Assault on Culture and Democracy in the Name of Nation
(In a series of attacks on culture and democratic-secular organisations, reminiscent of fascist Germany, the Sangh Parivar has given the country a taste of what its projected Hindu Rashtra holds in store for the Indian people. Never mind that the BJP continues to proclaim that it has postponed its agenda till such time as the Hindutva forces assume a ‘democratically’ elected majority. On the field the ground is being prepared continuously and relentlessly, to make an authoritarian political solution appear a people’s mandate. This is exactly what Hitler and Mussolini had achieved through sustained double speak, deception, infringement of democratic norms, assault on reason and voices of dissent to its fascist ideology. To speak in different voices even as they do this is a part and parcel of strategy for the widest possible mobilization for the narrowest of goals. An attack on democratic culture and people’s organisations is intrinsic to this strategy.
We give below reports of some of these attacks in the electioneering days)
1. Home ministry singles out anti-BJP NGOs
(Rezaul H. Laskar in Asian Age)
New Delhi: The Union home ministry has directed several prominent non-governmental organisations, which have publicly criticised the Sangh Parivar and the BJP-led government’s policies, to show cause as to why action should not be taken against them for engaging in "political" activities.
Prominent among the groups which have received the showcause notice are Voluntary Action Network India, Indian Social Institute, Kali for Women and Centre for Women’s Development Studies. The NGOs connected with Communalism Combat, a Mumbai-based magazine which ran a high-profile national advertisement campaign against the Sangh Parivar’s ideology, also received the showcause notice.
The notice was issued to the NGOs on September 27 by Mr Sanjiv Dutta, director (FCRA) in the foreigners division of the Union home ministry, accusing them of violating provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act by associating "with the release of certain advertisements in the press and with certain documents the contents of which are in the nature of comments of a political nature" in the "run up to the ongoing general elections."
The Union home ministry notice has directed the NGOs to show cause within 30 days as to why they should not be notified as "political" organisations, and why action should not be taken against them for accepting foreign contributions without the Centre’s permission. Only those NGOs registered with the home ministry are allowed to accept foreign contributions "to further any cultural, economic, educational, religious or social programme." Section 5(1) of the FCRA prohibits all organisations of a political nature from accepting foreign contributions without the Centre’s prior permission.
Mr Dutta refused to comment on the matter, when contacted by The Asian Age. Dr Ambrose Pinto, executive director of the Indian Social Institute, said the showcause notice was nothing but "a form of harassment." Dr Pinto had served as the convenor of a group of prominent
NGO activists that issued a "People’s Agenda" for the elections which was very critical of the Sangh Parivar. "The ISI has criticised things which aren’t in consonance with the Constitution, and it has opposed human rights violations. It has never taken a partisan stand," he said.
Mr Anil Singh, executive secretary of Voluntary Action Network India, said the notice was aimed at suppressing a campaign launched by his group to ensure transparency in foreign funding. "All those who do not fall in line with the establishment are being targeted. One of the demands of our transparency campaign is the scrapping of the FCRA. The political leadership is not in favour of secular voluntary organisations, it only approves of organisations like the RSS," said Mr Singh.
Communalism Combat, in its response to the BJP’s allegations that it had used foreign funding for its advertisement campaign, had accused the Sangh Parivar of trying "to browbeat organisations and individuals who have exposed the real character of the BJP."
2. Saffron sees red in Miss Vadodara
(Express News Service, Tuesday, September 28, 1999)
VADODARA, SEPT 27: Pandemonium reigned at the Gandhi Nagar Gruh, venue of the Miss Vadodara 1999 contest today, when activists of the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad went on the rampage, severely assaulting a youth, beating up others, smashing windows and damaging property. The show was called off.
The Bajrang Dal and the VHP had announced yesterday that they would hold a "black-badge protest'' against the show, organised by a little known group called the Cops Group comprising fresh graduates from the M S University. Bajrang Dal and VHP leaders had called upon the cadres to protest claiming that "Muslim boys would dance with Hindu girls during the show.''
Carrying black flags and a saffron banner, they barged into the hall, smashed the manager's cabin and broke furniture. Even as employees escaped, Bajrang Dal local chief Neeraj Jain told the police: "I give you 15 minutes to cancel the show.''
Activists who had sneaked in as part of the audience, kicked off the trouble by throwing stickson to the stage. None of the contestants, however, was injured. For two hours, before the show was eventually called off, volunteers terrorised the police -- ripping off the badges off some of them -- roughed up journalists and beat up photographers.
A long-haired youth, standing nearby, was mistaken for one of the organizers. A dozen activists dragged him, kicked and punched him, while one hit him repeatedly on the head with a brick. It was only when a policeman rushed to the youth's rescue that the assailants fled. The youth, bleeding from the nose and the mouth, found refuse in a nearby house.
In the meantime, the show was called off after just one round. Though the police tried to smuggle out the organisers and the contestants, some of them came in for physical and verbal abuse. Volunteers kicked and boxed them even as they were being escorted into police jeeps.
DCP (South) Mohan Jha said. "We did not use force and did not ask the organisers to wind up the show. They did so on their own.'' The organisers, on their part, said the show was very much traditional and there was nothing obscene about the dresses that the contestants were to wear.
Beauty contest turns beastly
(Express News Service Tuesday, September 28, 1999)
VADODARA, Sept 27: Pandemonium reigned at the Gandhi Nagar Gruh, venue of the `Miss Vadodara 1999' contest, on Monday, when volunteers of the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad turned their ire on the contest-organisers, virtually lynching a youth, beating up others, smashing windows and damaging other hall property.
Though the BD and the VHP leaders had said on Sunday they would hold a black-badge protest, the mayhem that reigned for almost two hours bore little resemblance to a peaceful agitation.
It all began when BD volunteers started marching on the hall carrying a few black flags and a saffron banner. Outwitting the police, who apparently thought they would try to get themselves arrested, they dodged the security ring and charged towards the hall. They entered the manager's cabin, smashed glasses, turned the furniture upside down and threw a chair at the manager, who caught it midway.
Even as the other employees ran for their lives, BD president Neeraj Jain told the police, "I give you 15 minutes to cancel the show.'' His volunteers seemed unprepared to wait that long. "Pull them out, we'll teach them all a lesson'', they started shouting.
Inside the hall, volunteers who had sneaked in as part of the audience kicked off the trouble by throwing sticks on to the stage. None of the contestants, however, were injured.
Outside, it was another story. For close on to two hours, before the show was eventually called off, volunteers terrorised the police -- ripping off the badges off some of them -- roughed up journalists and manhandled photographers and videographers, warning them not to shoot.
Just as they were aiming huge boulders at the hall, volunteers espied a tall, long-haired youth. Mistaking him to be one of the organisers, more than a dozen volunteers dragged him, kicked and punched him, while one hit him repeatedly on the head with a brick and another chucked a slab of stone at him. It was only when a policeman rushed to the youth's rescue that the assailants fled.
But even as the youth staggered to his feet, bleeding from the nose and the mouth, a couple of volunteers tried to get physical with him again. He finally found refuge in a nearby house.
In the meantime, the show had been called off after just one round. Though the police tried to smuggle out the organisers -- a little-known organisation called the Cops Group, comprising fresh graduates of M S University and the contestants, some of them came in for physical and verbal abuse. Volunteers kicked and boxed them even as they were being escorted into police jeeps.
When the police caned a few volunteers, the senior BD leaders rushed to the officers present, threatening them with dire consequences if "Hindu Swayamsevaks were hit''. Earlier, the same leaders had charged up their cadres, claiming that the group dance competition would see Muslim boys dance with Hindu girls.
With the situation already out of the hand, mobile police reinforcements could do little to calm down right-wing volunteers exhorting the organisers to "parade your mothers and sisters'' in such shows. When the police tried to whisk them away, they retorted, "Aren't you a Hindu? It's your duty to cancel the show''.
The police had been asked to exercise restraint, DCP (South) Mohan Jha said. "We did not use force and did not ask the the organisers to wind up the show. They did so on their own.''
The organisers, on their part, said the show was very much traditional and there was nothing obscene about the outfits the contestants were to sport.
Police go easy
The mayhem at the `Miss Vadodara 1999' contest could have been prevented had the police acted firmly with the situation. Though the police, State Reserve Police and private security employed by the organisers far outnumbered the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal volunteers, they were apparently weighed down by an order to go soft on them.
The volunteers were rounded up and thrust into police vans, but allowed to return to the scene of action as and when they wanted to. The police did not even react when passers-by were harassed or some people in the audience attacked.
Before the trouble started, the police, including J P Road Inspector Kiritsinh Jhala and Assistant Commissioner of Police M M Thakur, were seen pleading with Bajrang Dal president Neeraj Jain not to clash with police. "You do whatever you want to, but don't go to extremes,'' a senior cop was seen telling to a band of volunteers.
3. Dharna & Hunger Strike By Artists & Democratic Organisations against BJP’s terror tactics in Vajpayee’s constituency
(Peoples Democracy, October 3, 1999)
After the fall of the Vajpayee-led BJP government, the spate of actions taken by the discredited caretaker regime to bribe different sections of the people and their shameless political exploitation of the courageous sacrifices of the Indian army to generate an atmosphere of jingoism and sentimental `patriotism' to try and get back to power once more, had raised legitimate apprehensions in the minds of all democratic sections. Given the funds poured into media campaigns by the BJP and the outrageously partisan use of Doordarshan by the government, a drummed up and manipulated public response for the NDA and its leader was sought to be presented before the country as the people's will.
To confront this tactic of the Sangh Parivar which controls the party and directs the alliance, SAHMAT decided to produce an exhibition of posters based on media coverage, reports and cartoons to take the reality of the NDA's 13 months in power once again before the people. The exhibition entitled `Harvest of Hatred' was made up of 38 posters which recorded the barbaric record of the Sangh and its government on the question of communalism and minority-bashing; the nuclear misadventure of the Pokhran II which dangerously jeopardised the country's national security while making it vulnerable to US imperialist pressures (as the Kargil engagement would prove); and the pathetic record of unparalleled misgovernance for which the people had to pay with further attacks on their living conditions. The exhibition, which opened in Delhi, received a great response and copies went all over the country as different political parties and democratic organisations displayed it among the people. Its text, originally in English and Hindi, was translated into many regional languages to carry its message effectively.
SAHMAT Rangmanch prepared a street play Teen Terah ka Chakkar that exposed the misdeeds of the Vajpayee government. The play, 52 shows of which were performed in Delhi alone, and the exhibition together traveled through Madhya Pradesh and U.P. through the election campaign and got a very enthusiastic response. Obviously where the BJP and its allies are in power thinly disguised attempts were made to prevent the play and the exhibition from being seen by the people.
In U.P. where the BJP government's unpopularity is a common refrain, a partisan administration denied permission to mount the exhibition in Agra, and actually sealed it in the Press Club at Faizabad. The organisers refused to be cowed down and they had to re-open the premises the following day. By the time the exhibition and play reached Lucknow on September 20, Vajpayee's constituency, it was already a big embarrassment to the BJP and the Sangh Parivar because of the enthusiastic public and media
Panicked by this, the BJP in an organised move attacked the 13 members Rangmanch group at Bans Mandi Chowk on Wednesday September 22nd. The attackers were publicly identified as BJP MLC Ajit Singh and his men. The theatre group was returning from Raniganj where permission for the performance had not been given due to the C.M. 's meeting being held there. The vehicle carrying the troupe was intercepted and the driver and the occupants dragged out, abused and badly beaten. Three of them were seriously hurt.
Lucknow based artistes and scholars joined Sahmat in condemning the saffron brigade for the characteristically barbaric attack. The fact that the incident occurred in the prime minister's constituency angered them because it exposed the hollowness of claims that Vajpayee is a poet and a liberal. To date this liberal has not found it necessary to make a statement on the issue!
Sahmat has continued the exhibition and the play. Rangmanch, despite injuries to several of its actors, continued to perform the play "Teen Terah Ka Chakkar" at several venues in the city to expose the divisive and communal character of the BJP rule.
Hundreds of cultural activists, artists, scholars, journalists and concerned citizens sat in a dharna at the Gandhi statue at the GPO in Lucknow on September 24 at 11 a.m. to demand the arrest of the BJP MLC Ajit Singh and his goondas who had brutally attacked the Sahmat Rangmanch actors. SAHMAT secretary Shabnam Hashmi, began an indefinite hunger fast. The call for the dharna was given by 40 democratic, secular and social organisations of journalists, women, youth, students and artists.
A number of prominent citizens including senior professors of the university - Roop Rekha Verma, M.N.Kakkar, Ramesh Dixit joined the dharna. The representatives of all the secular political parties visited the Gandhi statue including Arjun Singh, Salman Khursheed and Dr. Karan Singh from the Congress (I), Samajwadi Party candidate Bhagwati Prasad apart from the Lucknow leaders of the CPI (M), CPI and Janata (Secular). Professors K.N.Panikkar, K.M. Shrimali, photographer Ram Rahman and Vijaya Pratap of Lokayan went from Delhi to join the dharna.They called upon cultural activists and artists all over the country to organise protest actions. A delegation of SAHMAT met the President on September 22, to apprise him of the situation in the constituency from where the prime minister is seeking re-election.
Speakers demanded the arrest of the culprits named in the FIR filed under Sections 147, 323 and 504 of the IPC. They also said that the incident was not an isolated one. They demanded an explanation from Mr. Vajpayee whether he supported such behaviour of his supporters and party men.
The site of the hunger strike and dharna bore a festive look with paintings and posters by local artists, display of the exhibition "Harvest of Hatred". It was also reported that the unnumbered vehicles with BJP flags in which the miscreants had been travelling on the evening of September 22 was also taking the rounds of the venue in order to terrorise the protesters.
Since then several eminent artists and intellectuals have joined the dharna to express their solidarity and condemn the fascist tactics of the prime minister's party men. Among those who have joined the dharna were Dilip Kumar, Raj Babbar, Javed Akhtar, Teesta Setelvad and Subhashini Ali.
On September 27, artistes, intellectuals and concerned citizens in several cities including Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Shimla and New Delhi held protest actions to express solidarity with the hunger strikers. They condemned the BJP-led government in UP for its failure to arrest the BJP MLC and workers who have been publicly identified for the dastardly attack on the members of the Sahmat theatre group.
In New Delhi, writers, dancers, painters, and scholars joined the dharna held outside the UP Bhavan on Sardar Patel Marg from 2pm - 6 pm. Among those present were Moloyshri Hashmi, the writers Asgar Wajahat, Vishnu Nagar, Asad Zaidi, and Nirmala Garg. Painters Vivan Sundaram and Shamshad Husain, dancer Sharon Lowen, puppeteer Dadi Padumjee, and photographer Ram Rahman. Professors Prabhat and Utsa Patnaik, K.N. Panikkar, Zoya Hasan, K.M. Shrimali, Javed Alam, Venkat Subramanyam, C.P. Chandrasekhar, and Kamal Mitra Chinoy were present. Jan Natya Manch, Lokayan, Delhi Science Forum, Jan Sanskriti and the Janwadi Lekhak Sangh were among the organisations who joined the Dharna.
The protest culminated in Lucknow on the October 1 with a gathering of groups and individuals who are committed to the cause of the democratic right of freedom of expression.
4. A Dalit basti demolished: Dalits pay for voting against Badal's son
(Parshotam Betab in Indian Express)
Faridkot, September 21. They had been living in the basti for decades. And one election uprooted all of them. The residents of Jiwan Nagar in Faridkot say they had to pay a heavy price for backing the Congress candidate in the recent elections. Two weeks after polling, almost the entire basti has been razed by the Municipal Committee without any advance notice, allegedly at the instance of the ruling Akali Dal.
With their belongings scattered all around, more than 50 Dalit families have been sitting in dharna near the debris of their demolished houses, while police personnel maintain a vigil.
"We have been living in this basti for more than 40 years and have been allotted house numbers by the Municipal Committee. We even have regular electricity connections, "says Amrik Singh, a resident. "Two days before polling, Akali candidate Sukhbir Singh Badal came to our basti and promised to regularise our possession, if we voted for him. But after the polling, with local Akali leaders convinced that the residents voted for the Congress candidate, the punishment was swift." Sukhbir Singh Badal, when contacted, says he was not aware of it.
"On the evening of September17, heavy police force and Munici-pal officials with bulldozers and tractor-trollies, led by Akali leader and MC chief Gurtej Singh Gill, descended on the basti and ordered the inhabitants to vacate their houses," says Nasib Kaur.
Nasib Kaur shows receipts of payment of house tax levied by the Municipal Committee. MC president Gurtej Singh Gill says the issue is being given a political colour. He says the land on which the houseswere built was encroached upon. When asked why no eviction notice was given to the residents. Gill says this was done to avoid legal hindrances.
Three Essays Press for books on history, education, culture, media, society and politics with a South Asian accent and a contemporary slant.