Bad news

Everyone: There’s so much anger and helplessness flooding my thoughts, I worry that soon there won’t be any room for other emotions, like dread.

The New Yorker’s Colin Nissan is savagely sarcastic about the zeitgeist. Read — it will feel like you or I could have written this, about the world we find ourselves in. A world where, says the Economist on its latest cover, Narendra Modi’s sectarianism is eroding India’s secular democracy.

The Economist’s India cover stories down the years is a stark illustration of how the country we know has changed under Modi. Churumuri rounds them up:

Still, this latest cover sounds exaggeratedly alarmist, until you consider Kailash Vijayvargiya, national general secretary of the BJP. Who says he suspected that some workers engaged in constructing a new room at his home were Bangladeshis, because of their “strange eating habits” — to wit, they ate poha. From the story:

I have not filed any police complaint yet. I only mentioned this incident to warn people.”

Speaking at the seminar, Vijayvargiya also claimed that a Bangladeshi terrorist was keeping a watch on him for the last one-and-a-half years.

“Whenever I go out, six armed security personnel follow me. What is happening in this country? Will outside people enter and spread so much terror?” he asked.

Just another of the BJP’s motormouth brigade sounding off, right? And making accusations that, on the face of it, are so absurd they are downright laughable? (I mean, a national BJP leader has a Bangladeshi terrorist following him around for a year and a half — he knows it, but neither his security, nor the police, nor the GoI’s extended intelligence machinery, can do anything about it?)

In passing, if poha now ranks with beef on the BJP’s list of suspect foods, wonder what Vijayvarghiya makes of Narendra Modi, who is on record as saying poha is one of the things he likes to cook?

We dismiss such idiots at our own peril, though. For this is classic gaslighting — he is speaking not to those who can think for themselves, but to that other constituency, of hardcore bigots, who merely want a peg to hang their internal prejudices on. This gaslighting, and the consequent normalisation of prejudice, has dangerous real world consequences. Thus:

A day after shanties belonging to hundreds of labourers were illegally razed by a BBMP official, fear has gripped migrant workers in east Bengaluru, with as many as 600 leaving the city even as authorities justified the action citing lack of time and money for verifying documents.

The administration — in Yedyurappa-run Bangalore — has no time or money to check whether there is any truth to an allegation, so they just demolish a few hundred homes and put a thousand or so people on the street. People, mind, with all proper documentation, including some who are native Kannadigas. Remember, this began with a BJP MLA posting a video of a shantytown and alleging that the residents were illegal Bangladeshi migrants. Elsewhere:

Thousands of migrant workers, mostly employed in coffee estates across Kodagu, were taken to three centres in the district on Thursday as police carried out an identity verification exercise. The centres in Madikeri, Virajpet and Kushalnagar towns were teeming with crowds as police conducted both offline and online identity verification.

The action, say the police, was because of “the security threats these people pose”. What threats? Based on which investigation? Where is due process?

An Amit Shah talks of the “termites” from Bangladesh. A Vijayvarghiya talks of his suspicion that some people eating poha are illegal Bangladeshis. Stupid comments on the face of it, but it accomplishes the purpose: “Bangladeshi” is the cover that confers legitimacy on their actions; Muslim is the enemy they are going after.

The law, which is meant to be a bulwark against such acts, is of no use. In BJP-ruled states where the leaders have passed on their prejudices to the hand-picked senior police officers and given them a loose rein, it is a case of act first, think up reasons later. As for instance in Uttar Pradesh, where

As more and more cases against protesters charged with attempt to murder and rioting during anti-CAA protests in December began failing legal scrutiny and courts started granting bail, police in Muzaffarnagar invoked a stringent provision of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 — almost a month after it booked 107 people — and claimed that protesters used children “for illegal activity”.

Which is to say, when the initial charges — of “rioting” — fail to hold up, the police come up with something else. And when that fails to hold up (as it will), they will come up with something else again… No sooner than lawyers successfully fight one charge, than another pops up.

This zeal is selective. For instance, in the daily rush of events we seem to have forgotten that today, January 24, is the 19th day since masked thugs armed with iron rods, hammers, bottles of acid, entered the JNU campus, with the connivance of the VC and with the benign tolerance of the police, and caused mayhem. Several of the perpetrators have been identified, via video and cellphone messages — and yet, there has not been one single arrest, no FIR against any of them. On the other hand JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh and several of her colleagues face charges of criminal vandalism for an attack on the university’s server rooms on January 1 — an attack, as an RTI inquiry revealed, never happened.

This is the playbook in its entirety. Use public platforms and captive media to demonise, to other. Then act — no matter how untenable the action is, because the objective is not to apprehend and punish actual wrongdoing, but to make life unliveable for those the government deems its enemy. And when words are not enough, try more direct methods. As, for instance:

According to the Kathirur police Prabesh allegedly hurled steel bombs towards the police picket in front of Kathirur Manoj Smrithi Kendram, an RSS office.

“He threw bombs during the wee hours of January 16 morning. Following the arrest he has confessed that his aim was RSS office. Kannur, being politically sensitive region, any attack on political party offices will be regarded as an act by the opponent,” Kathirur SI Nijeesh said.

Unpack that slowly. An RSS “worker” threw a bomb at his own party office, regardless of the fact that he might have ended up killing his own people, so that blame could be put on the enemy — the political opposition, the “radicals”, whoever. This happened in Kannur, ground zero for RSS-sponsored terrorism. Where, among many incidents, there was this: Lethal bombs recovered from an RSS-controlled temple where they had been hidden. Remember this?:

“They are putting their life in danger to make these things (bombs) for self-defence. That’s how little faith they have in the law and order system in place,” he said.

The man saying RSS workers are making bombs for self defence, risking their lives in the process, is RSS leader (RSS, not one of those convenient “fringe groups”) Valsan Thillankeri — who was at the forefront of the 2019 violence at Sabarimala, where, again, bombs were hurled at the homes of political leaders.

It’s getting to where Colin Nissan’s sarcasm in the New Yorker piece doesn’t feel like sarcasm any more; it is actually a thing.

Everybody: You know those moments between crying about one thing and crying about the next thing, when you finally have time to catch your breath and just cry about nothing?

  • Shruti Rajagopalan, one of my favourite columnists on all things to do with economics, turns her attention to the Constitution and, with a tick-tock narrative, shows us how we got here. Read — it is the background you need to understand the present.
  • CNN has a detailed report sourcing Amnesty International on the troll armies and related propaganda tools that have made Twitter hell for women politicians and activists. Related, the Independent (London) has a similar story.
  • Since Kerala came up earlier in this post (and since I linked to my posts yesterday), here is a Caravan backgrounder that tells you how, and why, Kerala became ground zero for the RSS.
  • You read about Davinder Singh. You read about Samarpal, the BSF jawan caught carrying a lethal bomb into a CRPF camp. Now read this story, of how army personnel in Kashmir are commandeering the cars of citizens at night. Why would the army, which has vehicles to spare, need to surreptitiously commandeer private cars at night? What are they doing, that they cannot do in their own official vehicles? The questions just keep mounting, and each unanswered question adds to the dread that the situation in the Valley is much less than even the more pessimistic of us feared.

I’ll be back here later today in case this post needs updating. In the meantime, I will leave you with this comprehensive — and highly evocative — collation of the protest music that is emerging out of the ongoing revolution. I’ve been listening to some of these on loop. And also with this image, that got fixed in my mind when I saw it while surfing Twitter last evening:

WTF – the BHU sequel

This is the thing with headlines. You use one because you think it fits and then along comes something else that makes you wish you had saved it for this.

In my roundup for today I’d touched on recent incidents at Benares Hindu University. I didn’t realize that the real WTF moment was still to come. The administration has put out a press release which, among other things, says:

In a media release, the BHU administration stated, “This protest was completely political in nature because it was timed with the PM’s visit, with the intention of soiling the image of the university.”

Apparently the molestation of a young girl does not stain the reputation; only the PM being put to some mild inconvenience does. Further:

Dismissing Friday’s reports that a woman student had tonsured her head in protest, the BHU Information Centre on Saturday released on its Facebook page screenshots of a student with her head shaved. The post mentioned her name and details and claimed she had tonsured her head last year. Stating that she was being “exploited” by “anti-national” forces, the university called the protests the “work of propagandists”.

It happens. Every single time. Incompetent authority, occupying a position that is a gift from the political masters, confront a problem. Rather than face it, look for and implement solutions, the instinctive reaction is to deny. To don the shroud of ‘patriotism’, the cloak of ‘nation’, and from that place to demonise those who demand answers, seek solutions.

If patriotism is, as Samuel Johnson said, the last refuge of the scoundrel, then it is at risk of being dangerously over-populated.

Due process: the sequel

In Madhya Pradesh, two young men were jailed for “hurting the sentiments of the Hindus” — to wit, sharing a morphed image of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. (Elsewhere, others manufacture and share morphed images and it is not they but the subjects of the faked videos that get arrested — but never mind that now).

Here’s the sequel: having arrested them under the provisions of a law the Supreme Court had struck down as “unconstitutional” a year ago, the police now have no idea what to do with them. (Emphasis mine)

“We don’t know how to proceed because we came to know later that the Section 66(A) was struck down by the SC. We have sent the case details to the district prosecution office,’’ in-charge of Kotwali Police Station Satish Singh Chouhan told The Indian Express Sunday.

We arrested him because local RSS cadres were angry about his post and came in large number to register a case,’’ said Chouhan.

That is what usually happens when the law bends to interest groups. You are supposed to arrest people if there is grounds to believe they broke the law — not because someone is pissed and flexes muscles.

But do they learn? Not a hope in hell. From the same report:

While the Sheopur police are still clueless, their counterparts in Anuppur have booked another Muslim youth under the same section of the IT Act for his Facebook comment against the RSS chief.

Update, via a friend on Facebook: Girish Shahane on why police in India are focussed more on maintaining order rather than upholding the law is worth your time.

That cost includes official backing given to conservative community leaders, and a tolerance for groups that break the law, stopping trains and blocking roads in protest, for instance. This tolerance nudges groups that might have preferred less intrusive forms of demonstration toward civil disobedience, for only the threat of the mob gains the attention and respect of the authorities.

Arrested over a rumour

Remember this news story I had linked to earlier in the day?:

Meanwhile, a tried and tested pattern manifests again. At a private university in Mewar, Rajasthan, “rumours are floated” that a few Kashmiri students are cooking and eating beef. A scuffle results. Assorted — and unnamed — “Hindu religious groups” arrive at the venue and raise slogans. Thankfully, the police manage to defuse this particular manufactured crisis.

It now turns out the four students involved — who were beaten up when the rumour first surfaced — have been arrested.

Police rushed to the site and arrested four students under Section 151 of CrPC (arrest to prevent commission of cognisable offences) on Tuesday.

Say what? They were arrested to prevent the commission of cognisable offences? Which would be what, exactly?The Station House Officer of the concerned police station says:

The Station House Officer of the concerned police station says:

“We also collected the sample of the meat, which prima facie does not appear to be beef. However, the samples have been sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory for testing and the report is awaited.” he said.

Someone starts a rumour. The police says prima facie, there is no truth to the allegation. And it is the victims of the rumour who are arrested, not the ones who spread it and created a situation that led to actual violence and the possibility of more?

We’ve been banging on about whether there is tolerance in this country. “Where is the intolerance? Show me the intolerance!”, the apologists for the lunatic fringe keep yelling from every available podium.

The hell with that — it is time to reframe the question. And to ask:

Is there due process in this country?

The need for vocational training

A West Bengal resident, who police claimed was behind the killing of three witnesses and four attempts to murder witnesses in rape cases lodged against self-styled godman Asaram and his son Narayan Sai, has been arrested by the Gujarat ATS and Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch in a joint operation.

Karthik alias Raju Dulalchand Haldar, resident of Ramlochanpur in South 24 Parganas, had become a ‘sadhu’ in 2000 and a follower of Asaram, police said.

ATS officers said Karthik was arrested from Sarona Bazar in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, where he had been hiding. They said Karthik hadn’t taken any weapon training, one reason why four of his targets survived.

See why vocational training is so important? There are other points here, but you know what they are so I’ll desist.

And on a personal note: The other half’s birthday today. When I asked her what she wanted, she said “Internet se azaadi, for one day — all I ever see of you is the back of your laptop and the dome of your head sticking above it. Not today.”

What to do? All together, now:

“Hum kya chaahte? Internet se Azaadi”

See you tomorrow, therefore.

Because “something” must be done

A recent news report: (Emphasis mine)

A here on Saturday dropped charges against suspected (LeT) bomb maker Abdul Karim Tunda in 1998 case under the Explosive Substance Act – the fourth case he was facing.

Tunda, one of the 20 terrorists whom India had asked Pakistan to hand over after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, was chargesheeted by Delhi Police in four cases and with Saturday court’s order, he has been discharged in all.

On April 23 last year, another Delhi court dropped charges against Tunda in connection with two separate blast cases – the October 28, 1997 blast in Karol Bagh and October 1, 1997 explosion in Sadar Bazar.

Another court on March 10 last year also discharged the Tunda, accused under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, the Explosive Substances Act, the Arms Act and for criminal conspiracy.

A sessions judge on Saturday discharged Tunda, accused of waging war against India under the Indian Penal Code and under the various provisions of Explosive Substance Act, observing that there lack of evidence to prove the allegations against him.

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