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The Hunted in India

By Vinay Bhat for TwoCircles.net

Besides neo-liberalism, perhaps the greatest phenomenon to be globalized has been America’s global war on terror. Post 9/11, nation states have reinvigorated their violent campaigns against marginalized groups. In India, state violence in its quest for both capitalist modes of development and homogenization of the population into a uniform saffron shade has pushed many to imprisonment and death.

The Asian Center for Human Rights (ACHR) released a report titled “Torture in India 2011”, which states that “a total of 14,231 persons i.e. more than four persons per day died in police and judicial custody in India from 2001 to 2010. This includes 1,504 deaths in police custody and 12,727 deaths in judicial custody from 2001-2002 to 2009-2010 as per the cases submitted to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).” It is in light of these gruesome facts that a new human rights battle with the State needs to be waged.

Until a few years ago, perhaps little would have been common between names like Qateel Siddiqui, Fasih Mahmood, Soni Sori, and Lingaram Kodopi. But separation in geography, religion, and class does not prevent a bond through common experience. This common experience has been dealt through successful state sponsored oppression and targeting. In the past one could have perhaps rejected incidents such as what has happened to the individuals above as aberrations that occur during the maintenance of law and order. But the recurring theme of targeting, incarceration, torture and oppression definitely reveals more than that. With all its fangs in public view, the State is quite explicitly waging a war on its citizens and will not stop at anything.

Fasih’s wife Nikhat has knocked all government doors for the whereabouts of her husband.

On June 8th 2012 Qateel Siddiqui, an individual accused for terrorist activities was murdered by inmates in the Yerwada jail, Pune. Siddiqui was arrested on the basis of having links with the Indian Mujahideen (IM) – a phantom group, having so many conflicting stories around it that one would be more inclined to believe in unicorns. Siddiqui was in a high security prison, which begs the question how was this attack carried out if not with the complicity of the prison officials. An interesting twist to this tale is that the inmates that killed Siddiqui – Sharad Mohol and Amol Bhalerao are said to have done so under the pretext of him being involved in “anti-national activities”. This is a repeat from the state’s earlier portrayal of Chotta Rajan as the nationalist don, out there to protect India from the anti-national don Dawood Ibrahim. It was not sufficient to eliminate an under-trial, and one had to create a heroic motive to the murder, so that what one should expect from society even in this case is only silence.

A few weeks before Siddiqui’s murder, an Indian engineer based in Saudi Arabia Fasih Mahmood was apprehended by plain clothes Indian and Saudi officials in Saudi Arabia, while he and his wife were packing to be transferred to another city. Mahmood was to be deported on the same night of May 15th, but almost four weeks on, the Indian Government cannot even say where Mahmood is. The only person who seems to know of his whereabouts, is the “terrorism expert” journalist Praveen Swami, who like the past can pass his summary judgments and seems to have the entire Indian intelligence machinery at his disposal. Swami reported that the Interpol was to issue a warrant for the arrest of Mahmood in connection with the Bangalore stadium bomb blasts, and that Mahmood had links with IM. Now of course, the Indian Government categorically denies knowing where Mahmood is. In response to a twitter campaign asking where Fasih Mahmood is, Syed Akbarudin the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs had only this to say: “It is not only you. We are all working to know that”. Official reports state that the Saudi Government is neither accepting nor denying knowing Mahmood’s whereabouts.

It is this vicious collusion of the State with the media generating terrorists out of ordinary citizens, which ultimately helps maintain the status-quo. In the tribal belt of India, the media white-washing of Operation Green Hunt into a war against Maoism, helps maintain public sentiment on this state of civil war. Our silence helps emboldens the State to grant a presidential gallantry award to SP Ankit Garg responsible for the sexual torture of an Adivasi school teacher Soni Sori. The violence is thus legitimized. A few years from now, no one will even question the authenticity of these arrests, for the perpetrators have all been decorated as heroes, while the victims painted as villains. Soni Sori’s name routinely appears now in tabloids as a Maoist – with the token word “accused” altogether dropped. Sori faced the worst forms of humiliation in prison, with independent medical exams revealing that stones were inserted into her vagina and rectum. Sori has written about this from jail mentioning that “unspeakable things were done to her”.

Her nephew Lingaram Kodopi, suffers a similar fate in Chattisgarh for committing the crime of video documenting the burning down of three villages in Dantewada by State-sponsored vigilante groups. Kodopi was branded as a Maoist almost a year before he was arrested, having been declared the spokesperson replacing the earlier spokesperson Azad. Like his aunt, Kodopi has also called on our collective conscience by writing from jail, appealing to us and asking society if their crime is to that they are “Adivasis”. Kodopi speaks of the ill treatment through food deprivation and beatings that he and other inmates accused of Maoism routinely go through in prison. His most chilling words reflect the situation that the marginalized in India must feel each day. “Probably, I do not belong to this country at all.” he says in desperation.

Siddiqui is dead now, and we will perhaps never know the truth about his innocence or the lack of it. The chapter will be closed as an act of inmate violence. Our saffron society would want us to wipe away Mahmood, Sori and Kodopi from our memories as well. The blood-thirstiness of Indian elites is not a new phenomenon but post 26/11 has breathed new life. Tolerance for judicial processes is limited, and we would rather simply eliminate “all threats”. And, so even the Supreme Court on certain occasions has to sentence people without evidence to satisfy the “collective conscience of the country”. This is the convenient way out. There is however pockets of people who are fighting for the dignity of those summarily pronounced as lesser humans. These fights must not go on in isolation any more. There is method to the madness in which these individuals are targeted, and so the resistance must have an equally potent method. It is time to fight a concerted battle on the streets for our brothers and sisters who are oppressed and speak in unison when it is our turn to speak. There lies our hope. A democracy cannot tolerate a hunt on any section of its citizens.

Vinay Bhat is a community activist based in northern California.