‘They actually tried to repeat Godhra’

Subhashini Ali at Mumbai Collective.

Subhashini Ali at Mumbai Collective.   | Photo Credit: Aadesh Choudhary

Ex-Kanpur MP describes police violence; journalist speaks of eroding of democracy

The stage when those who were against Prime Minister Narendra Modi were called jihadis and anti-nationalists has passed, and now the country has a ‘goli maaro’ culture, said Arfa Khanum Sherwani while speaking at Mumbai Collective on Sunday. Ms. Sherwani, who is a senior editor with The Wire, was part of a session titled ‘The clampdown on dissent’, chaired by Mumbai University professor Mrudul Nile. They were joined by senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Subhashini Ali, a former MP from Kanpur, and president of All India Democratic Women’s Association.

Describing the situation in Uttar Pradesh since the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) came into force, Ms. Ali said, “Post-CAA, people were killed only in BJP-ruled States, including 22 in U.P. They say it’s a police reaction to violence and provocation,” she said.

Ms. Ali spoke of the violence inflicted upon those who participated in the mass protests held in the State on December 19, the martyrdom day of (Ramprasad) Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan. “During one protest, Sadaf Jafar was filming and she pointed out to cops a few miscreants who were disturbing the protest. She was attacked and not the people she was complaining about. She was beaten brutally and abused by male policemen, kept for hours in the police station. This brought on her period and she was bleeding without anything for two days. Only after she was moved to jail did she get whatever she needed.”

Ms. Ali also said many young men were stripped and beaten in jail and The Hindu journalist Omar Rashid was taken in by the police and released after a lot of abuse and threats. “Tumhari dadhi ka ek ek baal noch denge (we will pull out every hair in your beard) — they said to him,” she said.

Speaking about the people who died in the violence in U.P., Ms Ali said families of only two had received post-mortem reports, hence their kin could not file FIRs.

“Meanwhile, recovery notices have been issued. One such person is so poor, he doesn’t have a wall to his house but has been issued a notice of ₹2 lakh. Videos have surfaced of police firing in cold blood. They actually tried to repeat Godhra,” Ms. Ali said.

She spoke of how a police officer had claimed on the news that a mob tried to burn 36 policemen alive by locking them in a room. “But when I went there, I found out people had actually locked them to protect them and there was no sign of arson,” Ms. Ali said. At a protest at Ghantaghar, she said, the women’s toilet was locked, lights shut, and cops went to steal their blankets and biscuits. “They may have killed people but have not been able to kill dissent,” Ms. Ali said.

Ms. Sherwani spoke of the two camps protesting at Shaheen Bagh — one pro-CAA and one anti-CAA — and the polarisation of the nation. “Between 2014 and 2019, we would be called anti-nationalist or jihadis. Anything you said against [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi became anti-India, Modi symbolised the nation, but that stage has also passed. Now there is a clear ‘goli maaro’ culture.”

The journalist spoke of how a speech she gave at Aligarh Muslim University was doctored and used against her. “Some students insisted that they wanted to protest as Muslims but I said no, let them be secular protests. Of my 24-minute speech, the BJP IT cell cropped 30-40 seconds and accused me of being an Islamist. But what is more serious is that these posts were re-tweeted from official BJP handles. They said I was trying to establish an Islamic state. This is a new low and a direct threat to journalists,” she said.

According to the journalist, the 2020s are going to be ‘do or die’ age. “They are very frustrated. They never thought there would be so many people out on streets.”

Speaking about the role of the media, Ms. Sherwani said, “Two senior editors went to Shaheen Bagh and it was called historic…They wanted to say Shaheen Bagh has become like Kashmir (in a lockdown…They wanted to come in through barricades but also bring in police. As a journalist, do we need the police? All you need is a pen or a mic. Otherwise, you were there to spread propaganda. Republic TV is trying to demonise the whole thing by calling them violent protesters.”

She also said there was at least a pretense of democracy between 2014 and 2019, but even that is gone now. “They are saying [indirectly] that this is clear dictatorship. For that they need to establish fear.” According to Ms. Sherwani, the base of the protests need to be widened to include all sections of society. “It is very easy for the ruling party to brand these protests as sectarian. Like any movement, there would be fatigue. Now they are polarising it because they can’t give us vikas (development), so are giving us polarisation, Islamophobia and repression.”

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 8:08:29 AM |

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