Attack on Democracy: CAA and NCR expose the hypocrisy of Modi and the BJP Government

The BJP and Narendra Modi have been feeding the message to the Indian public that Modi is the “God” saving the persecuted Hindus in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. Since December 19, 2019, Twitter feeds have been filled with responses to Citizenship Amendment Act protests, some calling CAA a lease on life for Hindu and other minorities in Pakistan, while others decrying it as a giant paw trampling India’s secular democratic constitution. The Modi government’s cunning launch of CAA with the National Citizenship Registry needs to be seen within the larger picture of heartless right wing governments wielding heartless policies that deny justice to minorities, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, as well as promote policies that don’t mitigate climate change and global warming. 

Why is the CAA undemocratic? The BJP government argues that CAA secures India from Islamists. In selecting who is the “good’ foreigner and who is not, the BJP is creating a false dichotomy, and selectively eliminating citizens on account of their religion. Is it any wonder that Muslim citizens feel targeted and unsafe? Moreover, the lack of serious accountability by Modi after the Gujarat pogrom has deeply scarred not just Muslims as it has left many Indians questioning the policies of the Modi government that is driven by its Hindutva ideology equating Hindu and India. One need not watch videos of the protests to know that Muslims are bracing under the crosshairs of right wing groups. The echoes of Nazi Germany’s “Aryan nation” are loud and clear in the current context. 

A common theme of all the heartless right wing leaders: Elimination. The Modi government’s National Citizenship Registry came at the heels of the CAA. These together with the speeches made by different BJP politicians spread a climate of fear. Upon seeing anti-CAA protests, Amit Shah, Minister of Home Affairs, came on mainstream radio and announced that drones will surveil every protest site. After the protest at Aligarh Muslim University, Modi said the videos clearly show who the protesters are, since they were wearing Muslim caps. These statements instigate fear and retaliation which result in protests, police brutality and loss of life. Witness the police brutality against students and professors at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia University. As Mukul Kesavan writes, “The Delhi police made an example of Jamia as a warning to India’s Muslims. When that didn’t go according to plan, the same police travelled several miles across the city to help make an example of a university that the BJP sees as the institutional incarnation of the secularism that might yet thwart its dreams of a Hindu nation”.

The Assam Accord signed in 1966 and amended in 1971 after the Bangladesh war, states that the refugees, both Hindu and Muslim, from the war who came into Assam between 1966 and 1971 should go back to Bangladesh. The Modi government extended the cut-off date to 2014 in order to increase its vote bank. According to the Assam Accord, a sizable number who were illegal Hindu who did not go back to Bangladesh after 1971 (since they did not feel secure in Bangladesh) would be considered illegal. Since the BJP ideology equates Hindu with Hindu nation, they devised CAA to provide a point of entry for these Hindus. Obviously, the Modi government could not have a policy for just Assam; so when CAA was applied to the whole country it showed the BJP government’s hypocrisy. The National Citizenship Registry and CAA together expose major flaws:

  1. India became a secular republic after 1947. The British mandate of partition based on religious separation of India into India and Pakistan resulted in tremendous bloodshed. The current CAA is following this old historic British thinking and is creating fear among Muslims about their security. 
  2. How can a secular democracy declare selective rescue of the persecuted and not include Muslims? This pits Muslims against other groups.
  3. If the BJP bleeding hearts feel for the persecuted minorities in Muslim countries, why aren’t they including persecuted Muslims across the world to come into the country and claim citizenship? Why is the BJP engaging in a double speak where they are welcoming persecuted Hindus and at the same time saying the country cannot carry a large influx of migrants?
  4. Both CAA and NCR show BJP’s brand of “cultural nationalism.” As Sadanand Menon writes, “Its cunning agenda is to evacuate all ideas of political rights from the idea of a nation state and transplant in its place ideas of cultural rights.”

We can find some reprieve in the protest marches across the country. Although Amit Shah is insisting that CAA and National Citizenship Registry are not related, we know that both these policies worked contiguously in Assam to “select” the Muslims who immigrated there post 1971 and put them in detention centers since they could not prove that they are Indian citizens. People are highly alert that this template will be used for the rest of India. Hindus who are in the detention centers will obviously hope for the CAA to rescue them, so they can go back to their lives. This selectivity clearly shows the chaos created by the Modi government as a result of its harmful ideology. Not only is it undermining the values of Hinduism but it is showing the worst kind of human rights abuses that can happen when ideology and country are equated.

(Photo Credit: Anushree Fadnavis / Reuters / The Wire)

Where is the global outrage: #FreeKashmir #StandWithKashmir

(Photo Credit: Times of India)

Where is the global outrage: #StandWithJNU

JNU Students Union President Aishe Ghosh after being assaulted by masked assailants

(Image Credit: Satracomics / Facebook) (Photo Credit: Vipin Kumar / Hindustan Times)

We will resist: India rejects CAA

(Credit: Feminism in India / Instagram: Creatives Against CAA)

Sunday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers: We know

A factory fire broke out Sunday, December 8, 2019, in a factory that produced school bags, purses, and toys, in the Anaj Mandi neighborhood, in New Delhi. At least 43 workers were killedA factory fire broke out Saturday, July 13, 2019, in a hardware factory in the Jhilmil industrial area, in New Delhi. “Only” three workers were killed.  A factory fire broke out Saturday, January 20, 2018, in a gunpowder factory in the Bawana Industrial area, in New Delhi. Seventeen workers were killed. Every time, government officials proclaim their sadness. Every time, the media describes the “tragedy”, interviews relatives weeping at the morgue and the hospital. Every time, explanations, alibis, “explain” what happened. Narrow streets. Inaccessible spaces. Every time … That fire was a planned massacre. The building was a death trap waiting to explode, the workers, mostly migrant Muslim from Bihar, were slated for the sacrificial burning. As one witness explained, speaking of the workers, “Their only fault was they were poor.” He paused and then concluded that the workers’ lives were “a bigger tragedy than their death.” What is tragedy in this world?

We know what happened Sunday: the factory was illegal; the building far exceeded height limitations of the area; of 18 rooms in the building, 15 are rented out to different entities running illegal factories, and, of course, there are no leases or any other documents; there was never any police verification of anything, as there should have been; the building was packed, in violation of city rules, with hazardous and inflammable items; goods blocked one emergency exit, which was locked from the outside; the other exit was impassible thanks to packages piled up in front of it; other exits were locked from the outside; windows were barred and could not be opened; firefighters had to break down the outer gate and then the doors to get in. We know.

We know that the workers lived and slept in the factory itself, because their wages were so low that that’s what they could afford; that almost all the workers asleep on the third floor died, slowly and painfully, of suffocation, many of them on their phones, calling loved ones, friends, pleading for help, saying farewell. We know.

We know that now people will be investigated, arrested, even convicted; that the workers in the other illegal factories in other illegal buildings in the Anaj Mandi neighborhood are afraid that they will lose their jobs. Anaj Mandi has become “interesting”. We know this. This is modern urban and national political economic development. We know.

We do not know if we will remember this particular fire a week from now, a month or year from now. Maybe. Maybe not. But we know another factory is waiting to explode, and when it does, the Great Men will intone tragedy this and sorrow that. Tell them to stop. Tell them, we know. We know. 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / AP / Dinesh Joshi)

Hope lies here, in the roots of this our land

Hope lies here, in the roots of this our land. 

Last night two activists spent the night with me. They have been beaten by police, fabricated cases filed on them, jailed, their colleagues killed by so called Maoist ultras funded by Coal companies, police fired on their people killing three etc etc

They asked me:
“Brother What is happening in England regarding democracy?”. “Whats happened in our Amazon with our Adivasi relatives” 

The conversation then went to the Indian economy.
They already knew about the loot of RBI reserve funds and unemployment surge.
-The other WhatsUp University guys.

Then one of them said
“What ever is to happen, it cannot be worse than what we and our people have gone through ever since our birth.”
“We are ready/prepared, we will fight, jail is a better place, at least we get food and will not be hungry” 
“We are not Chintabarams or Vijay Malayas” they said.

Both were off to a workshop on the Indian Constitution, both had copies of it! (funny I do not)
Both are Dalit farmers fathers of school going children.

Hearing them I can say there is hope for India!

Where is the global outrage at the destruction of Kashmir and the assault on Kashmiri women?

August 14, 2019: Women in Kashmir protest

“There is a long row of women, who have given birth in the midst of destruction, their babies, a new generation, are tied securely to their bodies with a duppatta. I see them as they walk, slowly, cautiously, confidently, across the broken embankment, past seething waters, to the safety of their community and their people. Once more, they shine.”

Freny Manecksha. Behold, I Shine: Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children

In early August, the Indian state suspended Article 370 of India’s Constitution. Article 370 gave special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This special status included a separate constitution and administrative autonomy. In suspending the Article, and effectively India’s Constitution, Narendra Modi offered economic development and his version of a War on (Islamic) Terror as justification. The lynchpin of this claim was the protection of Kashmiri Muslim women. In this scenario, Modi is the great liberator savior of Indian Muslim women. Kashmiri women know better: “Who will liberate us? The BJP leaders who are saying men in UP or Haryana (where the sex ratio is low) can now source fair brides from Kashmir? Are we apples or peaches of Kashmir — goods to be looted by our conquerors?” The women of Kashmir are accustomed to these claims of liberation, empowerment, freedom, and have consistently rejected them as false and empty. For decades, and centuries, women of Kashmir have organized to dispel the night and fog of various modes of patriarchal sexual violence against women and girls. 

Since the declaration, India’s Prime Minister has continued to claim that the erasure of semi-autonomous Kashmir  is part of the program of women’s liberation, which begins with `protecting’ Indian Muslim women … from themselves. Since the declaration, Indian social media has recorded public officials and just plain menfolk boastingthat now they can go to Kashmir and pick up “fair Kashmiri women” as wives. 

Kashmiri women know better. They know that “protection” means intensified occupationunparalleled communications and information blackoutsramped up harassment of women and girls. They know that protection means the most vulnerable, such as women in childbirth, will be the most exposed to violence and danger. They know that armies that march under the banner, “Save Muslim Women!”, are never to be trusted. They know this, and their knowledge of such has been well documented again and again and again.

Despite the documentation of Kashmiri women’s decades and centuries long histories of self-organizing, the world more or less stands by and watches the new phase of protective torture of women and girls with a muffled cough of disapproval. Where is the global outrage at the intensified assault on Kashmir, and particularly on Kashmiri women? Where are the mass demonstrations in support, the teach-ins, the calls to action, other than polite invocations of solidarity? Where are the comrades, the militants, the feminists? Where is Kashmir? Nowhere. Who are the women of Kashmir? As far as the world at large is concerned, no one. Less than no one. Poor blighted beings in need of salvation. “But, hell, let’s just ‘Save Muslim Women’!”

(Photo Credit: Al Jazeera / Reuters / Danish Ismail)

Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers

The fire that killed three workers

A factory fire broke out Saturday, July 13, in a hardware factory in the Jhilmil industrial area, in New Delhi. Three workers were killed: Manju Devi, 50 years old, mother of five; Sangeeta Devi, 46 years old, mother of three; Shoaib Ali, 19 years old, one of two children. The Jhilmil industrial area is 20 some miles from the Bawana Industrial Area, where a fire broke out January 2018 in a firecracker factory. An hour by car, more or less, separates the two factory zones. A year and a half separate the two fires. In that year and a half, absolutely nothing has been done to ameliorate the conditions of factory workers in New Delhi. As was the case in Bawana, Saturday’s factory fine in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers, the majority of whom were women.

For a couple days there was news coverage. The two brothers who owned the factory have been arrested. The factory license had expired and so the factory had no license. The factory had no “firefighting measures.” The fire was massive, the brothers were negligent. The stories of each of the three murdered workers are plaintive and heart rending. In other words, this “tragedy” is precisely like the earlier “tragedies”. Add the Jhilmil industrial area to the list of factory fire “tragedies”: Bawana Industrial Area,India: Tangerang, Indonesia;  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, United States; Kader Toy Factory, Thailand; Zhili Handicraft Factory, China; Tazreen Fashions Factory, Bangladesh; Kentex Manufacturing Corporation, Philippines; House Technologies Industries, Philippines. The sacrificial pyre built of women’s bodies continues to grow and light up the night sky of global economic development. 

The Jhilmil factory had no license because it didn’t have to have a license: “The factory was operating in the area of 110 sq metres and a fire NoC [No objection Certificate] is not required for the area below 250 sq metre as per norms.” According to some estimates, “around 90% of units in industrial areas of Delhi lack fire safety norms.” Some of those factories are in violation of the law, but the vast majority aren’t. They are “per norms”. That is, respectively, they comprise individual areas of less than 250 square meters, and so don’t need any license. The majority of factories in New Delhi’s industrial zones are less than 250 square meters in area. Per norms. That’s the law. That’s how it is. Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers, the majority of whom were women, and the planners of that massacre are factory owners, the State, and all who looked the other way, or better, see and construct a world “per norms” in which people who work in larger factories have some value, are collectively worth the cost of a fire extinguisher and an alarm, and those, the majority, who work in the smaller factories, the `informal’ factories, they are less than dirt, less than the ash that fills the air and covers the earth after a massive fire. Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers, the majority of whom were women. It won’t be the last such massacre.

(Photo Credit: The Hindu / R. V. Moorthy)

How do heartless leaders win elections? Part 2: India and beyond

In India, although Modi failed to deliver on election promises of economic growth, he drew public through hypocritical arguments about the importance of protecting the Hindu nation against Pakistan. The elections came at a crucial time when two Indian Army pilots captured by the Pakistani military were released back into India. The fanfare around their release gave the BJP and Modi enough momentum to stoke nationalist fires. Parties associated with the BJP had already done plenty to fan communalism through social media, and so Pakistan’s capture of the pilots created the means to continue nationalist messaging in public spaces to keep the fervor at fever pitch. The supremacy of the far-right Hindu nationalists is becoming widespread and overt in its reach under the Modi government. Modi openly articulates his allegiance with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS, and its divisive nationalism and Hindu militancy.

Besides masking economic growth with nationalism, Modi and the BJP have used the figure of the woman as a symbol of nationalism. This ploy has been enacted since before India’s struggle for independence from British rule. In the last election, Modi promised that he would make sure women had rights but did nothing to curb violence against women. While the BJP under Modi talks about Hindu womanhood and protecting women, drawing upon the religious trope of worshiping goddesses, we see the government’s hypocrisy in turning a blind eye to the rape of young women and children, particularly in Muslim, Adivasi and Dalit communities. Witness the rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim girl by 9 Hindu youth, four of them police officers; the crime was politicized and although the rapists were charged, Hindu right-wing protesters, Modi silently lending them support, wanted the rapists exonerated: “Some of the staunchest defenders of the suspects in the girl’s killing have been high-level officials in Mr. Modi’s party. Analysts said this was consistent with how the party has operated for years.”Throughout the country it has become an increasingly onerous task for any sexual abuse victim to get justice. 

While the government won re-election based on national security, the country has become unsafe for women, Muslims and Dalits. Dissenting voices are in danger of being assassinated, as we have already seen in the murder of prominent journalists and writers for their critique of the government: Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, and M.M. Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh and many more.

While abortion is legal up to 20 weeks, many women around the country do not have access to safe abortions. Maternal deaths from pregnancy and abortion continue to plague the country. A recent report from Mumbai showed a sudden dip in the numbers of abortion among girls 13-15. While this may sound like a good thing, a senior gynecologist from one of the BMC hospitals thinks that the dip could mean that young girls may be getting unsafe abortions. No statistics are available on the number of abortions as a result of the abortion pill. In short, unsafe abortions are prevalent, including self-selective abortion, which is unlawful.

What does all this mean? Within a neoliberal philosophy we see an increase in right-wing political parties in Europe and in India. Many scholars have made connections between this current political climate with the 1930s as the EU has gone through various turbulences that have exposed the fragility of the principle of democracy in society. In his book “Recidive,”(Recurrence), Michaël Fœssel uses press and journal articles to analyze the dynamics that prevailed in the year 1938, noting, “I didn’t research 1938 with 1940 in mind, but rather with 2018 and the years before.” He remarks that French women in 1938 were mostly invisible; one would have thought that France was inhabited only by men “whose only ambition was to become chief.” Men forbade women to vote until 1944, which is a significant difference compared to 2019. In addition, Fœssel observes that in 1938 many principles were challenged. France had passed new labor protection laws and progressive social laws 2 years earlier. In 1938, with a new government elected on negative campaigns to restore order, the goal was to weaken social protection and the new rights of middle and lower classes. Although women were not allowed to vote, two women held ministry positions in the previous government, and still progress stopped there. With the more conservative government of 1938, women were sent back to the private home and family duty. 

In a time of crisis, we observe the reoccurrence of these discourses of rights and protections reductions, making the vulnerable more precarious and supporting right-wing messages of nationalism and dominant powers. Besides the obvious differences between both electoral situations (in India and in the EU), the commonalities are important to identify. 

For the time being, patriarchy as a system of control and accumulation has reinforced its power. The heartless leaders are patriarchal leaders. Their networks of influence have, through social media, disseminated their discourses using the mythology of virility to legitimize inequality between genders and unleash intolerance toward everyone outside of their normative view of human society. They have successfully eliminated the ethics of reciprocity and care from the political discourse. The destruction wrought by climate change that affects the most vulnerable in society is a casualty in this patriarchal power grab in the elections in Hungary, Poland, Italy and India. Ending the power of the heartless demand constant criticism of the patriarchal order that outrageously begets inequality and suffering. 

(Photo Credit: Reuters / Mukesh Gupta / The Guardian)

India votes and `suffers’ women prisoners and their children. And we call it democracy.

Elections matter. Australia voted, catastrophically, and immediately after suicide attempts and other forms of self-harm spiked among refugee and asylum seeker prisoners on Manus Island and Nauru. Elections matter. India voted, catastrophically, and the news for women inmates in prisons and jails across India is grim. The last five years of the Modi regime have meant ongoing and increasing violation of women prisoners’ rights, autonomy and well-being, on one hand, and a policy of increased opacity, on the other. In both instance, Australia and India, the State blames the women and children for the violence and torture the State visits upon their bodies and souls … and they call it democracy.

India went to the polls from April 11 to May 23. While it had little or no impact, the same week the elections began, the National Crimes Record Bureau, NCRB, finally released its Prison Statistics India 2016 Report. That report came in after an unexplained years’ long delay. The Prison Statistics India 2015 Report was issued in a timely manner in September 2016. The 2015 Report opens: “I am privileged to release the 21stedition of `Prison Statistics India’ for the year 2015, an annual publication of National Crime Records Bureau since the year 1995.” In 1996, the National Crime Records Bureau was tasked with publishing an annual report on the conditions in India’s prisons and jails. For 21 years, it did so, dutifully and faithfully. And then … it stopped. This silence concerning the conditions of prisons, jails and, most importantly, prisoners was matched by an equivalent “failure” by the NCRB to publish its annual Crime In India report for 2017. This was the first “failure” of this annual report since 1953. Taken together, the lack of reporting begins to look more like refusal than failure: “All this has happened on the watch of a government that is known for being less than forthright about official data.”

This refusal to provide detailed data continues throughout the Prison Statistics India 2016 Report. Most glaringly, the new report says nothing about caste or religion. Whereas earlier reports described, in detail, the situation and conditions in prisons and jails for Dalits, members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, members of religious minorities, especially Muslim, this last `report’, the methodology of which is ostensibly the same as previous reports, says nothing. According to the most recent census, 16.6% of India is Dalit, while Dalits made up 21.4% of India’s prison and jail population. Likewise, Scheduled Tribes make up 8.6% of the Indian population and 12.8% of the prison and jail population. Many noted these discrepancies and strove to address them. The Modi regime has addressed them by erasing not only categories but whole sectors of the population. This is not failure to represent, this is refusal to represent, and it’s part and parcel of the caste and religion-based politics of the Modi regime and of his political party.

Where are the women in this picture? Everywhere and nowhere. Before the latest report came out, it was already known that prisons and jails in India are particularly damaging to women. First, they’re designed for men. Second, they have less access to facilities and resources within prisons and jails. Third, they have less access to resources outside of prisons and jails. For example, “a woman, nearly 70 years old, has been in jail for the past 18 months on kidnapping and rape charges … While five others, including two male co-accused, have been released on bail, she continues to be behind bars. Having lost her husband during her incarceration, she has no one to reach out to. What purpose is being served by keeping her inside?”

Further, over the preceding fifteen years, the rate of men’s incarceration has increased by 33%, while that of women has grown by 61%. Despite this growth of women’s incarceration, neither budgets nor infrastructure has increased. Thus, the women’s prisons are severely overcrowded and filthy; the food and hygiene are deplorable; and there is virtually no physical and mental health care. For Dalit and Adivasi women, the conditions are predictably worse. According to a recent study, “76% (279 prisoners) of prisoners sentenced to death in India belong to backward classes and religious minorities, with all 12 female prisoners belonging to backward classes and religious minorities.” None of this is in the most recent NCRB report.

The NCRB report does provide some data, and the most salient fact is that 67% of India’s prisoners are “undertrial”, meaning awaiting trial … meaning officially innocent. From 2014 to 2016, the number of undertrial, or remand, prisoners rose 3.6%, from 282,879 to 293,058 in 2016. Close to 71% of undertrial prisoners are deemed illiterate or low literate. While among convicted prisoners, prisoners 30 – 50 years old predominate, among undertrials the majority are 18 to 30 years old. 72% of women prisoners are awaiting trial. Much more than with male prisoners, women prisoners are overwhelming young, minimally educated, poor … and formally innocent. Additionally, there are 1,809 children in prisons and jails across India, and they all are cared for by their mothers, women prisoners. Of the 1809 children living behind bars, 78% of their mothers are awaiting trial, minimally educated, poor … and formally innocent. 

Elections matter. Information matters. Transparency matters. Democracy matters. The United States “discovered” this week that a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador died in custody, last September, and that the State lied and hid that girl-child’s death. We are dismayed but not shocked or surprised. Refugee and asylum prisoners in Australia engage in increased self-harm and suicide attempts following the Australian national elections. Some are finally, in some cases after five-year delays, sent to the mainland for `care’. India cages more and more Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim young women and children, all formally innocent, and covers it in the civil equivalent of the fog of war. And we call it democracy.

(Photo Credit: The Tribune India)