"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

From Bujha Singh to Varavara Rao: Indian state’s barbarity has no bounds Featured

 

Gurpreet Singh  

July 28 marks 50 years of the extra-judicial killing of an 82-year-old former Indian freedom fighter by none other than the police force of his own nation.  

Bujha Singh, who deserved state honours for participating in the struggle to rid India of the British occupation, was instead murdered by the police for his association with revolutionary communist movement sparked by an uprising of landless tillers who've been fighting against the rich and the elites since the 1960s. 

Singh was part of the Ghadar party, that was launched in 1913 by Indian immigrants who lived in B.C., Washington, Oregon, and California to rid India of foreign occupation trough armed resistance. Later, it spread its wings and those who lived in faraway places such as South America also established branches. 

Singh, who worked in Argentina, was instrumental in creating a chapter in that country. Formally known as Hindi Pacific Association, it came to be known as the Ghadar Party after the launching of its official newspaper called Ghadar, which means "mutiny" in Urdu. 

The Ghadar Party believed in social justice and equality. Its members desired to establish a democratic, secular, and socialistic republic that provided equal opportunities to everyone with no discrimination against the poor or marginalized. 

Many Ghadar activists returned to India hoping to start an insurgency, only to face the gallows or life imprisonment. They did not get the desired support from the public, as the popular leadership of the independence movement was in the hands of moderates, who denounced political violence. 

Those who survived carried on their struggle even in post-independent India after the British left in 1947. Among them was Singh, who became a die-hard Communist. 

Following an uprising in the Naxalbari village of West Bengal by poor farmers, who claimed a right to the land, there was a campaign of police repression. People like Singh parted ways with the mainstream Communist parties to join the radicals. All reports indicate that he died in a staged shootout by Punjab police. From his perspective, India's independence was merely symbolic, really just transfer of power between the ruling classes of Britain and India. 

Influenced by Ghadar ideology, the revolutionary communists have continued their struggle.  

Half century later, the history of Singh is being repeated in the form of state repression of those who are in the forefront of this fight. Among them is a Telugu radical poet and political activist, Varavara Rao.  

The 81-year-old Rao has been recently tested positive for COVID 19, leaving his family and admirers deeply worried.   

In spite of old age and poor health, he was being held in Mumbai jail, then shifted to hospital only recently, after his condition deteriorated.  

Arrested in August 2018, he was thrown into prison on trumped up charges after being branded as a Maoist ideologue, accused of being involved in a plot to assassinate right wing Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These allegations have been strongly refuted by his relatives and supporters, who believe that all this is being done to stifle voices of dissent.   

Rao is among several known scholars and human rights defenders detained for merely standing up for the poor and marginalized, especially Adivasis (Indigenous peoples), who continue to face displacement from their traditional territories by the extraction industry looking for access to mineral-rich lands with the backing of the state. 

Maoist insurgents, fighting a class war, have been active in tribal areas, where Adivasis often take up arms due to the high-handedness of the police and security forces. The roots of their movement can be traced back to the bloody events of Naxalbari. Many Adivasis see Maoists as protectors in their fight for survival from barbarity of the state. 

Rao’s health condition worsened over the last several days, as the threat of COVID 19 hovers over badly crammed Indian jails. Despite many petitions and protests seeking the release of political prisoners under these extraordinary circumstances, the authorities have refused to release him on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. There is a a feeling among his supporters that the Indian state wants to finish him legally and send a message to the opposition.  

If this was not enough, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) opposed the bail application for Rao, claiming that he was trying to take “undue benefit of his situation”.   

All this only reflects on India’s so called democracy.  Rather than trying to get to the bottom of the problem of social unrest caused by systemic injustice and inequality, the state is going after veterans such as Singh or Rao, to instil fear in the minds of political dissidents. And to achieve that end, Indian officials can go to any length.  

It’s a shame that Indian society claims to be respectful of its seniors, but remains indifferent to these horrific stories. The tales of these two men shows that the Indian system’s brutal side remains unchanged even as the disparity between the rich and the poor has grown over the past 50 years. There is no respite to the most underprivileged and underserved, despite tall claims of development and progress.   

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