If there are a million human rights activists, how many will they demonise?
Collective struggle is the only answer. Hashtags are not. Courting arrest has to be a mass call. Till then, we have to recognise that the state has not failed these activists. The state has only done what it must do given its sick and pathetic attempts to cover its own rapaciousness. We are responsible for these arrests and raids, we have failed these activists, we have failed ourselves and the sooner we realise that the better.
Ashley Tellis is an LGBH, anti-communal, feminist, child, Dalit, adivasi, and minority rights activist. He lives and works in Hyderabad.
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