A young crusader against tyranny

February 28, 2021

In order to bring back sanity in India, the BJP has to be dispensed with

Disha Ravi eventually got bail on Tuesday after spending nine days in custody but not before establishing that the BJP government consists of a bunch of clumsy and inept individuals. Under Modi sarkar a crisis succeeds the other, exposing the myopic vision of the Indian prime minister. His acolytes pass more readily as goons than politicians.

India is under siege by a coterie of RSS-trained individuals, who have no qualms in deploying brute force to settle issues like Citizen Amendment Bill and farmers’ protest. Persuasion through dialogue or striking some sort of compromise by conceding some space to those on the opposite side of the fence for the larger good of the people don’t exist in their political lexicon.

True leaders work to build consensus so that the polity gets to assume an inclusive character. But things in India currently are quite the other way around. The government’s brusqueness in handling a political crisis became evident when 22 years old Disha Ravi was arrested without any consideration to the consequences. A climate change activist and founder of Friday for Future-India could hardly have posed a serious threat to the BJP government or to its ideology, Hindutva.

Anybody with some measure of political sagacity would not have taken such an extreme measure. For me, this confirms my opinion of Mr Modi that he does not have the capability needed to run a federation. At best, he can be an effective chief minister of Gujarat. His sidekicks, Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath, starkly lack the balance required for administering a sprawling state like Utter Pradesh and its socio-cultural plurality.

On Sunday, February 14, a magistrate in Delhi’s Patiala House court remanded Ms Ravi to five days in police custody in what is being called the Protest Toolkit Case. She was arrested from Bengaluru by the Delhi police under an unnamed FIR, which claimed that a “criminal conspiracy was hatched by her along with Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg and various others to prepare a toolkit for the farmers’ protests”.

The Delhi police claimed that Disha is the “editor of” and a “key conspirator” behind the preparation and dissemination of the allegedly seditious protest toolkit. The police and many of her detractors claimed that she created a WhatsApp group to “formulate the toolkit, collaborated with an allegedly pro-Khalistan group called Poetic Justice Foundation, and transferred the toolkit to Greta Thunberg”.

Nothing could be as absurd as the allegation that a young woman from the south nurses pro-Khalistan sentiments. As it transpired later, the guidelines prescribed in the toolkit asked the protestors to use lawful means of expression to create a global momentum around the plight of the protesting farmers. Nowhere did it ever advocate violence. However, Disha got worldwide attention. Many youngsters must be looking towards her as a source of encouragement to side with truth howsoever difficult the situation. Her arrest and the hype that it entailed would go a long way in strengthening her cause.

Her statement, issued when she was produced before the court in Delhi, indicates that the arrest has emboldened Disha. She said, as quoted by an Indian journalist, “if supporting farmers and their cause is a sin, then I will keep committing it. If Gandhi could go to prison for the sake of setting people free, I am more than willing to tread the same path.” Going to prison for a political cause is usually deemed laudable. A jail sentence frequently strengthens the faith in the cause for which someone is incarcerated.

Equally inspirational was the 18-page judgment that epitomised a true democratic spirit and served as a document that enshrined the rights of an individual against the tyranny of the state. The Delhi court observed that a call for violence in the toolkit for farmers’ agitation was “conspicuously absent”. It also added that the citizens in any democratic country are its conscious keepers and cannot be put behind bars simply because they choose to disagree with state’s policies.

Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana said, “The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of governments. Difference of opinion, disagreement, divergence, dissent, or for that matter, even disapprobation, are recognised legitimate tools to infuse objectivity in state policies. An aware and assertive citizenry, in contradiction with an indifferent or docile citizenry, is indisputably a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy.”

That indeed is a landmark judgment and a source of immense consolation for the concerned Indian citizens. It also shows that despite the BJP and the RSS having corroded democratic ethos, the rot hasn’t reached the very core of the Indian system. All is not lost yet. But what would be the fate of Dharmender Rana is question a worth asking as BJP operatives are not likely to take the judgment lying down.

Ultra-rightist governments invoke the sedition law without demur. The distinction between the state and the government is thus blurred. Criticism on the policies of the government is thus conflated with an act of conspiracy against the state. This has been in evidence in Pakistan as well.

Commenting on this issue, senior advocate and human rights activist, Indira Jaising, told The Quint, an Indian English and Hindi language news website that in India “difference of opinion is seen as sedition or called fake news”. She further stated, “When a state worries about a 21-year-old and arrests her, there is something rotten in the state, when a woman is sent to jail without being represented by a lawyer, the process of law and the constitution have parted company.” I think Indira Jaising is spot on in her observation. In order to bring back sanity in India, the BJP has to be dispensed with.

The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

A young crusader against tyranny