Hanging (On Wall) Without Trial

The BJP government in Uttar Pradesh obviously likes to follow outdated medieval rules. It is obsessed with a kind of revenge politics seldom seen in the Hindi heartland; a government choosing to repeatedly unleash daily vengeance, suffering, punishment and humiliation against its own people, especially peaceful dissenters against the CAA/NRC/NPR, especially against those with Muslim names.

Wanted dead or alive, as in rugged posters or sarkari notices pasted on public walls. Non-violent protestors are given the same treatment as terrorists, hardened criminals, history-sheeters and absconders under the current regime.

Blame, name and shame. Brand them as criminals for the entire world to see. Condemn and degrade them as a public spectacle. Advertise their homes and addresses. Demonise and socially isolate them. Make them vulnerable to abuses and attacks. Even, physical attacks. Teach them a lesson of their lives.

ALSO READ: HC Tells Yogi To Remove Name-Shame Hoardings

Even if there is no evidence; not even worth an iota of factual objectivity. Even if in case after case the UP government’s negative and prejudiced campaign has collapsed. Even if the cases are sub-judice, with observations in the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court, and, mind you, strong observations, as made by the state high court.

Like a man with a drum beating his way through the rural hinterland and in market places in medieval times pronouncing punishment for miscellaneous individuals accused of crime by the monarchy or local, oppressive feudal chieftains. Or, as in Iran, or, as by the Taliban and fundamentalist Islamists in South Waziristan etc – hang them on a public square, or stone them to death in a football stadium, as a public spectacle, so that the entire populace in subjugation can see their own image in the faces of the condemned in case they don’t follow the dominant, hegemonic line.

The ‘name and shame’ hoardings against the protestors were put up in a public space in Lucknow by the administration and police led by Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of UP, who wears saffron as a sign of his inherited saintliness. However, this self-mage has no saintly aversion to the shadowy zones of worldliness and its negative characteristics, such as hate, power, and violent and bad language. He truly and symbolically marks the end of the State as a secular entity.

So what did the Allahabad High Court state in response to a petition questioning this public degradation and humiliation of ordinary people and respectable citizens of Lucknow, including prominent civil society and social activits, like Sadaf Jafar? What is the significance of this extra-judicial trail?

Indeed, Sadaf was simply clicking pictures, making a video perhaps, while warning the police to look for violent rioters during the early phase of protests in Lucknow, which followed a pattern elsewhere. This method in the madness, or the pattern of violence and blood on the streets, were mainly followed only in BJP-ruled states. It reached its apocalyptic finale in Northeast Delhi soon after, with the cops looking elsewhere, or, becoming, yet again, a partisan accomplice to the violence unleashed on the minority community.

WATCH: ‘Left Only With Clothes I Am Wearing’

Clearly, the riots were engineered in Delhi, to create Hindu-Muslim communal polarisation. And, surely, it was also a pogrom, with property, homes and shops of Muslims targeted and ravaged – along with their organised killings.

More than 20 people were killed, including, reportedly, bystanders and innocent people who had nothing to do with the protests in UP. The UP police blamed the protestors for killing the protestors, in an absurd and ironical twist of diabolical irrationality.  Besides, in some towns, the cops attacked Muslim households at midnight, beating up law-abiding residents, and, allegedly, stealing stuff too, as stated by the locals.

Besides Sadaf, who is also a Congress leader, veteran police officer, a former highly respected Inspector General in the UP Police, SR Darapuri, was arrested. Sadaf was allegedly abused and beaten up in police custody – namely because her name reflected a community which is openly hated by the current regimes and their fanatic bhakts in Delhi and Lucknow.

Boli se nahin to goli se,” said the Yogi in the run-up the assembly elections in Delhi, where the BJP yet again openly played the communal card. This sounded almost like the old Texan saying: “The law hangs on the hip.” Surely, he was only following the provocative call given earlier by Union minister Anurag Thakur seconded by a Hinduva mob which seemed thirsty for blood:  Desh ke gaddaro ko… goli maaro etc.”

However, as the whole nation and the world witnessed with awe and shock, when an upright Delhi High Court judge followed the rule of law and asked the police to file FIRs against those BJP politicians who indulged in hate speech, which, clearly, led to the riots, arson and killings in Northeast Delhi, he was promptly transferred. The government called it a routine transfer – but the midnight order would always remind the people of the midnight knocks during Indira Gandhi’s notorious Emergency, and the travesty of justice in contemporary India.

The Allahabad High Court, while asking the Yogi government to remove the hoardings, said: “In entirety, we are having no doubt that the action of the State, which is subject matter of this public interest litigation, is nothing but an unwarranted interference in privacy of people. The same, hence, is in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” a Division Bench of Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Ramesh Sinha said.

The Bench stated: “… (The) Advocate General failed to satisfy us as to why the personal data of few persons have been placed on banners though in the state of Uttar Pradesh (when) there are lakhs of accused persons who are facing serious allegations pertaining to commission of crimes whose personal details have not been subjected to publicity,” the high court said in its 14-page order.

“…There are certain provisions empowering the investigating agencies or other executives to take picture of accused for the purpose of their identification and record but that too is not open for publication. The only time these photographs can be published is to have assistance in the apprehension of a fugitive from justice,” said the court. The court observed that “no law is in existence permitting the State to place the banners with personal data of the accused from whom compensation is to be charged.”

The UP government, instead of accepting its grave mistake, went to the apex court. The Supreme Court told the Yogi government that its decision to put up hoardings identifying anti-CAA protesters has no backing in law. It, however, did not pass any interim order and said the matter would be heard later by a three-judge bench.

Ideally, it should have immediately endorsed the Allahabad High Court judgement and asked the UP administration to take down the hoardings with immediate effect. However, in these times, the ideal, or idealism, seems as distant or compromised as the law and order machinery, or the ethics of good governance, as in the state of Uttar Pradesh led by a self-styled yogi in saffron.

Picture courtesy: Sadaf Jafar/Facebook

‘Traffic At Shaheen Bagh A Mess But A Small Price For…’

Mohammad Atif, a 24-year-old M Tech student who stays in Shaheen Bagh, says the cause to save our Constitution is bigger than the minor inconvenience for the local commuters in the locality

I belong to Lucknow but have been staying in south Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area for several months at my cousin’s house. I came here to complete my M. Tech dissertation which coincided with the eruption of Jamia protests and the aftermath. And what a time it has been to be in Shaheen Bagh!

I had to visit my institute in South Delhi daily when the protests were in full swing. I did have to take a longer route to reach because of the arterial 2.5 km stretch at Shaheen Bagh being closed. The protest site isn’t disturbing people as much as the excessive blockades /barriers put in place by the administration even when some feel they are not needed.

ALSO READ: ‘Govt Must Talk To Protesters’

Even newspapers/websites are now reporting that a few of the alternative routes didn’t even need to be blocked and is causing problems to people unnecessarily, especially those travelling to and from Noida, Sarita Vihar, Kalindi Kunj, Jamia, and an alternative route to Faridabad.

Indeed travelling into and out of Shaheen Bagh is even more cumbersome for a daily commuter. For me too, with petrol prices remaining consistently high, travelling the extra stretch to reach my institute on a bike has increased the budget for sure, though not considerably.

ALSO READ: ‘Shaheen Inspired Kadru Bagh In Ranchi’

Many people who earlier used to get picked up and dropped at their respective houses for their offices in Noida now have to take the Metro as the cabs can’t enter inside Shaheen Bagh. This might be a difficult thing, especially for women who get dropped during the night. Moreover, travelling in the Metro also cause a dent in many people’s pockets. Middle class might not feel the pinch as much, but the lower income group for whom every penny is important, is finding it more difficult.

However, most locals are considering it as their contribution to nation-building and don’t mind suffering a little bit if the protest makes their voices reach the powers that be. Ambulances and school buses are moving easily though.

WATCH: ‘Modi Has Woken Up A Sleeping Tiger’

The protest site is near the commercial hub of Shaheen Bagh, so many a shop, outlet etc. have been closed for two months now. It is affecting the livelihoods of people, but again they feel that they are contributing in saving the Constitution and all that it stands for. We just hope that a solution is reached soon and the government initiates a dialogue with the protesters.

There are a few residences near the protest site and I wonder how they are handling all the sounds from loudspeakers day in and day out, though I have been told and have witnessed too ke protest bahut tameez se ki ja rahi hai. Poora khayal rakha ja raha hai ke kisi ko koi pareshani na ho (The protests are being done in a very nice manner and care is being taken that nobody suffers because of the protests).

‘CAA Protesters Are Ill-Informed, Govt Must Talk To Them’

Aashi Sanjaya, an IT professional in Delhi-NCR, feels anti-CAA protesters at Shaheen Bagh do not fully understand what NRC and CAA are all about. The government must initiate dialogue with them to allay their fears

I wholeheartedly support the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). For a country as huge and populous as ours we surely need to be in the know about the people living here, so that our safety and security isn’t compromised. First, we should remove illegal immigrants with the help of NRC and later, with the help of CAA, give relief and refuge to those who have come to India after being persecuted in the neighbourhood on the basis of their religion. We have suffered for far too long when it comes to security concerns and we can’t afford to be lax anymore.

As for people who are opposing it, I think they need to inform themselves better. On the government’s part, it should open communication channel at multiple levels (right from the ground level authorities to the ministers) to alleviate the fears of people.

ALSO READ: ‘CAA Will Give Citizenship, Not Take It Away’

The logic behind CAA is simple. If Muslims are being persecuted in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, they have many Islamic countries (more than 50 I believe), but if Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists etc. are being persecuted on the basis of religion, which country do they turn to except India?

I think people need to understand this very clearly that the Home Minister Amit Shah isn’t going to take away the citizenship of Indian Muslims through NRC or CAA. Indian Muslims are safe here.

ALSO READ: ‘If Amit Shah Can’t Budge, Shaheen Bagh Won’t Either’

I don’t understand what the protests are all about. Sometimes, I feel people are protesting just for the sake of protesting. I belong to Lucknow where Hindus and Muslims have coexisted peacefully with each other for long. Believe me the ground situation is pretty difficult than what is portrayed in the media.

If people are scared, why are they sitting on the roads and making the lives of ordinary citizens difficult? Take a leaf out of a corporate setting. If, for example, I fear that something wrong might happen with me in future jobwise, shouldn’t I try to talk to my seniors or should I just go out on the road and start telling everyone that I am being treated unfairly? A public protest should probably happen after every other peaceful option to talk to the senior managers have failed.

ALSO WATCH: Modi Has Woken UP A Sleeping Tiger

Similarly I feel people from Shaheen Bagh should have formed a committee/group and taken the matter up with local representatives first and then to the higher authorities. Then if the authorities didn’t take any steps, the ball would be in their court. That might actually bring about some real change as well.

Do these protesters realise the hardships being caused to daily commuters and road users because of their protests?

My father has been keeping unwell since last year and I travel every weekend from Gurgaon to Noida to meet him, many a times alone. Due to the Shaheen Bagh protests I have to take a longer route (which goes through deserted stretches in some places), plus I am able to spend less time with my parents. I wonder how other people with family members who are unwell are managing, or women who have travel on this stretch everyday are managing. Proper communication from both the sides is the need of the hour.

Deepika Padukone – Choosing Conscience Over Caution

Being the richest Bollywood woman actor for three consecutive years, with several hits and recent entry into matrimony could have made Deepika Padukone cautious. But she has chosen to be conscientious and, no matter which side of India’s growing political divide perceives her, controversial.    

She went unannounced to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)’s campus, in turmoil after unprecedented violence, one wintry evening. Dressed in black, she stood tall, literally (1.74 m) and otherwise. Her hands folded, she expressed solidarity with agitating students and teachers, some of them injured and in bandage.   

She did not speak a word. Her presence was electrifying, going by the media reports next day. That was just the beginning.

ALSO READ: JNU Is Not Going To Crawl, Or Bend

For someone outspoken but not known for political leanings, she went to “ground zero”, well beyond candle lights and solidarity speeches at Mumbai’s Gateway of India and New Delhi’s India Gate. She stood out even over those few from Bollywood and those of other filmmaking hubs who have chosen to speak up.

Unsurprisingly, bouquets and brickbats came, perhaps, in equal measure. Wasn’t she doing this to promote her latest movie Chhapaak (Splash), her critics demanded to know. Their call went out: boycott her and the movie.  

Deepika may well be the most-trolled person. Her critics include women, despite the movie being about acid attack on a girl who rejects overtures from a much-older suitor. It is based on a real-life story – indeed many stories – as it highlights a common issue across South Asia.

ALSO READ: ‘JNU Violence Has Left Deep Scars’

In visiting the JNU, she had exercised her “personal choice”, the film’s director Meghna Gulzar said. It is interpreted as the director distancing herself for fear of the movie losing at the box office. But Kangana Ranaut, another outspoken Bollywoodian, perceived as Deepika’s rival, has said the same thing. Ditto, Union minister Prakash Javdekar. Asked if his government endorsed the boycott call, of the film or the actor for going to the JNU, he said this was her democratic right.

Post the JNU visit, the film’s viewership rating on IMDb suffered. The website was flooded with single stars awarded by viewers, causing suspicion of foul play. Whatever the truth, Chhapaak has ‘crashed’ at the box office, trade reports say, despite heaps of praise in film reviews. Did she fritter away the empathy the movie’s theme and her sterling performance have generated?

Being candid and courting controversies are not new to Deepika. When the set of her film Padmavat was attacked and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali was slapped two years ago, she spoke out, unlike the male actors, including Ranveer Singh whom she later married.         

She and Ranveer who began dating in 2013 were very discreet about their relationship. But Deepika has never hidden her past relationships, either with actor Ranbir Kapoor or with industrialist Siddharth Mallya whom she briefly dated.

Sometime in 2014 when her career was swinging up, she was diagnosed with depression. For her to speak openly about it, despite being a huge star, was remarkable. She not only battled it but has championed the cause by setting up a foundation to help others. She spoke about it at Davos, Switzerland, this week.

Protesting a caption to her photo, she challenged the country’s biggest media house: “Yes, I have breasts… and a cleavage… any problems?” It caused uproar. There were attempts to defend it as freedom of expression and argue that movie actors were “public property” and must bear such comments sportingly. She did not yield ground and earned a veiled apology.  

Stardom comes at a price. But she has been lucky, too, being ranked the first-ever woman among the top five richest celebrities in India. She was placed fourth in the Forbes India Celebrity 100 list in 2018 with her earnings assessed at Rs 112.80 crore.

Deepika’s journey in Bollywood (and as much in public life) has been a mix of self-belief and some luck. Before her entry into Bollywood, she played badminton like her champion father Prakash Padukone. Debuting on the ramp in 2005, she was among India’s top models. All models are tall and slender, but she is remembered for her 100-watt smile. Her 2006 Kingfisher Calendar pictures remain a benchmark. She also did the Liril, Limca and Close Up ads during that period.

Thanks to these early successes, Bollywood director Farah Khan gave Deepika, then one Kannada language film old, her Bollywood break in 2007, casting her opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om. Her career slumped soon after, with just a dance number with SRK in Billu. Unafraid of soiling her star image, she sat among the SRK fans in a reality show and asked when he would again work with her.   

From badminton to Bollywood to Hollywood, working with Vin Diesel, she has trudged on. My own favourite is Piku. In a power-packed performance, she excels as a head-strong architect living with her ageing hypochondriac father, played by Amitabh Bachchan. She matched another seasoned actor, Irfan. With Piku, the woman of substance had arrived. A small film, Piku made three times the money invested. The Bengali character this southern lass played got then President Pranab Mukherjee to host the film’s show at the Rashtrapti Bhavan.

For now, we will not know if Deepika is in trouble, or out of it. Media reports have darkly suggested that she could lose some brands she endorses. It is probably a warning to her and her likes in the world of entertainment. Perhaps, that is the price to pay for political activism, especially when the protests she associated with are continuing, now into second month and are spreading to smaller towns.

At Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Millia Islamia campus, the other “ground zero”, thousands, including women with babies, braving biting cold, are protesting against the Modi Government’s controversial citizenship law. Their collective determination is mind-boggling. But how long will this sustain?   

Media reports are not uniform – they cannot be. The PM himself complains that the ‘maadhyam’ (media) is one-sided and alleges that rallies supporting that law are being “blacked out.” He asked partymen to “reach out.” Counter-protests are now becoming frequent, some even violent. No let-up.  

Some of Mr Modi’s allies are nervous over the citizenship row. Asked to stick by, Punjab’s Akali Dal, an alliance partner, has boycotted elections to Delhi Assembly. Legislatures of some opposition-ruled states have passed resolutions opposing the law. In this no-holds-barred confrontation in India’s winter of discontent, we have to watch if Deepika will remain just an event or there will be more Deepikas coming forward.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

‘Mothers Are At Shaheen Bagh To Save Their Children Future’

Aqsa Khursheed, a 19-year-old Political Science student, says the protest at Shaheen Bagh will not peter out because it is run by mothers who are battling for their children’s well-being

The demonstration at Shaheen Bagh started on December 15 and there are no signs of the protest wearing off. It is amazing to see the sheer number of people and their steely strength to stay put for the cause. People from all religions have been registering their presence at the protest site. The protest site at Shaheen Bagh is a five minute walk from my place, so I have been witnessing it from the start.

While the women sit and sleep near the main stage, men form a circle or sort of human chain around the women to keep them safe. From 3-month-old babies to 12- year-old kids, the kids accompanying their mothers don’t know that history is being created. We are working on Gandhian principles and you can call our protest as Satyagraha.

ALSO READ: If Amit Shah Can’t Budge, We Too Won’t

If you were to ask me what is giving the women of Shaheen Bagh the strength to carry on in this severe cold of Delhi, I would say it is maa ka jazba (a mother’s passion). There is no power bigger or stronger than the love that a mother feels for her child.

Most women want a safer country for their children, and that is why they are here. Also, many women felt sad about the fact that they couldn’t do much when the students at Jamia were being beaten up last month. They say that if their children (Jamia students) can stand fearlessly, they too can. Maaon ko thand nahi lagti (A mother knows not what cold weather is).

Aqsa Khursheed with an anti-CAA placard at Shaheen Bagh protest site

Shaheen Bagh in Delhi has become the epicentre of protests against Citizenship Act and NRC (National Register of Citizens) and we have assembled here to save the Constitution as well as our constitutional rights.

WATCH: ‘Modi Has Woken Up A Sleeping Tiger’

We are very well organised and connected. Several days back, there were reports that the police were trying to remove the protestors from the site, after a heavy police presence was seen in the area. Around 4 pm on Sunday (January 5) many police vans, buses etc had gathered up near the site. The word spread and in less than an hour, swarm of people began pouring in at Shaheen Bagh to show their solidarity with the protesters.

Shaheen Bagh has shown to what lengths people can go if they are determined about what they want. Menfolk aren’t complaining about women being at the protest site day in and day out. It is heartening to see that my father, who till a few days ago didn’t know how to cook, keeps on telling my mother, “You be comfortable and go to the protest site, I will take care of myself. I will make my own tea or the food that I want to eat.” He thinks there is nothing more important for my mother than saving the Constitution.

WATCH: How Supporters Keep Shaheen Bagh Alive

The residents of Shaheen Bagh have opened their doors to anyone who comes to the protest site. The level of trust people have in each other is a beautiful experience. People from far off are coming to Shaheen Bagh. We are here to safeguard our fundamental rights as citizens of this country (Articles 14- 32 of the Constitution) and we hope the government will listen to us soon. We have faith that the situation will change, now that the people have woken up to both their rights and duties as citizens.