Keeping Alive the Struggle for Justice: AISA’s torchlight procession demands a judicial probe into Batla House ‘encounter’

This 19th September will mark two years since two young men were killed by police bullets in a flat in Batla House. While the police and government claimed the killing as a major success of its counter-terrorism operation, alleging that Atif and Sajid were the key operatives of an organization called Indian Mujahideen, civil rights activist pointed out the loopholes in the police story. What strengthened the suspicion of local residents and rights activists was the refusal of the government to concede to the demand for a judicial probe into the incident. Despite the NHRC requirement of a magisterial probe into encounter killings, the Delhi government and the Lt. Governor stalled even that. However, electoral politics compelled the ruling Congress party to send its liberal and secular face to the people of Azamgarh, suffering from the stigma of being branded ‘Atankgarh’ and the trauma of having many of their sons killed or arrested as terrorists. Digvijay Singh’s visit was advertised as the Congress’ healing touch.

More than six months after this supposed healing touch, nothing concrete has materialized on the ground. Despite the publication of the post mortem reports which clearly established that the two slain youth were killed from close range and that they did not receive a single bullet wound in the frontal regions of their bodies—an impossibility in the case of a genuine shootout. It is obvious to anyone now that the NHRC enquiry was sham and partisan in its conclusions. There has been no sign that the UPA government is willing to order a free and fair probe. This should not cause any surprise though. Earlier even in the Ishrat Jehan fake encounter case, the so-called ‘secular’ UPA consistently bulldozed demands for an enquiry and also filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating the Ishrat was a Lashkar operative.

Indeed, both the BJP and the Congress governments have been united in unleashing a communal witch hunt in the name of combating terrorism. The recent revelations about the deep involvement of Hindutva organizations like Abhinav Bharat in planning and executing bomb blasts reveals the biased nature of the investigations so far. It shows who easy it is to execute Sohrabuddins and Ishrats and legitimize it as a counter terror operation; and how difficult it is to even conceive of Hindutva organizations as terrorist outfits.

AISA’s torchlight procession was taken out against this politics of witch hunt and stereotyping; and to assert the struggle for justice and truth, on the eve of the second anniversary of the ‘encounter’. Students and teachers from Jamia, Delhi University, and JNU, as well as civil rights activists and filmmakers participated in large numbers.

It Takes More Than Guns to Kill A Man: Carry Forward Com. Chandrashekhar’s Legacy !

“Our coming generations will ask us for an answer, they will ask us, where were you when new social forces were being unleashed, where were you when people who live and die every moment, every day strived for their rights, where were you when there was an assertion of the marginal voices of the society. They will seek an answer from all of us…”

– Comrade Chandrashekhar

On 19th September, as we observe the birth anniversary of Comrade Chandrashekhar, it is imperative that we recall his vision of student politics. His words, his life and his politics remind us of the historic role of the student movement – and the responsibility that each and every one of us has to carry forward his legacy.

Com. Chandu’s Journey and Political Initiatives

Chandu, who was the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) President for two terms in 1994-95 and 1995-96, left JNU to become a whole time activist of the CPI(ML) in his hometown Siwan in Bihar. He was shot dead on 31 March 1997 while addressing a street corner meeting in Siwan town, by goons at the behest of RJD MP Mohd. Shahabuddin.

His journey began as an ordinary student in Sainik School Tilaiyya, who joined the NDA. However, he soon left the NDA, finding that it did not fulfil his deep desire to struggle against social injustice. He joined the Left movement as an activist of the CPI, becoming the Vice President of the AISF in Bihar. However, the politics of the CPI too was deeply dissatisfying for him. When he joined JNU in 1990, he was attracted to the radical politics of the then fledging organisation, AISA. He played an important role in AISA’s formative years in JNU.

Chandrashekhar entered JNU during a period of tumultuous political developments: the collapse of the Soviet union, the anti-Mandal frenzy, and BJP’s rath yatra that announced the arrival of communal fascism as a major player on the stage of Indian politics. He was one of the architects of AISA’s spirited resistance against communal fascism in the early 1990s – from Allahabad to Banaras and finally in JNU, he led students to counter the communal frenzy that the Sangh Parivar was whipping up across the country.

This was also a period when under the AISA leadership the role of JNUSU was redefined: JNUSU became a real ‘site of struggle’ rather than a ‘site of power’. As a leader of the JNUSU, Chandrashekhar led successful struggles for the restoration of deprivation points in JNU admissions (on the basis of social, regional and gender deprivations) which had been scrapped in 1983. As a result, JNU’s demography changed – women, as well as students from deprived backgrounds began to take admission in JNU in substantial numbers. The early 1990s saw a renewed neo-liberal assault, and ‘reforms’ were converting Central Universities into enclaves of the rich. It was in such a scenario that Chandu led a remarkable and massive agitation which succeeded in foiling an attempt at imposing fee hikes and privatisation in JNU in 1995.

Bridging the Barriers …..

For Chandrashekhar, JNU and other academic institutions were not isolated islands. He continuously tried to bridge the artificial barriers between the student movement and the people’s movement raging in different parts of the country. Be it the protests against the rape of Bhanwari Devi in Rajasthan, the struggle for independence of the people of Palestine, or the massacre of dalit landless poor at Bathani Tola, the Narmada Bachao movement against displacement of tribals in the name of development, the rape by police of activists of the Uttarakhand separate state movement in Muzaffarnagar, against state repression in the North east and Kashmir, against draconian laws like TADA and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Chandu made the student movement an integral part of all those movements.

In 1995 he represented India in the UN-sponsored youth conference in Seoul, where he formed a group of third world representatives inside the conference and moved several resolutions against US imperialism, eventually staging a walkout in protest. Risking the wrath of Korean authorities, he contacted many outlawed left-wing student leaders and even addressed a huge rally of students on the issue of Korean reunification.

During the JNUSU Presidential Debate of 1994, Chandu replied to a question: “Yes, I’m ambitious – my ambition is to live like Bhagat Singh and die like Che Guevara!” Chandu indeed lived and died as he had wished.

Chandrashekhar’s Legacy

Today’s the best possible, and in fact the only tribute that we can pay to Chandu’s memory is not tears, but a renewed commitment to the struggles that defined his politics. Remembering Chandrashekhar, we and our student movement too must ask ourselves:

  • Where were you when innocent Muslims in your country were being branded as ‘terrorists’ and witch-hunted while perpetrators of riots were hailed as heroes? Did you speak out for justice – or remain silent?
  • Where were you when the Commonwealth Games were being used an excuse to further massive corruption and misutilisation of public funds? Were you celebrating our colonial legacy and participating in the ‘Queen’s Baton Rally’? Or were you raising your voice against the exploitation of workers and eviction of slum dwellers, beggars, street vendors and students from Delhi?
  • Where were you when hundreds of young women were being killed by their families for daring to break the barriers of caste and religion? Were you justifying ‘honour killings’, or were you defending the individual freedom of choice in love and marriage?
  • Where were you when hundreds of Kashmiri men, women and children were on the streets protesting against state repression and facing guns and batons? Were you defending AFSPA? Or were you joining the Kashmiri people’s demand of peace and freedom from state repression?
  • Where were you when the people of Nandigram, Lanjigarh, Niyamgiri and Gurgaon were waging a struggle to save their land and livelihood? Did you defend the lathis and bullets that were rained down on them; did you brand the protesting peasants as ‘terrorists’? Or did you join the peasants and uphold their struggle?
  • When India’s rulers sought to abjectly sell India’s sovereignty and sign the Nuclear Liability Bill, did you stand up in defence of the lives and livelihoods of Indian people; or did you allow the powers-that-be to surrender to US imperialism and corporate interests?

Resist the Commercial Film Industry’s Attempt to Distort Chandrashekhar’s Memory and Legacy

Recently, Chandu’s contemporaries and comrades from CPI(ML) and AISA came to know from newspaper reports that filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt was proposing to make a film on Chandu’s life. They wrote to Mahesh Bhatt, expressing their skepticism about the ability of a mainstream, commercial film to capture the politics and ideology that Chandu lived and died for. They stressed that Chandrashekhar was no ‘lone’ apolitical hero (of the kind preferred by the film industry), and there was every fear that a commercial film might divorce Chandu from the revolutionary movement of which he was an integral part. It now appears that these apprehensions were well-founded.

In the course of a conversation with a CPI(ML) leader in Delhi, the actor who will be playing the role of Chandu in the film, as well as a member of the ‘research’ team for the film revealed that they visited Chandu’s hometown Siwan as part of their preparations for the film. During this visit, they declared that they ‘avoided’ meeting local CPI(ML) activists in keeping with explicit instructions from the local SSP and district authorities. In the words of the member of the film’s research unit, the SSP had ‘correctly’ advised them not to talk to local CPI(ML) people, since in his words “they might take credit instead of giving credit to Chandrashekhar.” This attitude of total contempt for the very people whom Chandu worked with and identified with is a total negation of the politics that he stood for. Clearly, this film is being made by people who have the least understanding, concern or respect for communist politics. The same member of the film’s research team also declared that on the basis of the Siwan visit, they have ‘concluded’ that Chandu’s death was an ‘accidental martyrdom’! Let us remember, that right after Chandu’s murder, there were attempts by the RJD and Shahabuddin himself others to claim that Chandrashekhar had not been the target of a political assassination; that his death was an ‘accidental’ fall out of a ‘personal’ vendetta against some other person. JNU students along with friends and comrades of Chandrashekhar have raised their voice to tell the would-be makers of the film – ‘Leave Chandrashekhar alone!’ Chandrashekhar lives in the hearts and minds of every CPI(ML) activist, every idealist youth and student, every person committed to social transformation – he needs no movie to propagate his legacy. Mr. Bhatt and his friends would be better advised to stick to a fictional character of their imagination – and leave the reality of Chandrashekhar’s life and struggle in the safe hands of those who shared his commitments and his struggles.

The student movement has a historic responsibility – to carry forward the struggles that Chandu lived and died for, and prevent his legacy from being appropriated or misrepresented.

Swarg Se Bidai

Brothers and Sisters this magnificent structure is now ready
Now you may leave…
With your full strength
You cut the ground
Laid a deep foundation
Many of your comrades
Were even buried beneath the earth

To be brief, you’ve created
A shimmering heaven
Of comfort, convenience and freedom
A secure enclave
For this labour
And effort
Many thanks to you
Now you may leave
…those dim hovels you’ve erected over there
You’d better clear them off too…
You are free
our responsibilities are over
now it is not right for you to stay here for a minute longer.

—- Gorakh Pandey, Swarg Se Bidai (Adieu from Heaven)

Stop Robbing India’s Poor to Conduct CWG 2010 Reclaim the anti-imperialist legacy of the HSRA!

The manifesto of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, issued on 9th September 1928, describes how, “Today crores of people are victims of ignorance and poverty. The mass of India’s population which comprises workers and farmers are being subjected to foreign pressure and economic exploitation. The condition of India’s working classes is very grave today. It faces two threats — on the one hand, that of foreign capitalism, and on the other, the treacherous assault of the Indian capitalists.” How true these words still ring today, when we consider the condition of the people of our country!

On 9th September 2010, commemorating the foundation day of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, AISA will be launching protests across the country against the massive exploitation and corruption  being forced upon India’s poor in order to conduct the Commonwealth Games 2010 in New Delhi.

Massive Corruption and Misutilisation of Funds:

The Delhi government has spent an estimated Rs 28,000 crores of tax-payer’s money on the Commonwealth games – several times more than its original estimated budget of Rs 655 crore. It has been estimated that the entire expenditure for the 12-day event could have controlled infant mortality of poor children and housing for the poor for an entire year!  The extravaganza includes heads like a helium balloon worth Rs 40 crore and Rs 45 crore spent on ‘study tours’ by 200 politicians and officials to Melbourne, Beijing and London.

In the recent weeks, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has released a report which documents evidence of widespread corruption in several CWG-related projects. Shockingly, it has come to light that the Delhi government diverted Rs 744 crore from the Special Component Plan for SC/STs to CWG-related projects! What is crystal clear is that the Commonwealth Games have been shamefully used as a means for corporations and government officials to line their pockets and amass massive profits.

Exploitation of workers:

More than 1,50,000 migrant workers are working at the CWG construction sites – they work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to meet the deadlines. And these workers are living in appalling and sub-human conditions, not even receiving legally mandated minimum wages! From each worker, Rs 30 to Rs 150 is stolen daily through systematic underpayments. Labour laws and safety regulations are being rampantly violated at Games worksites, which have already resulted in the deaths of more than hundred workers from accidents or diseases such as cerebral meningitis. These gross violations of the law have been noted even by the Delhi High Court, but nevertheless continue.

Eviction of Slum dwellers, Beggars, Street Vendors and Students:

The Commonwealth Games have been used as the ideal excuse by the eager Delhi government to evict street vendors, slum dwellers and the homeless from the streets of Delhi – thus robbing of them of their source of livelihood.  Between 2003-2008, up to 4 lakh people are said to have been evicted from the capital. Arbitrarily, last winter, shelters for the homeless were demolished, leaving their residents to freeze to death. Several slums have been demolished and set on fire.  To add insult to injury, the Delhi government proposes to construct hedges of fast-growing bamboo, so that foreign visitors will not even have to witness Indian poverty! Clearly, for the powers-that-be, ‘national pride’ exists in kicking the working class out of the city and robbing them of their livelihoods; even if they allowed  to stay in the ‘world class city’, they are to be kept suitably ‘invisible’!

Reclaim the anti-imperialist legacy of the HSRA!

As the ‘Queens Baton’ makes its way across the country, and as governments enthusiastically prepare a red carpet welcome for the Commonwealth Games, the progressive sections of society need to resist this bizarre display of a colonial hangover. We need to ask: Why do we need to welcome the ‘Queen’s’ Baton? The Queen of England is certainly no Queen of ours – why then do we shamefully ‘celebrate’ our colonial legacy?! Why does India need to host the CWG at such an incredible cost to India’s poor? Have they really helped Indian sports? Or have they merely aided exploitation and corruption?

In their short heroic lives, Bhagat Singh and his comrades gave a new meaning to patriotism. Love for the country was redefined as love for the people. They emphasized the role of the students and youth, and insisted that they go deep among the masses, to the colonies of workers and hamlets of the rural poor. In his letter ‘To Young Political Workers’, Bhagat Singh described the Congress’ nationalism as “a struggle dependant upon the middle class shopkeepers and a few capitalists. Both these, and particularly the latter, can never dare risk its property or possessions in any struggle. The real revolutionary armies are in the villages and in factories, the peasantry and the labourers.”

Two decades after the Congress Government introduced the policies of Liberalization-Privatization-Globalization, the number of Indian millionaires has doubled, but we also know that over 70% of the country’s people live on less than 20 rupees a day. Today, we see how readily the ruling elite of our country allies among itself when it comes to defending imperialist agendas. We saw this in the widespread alliance created when it came to passing the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, in the all-out moves being taken to suppress the demands of the Kashmiri people for self-determination, or in the clean-chit given to the American company responsible for perpetuating the horrific Bhopal Gas tragedy.

At this juncture, AISA believes that we need to reclaim Bhagat Singh’s anti-colonial legacy and redefine ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’ to mean the empowerment of India’s poor. As part of its ongoing anti-imperialist protests and against the Commonwealth Games, AISA is organizing a protest Public Meeting and Effigy Burning of the Queen’s Baton at Jantar Mantar on 15th September from 11.30 a.m. onwards. We invite you to be a part of this protest and the struggle to reclaim the anti-imperialist legacy.

Vedanta and Beyond: Expsoe the Congress’ ‘Human Face’, Strengthen Ongoing Struggles Against Corporate Land Grab

For the past few years, Vedanta Alumina’s proposed bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri hills of Lanjigarh in Orissa has seen a sustained resistance by the tribals and protest campaigns by environmentalists, political activists and human rights groups all over the world pointing out its social and ecological implications. Vedanta proposes to extract bauxite from this extremely ecologically fragile area, home to the Dongria Kondh tribals who are completely dependent on the local ecology for their very survival. And in the process of applying for clearance for this disastrous project, the company has violated any number of legislations: the Forests Rights Act, the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, the Forest Conservation Act, and the Environment Protection Act to name just a few.

This project was aggressively pushed not just by Vedanta, but by the Orissa state government as well as the UPA. Let us have a look at some facts:

  • 14 years ago, Bhakt Charan Das, Congress MP from Kalahandi, openly supported the Vedanta project in the Lok Sabha and continued to argue for a bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri hills for several years even in the face of massive protests.
  • Home Minister P. Chidambaram was Vedanta’s advocate till 2003 and regularly defended the company’s financial and environmental violations. He was also a member of the board of directors of Vedanta.
  • The UPA’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) colluded with Vedanta and deliberately overlooked a damning report by the Supreme Court’s Central Environment Committee to issue an ‘in principle’ approval to the project in 2008.

As the protests grew stronger and stronger, every possible method was used to quell the movement. Adivasis were forcibly evicted by the local administration and company goons, activists and leaders of the movement were threatened, beaten up and arrested on trumped up charges, full page advertisements appeared in national newspapers in a futile effort to drum up support for the project. However, the protests continued, leading to several high profile investors withdrawing from the project due to the public outcry. Finally, as a result of the massive campaign, the MoEF was recently forced to withdraw its previous consent and stall the project.

Shamefully, the Congress, which has uptil now been one of prime supporters of Vedanta, is now trying to project itself as a ‘messiah’ of the tribals! Rahul Gandhi’s recent statement at Lanjigarh, where he claimed to be a ‘soldier’ for tribal interests in Delhi is nothing but a cruel joke for the thousands of people across the country who continue to struggle against displacement, corporate land grab, and UPA-sponsored neo-liberal policies. Rahul Gandhi’s patently false rhetoric is part of the Congress’s larger game plan of projecting a ‘human face’. After the notable failure of the NDA’s ‘India Shining’ campaign, the Congress has couched its essentially anti-poor, anti-people, pro-corporate agenda in the garb of ‘Bharat Nirman’ and the aam aadmi’s welfare!

Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari has stated that the aim of Rahul Gandhi’s visit was to ‘send the larger message out to the indigenous people of India that their concerns are not unseen and unheard’! Flying in the face of such ‘feel-good’ statements are the Congress’s actual policies. We have not forgotten for instance that thousands of tribals and poor have been displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh – while the Manmohan Singh government actively supported the project and refused to act on a damning report submitted by three of its own cabinet Ministers on the pathetic state of rehabilitation! Over the past few years, the aam aadmi has had to bear the brunt of the UPA’s pet policies – its support for displacement and corporate land grab in the Narmada valley, Gurgaon, Maharastra and elsewhere in the country, the whopping Rs 5,02,299 crore annual tax waiver which the UPA gifted to India’s richest corporations in this year’s budget, the privatisation of essential facilities like water, electricity, health care and education, and the inflation which has made it difficult for the poor to avail of essential commodities.

In 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru, speaking to tribals who were to be displaced by the Hirakud Dam, adviced them: “If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the country.” This sentiment has always been echoed in the Congress’s policies. Today, Shiela Dixit’s Delhi government is demanding the same ‘sacrifice’ from Delhi’s poor and working classes so that bureaucrats and corporations can amass huge profits in the name of the purported ‘national pride’ in hosting the Common Wealth Games! It is now known that the Delhi government diverted Rs 744 crore from the Special Component Plan for SC/STs to CWG-related projects, thereby flouting Planning Commission guidelines.

Ironically, on the same day that Rahul Gandhi was attempting to project the Congress as a ‘saviour’ for the weaker sections of society, the Supreme Court has slammed the Congress government in Haryana for allowing the massacre of Dalits to take place in Mirchpur, and for not taking ANY action on the criminals responsible! The Congress’s ‘human face’ has been effectively unmasked – no amount of rhetoric can hide its anti-poor character.

Whose Wealth? Whose Commons? : The Ugly Face of The Commonwealth Games

As Delhi gears up to host the Commonwealth Games, behind the official fanfare lies the ugly truth: a story of massive corruption, substandard infrastructure, exploitation of workers, displacement of the poor, reckless corporatization and environmental degradation.

From the very beginning, the entire process of organizing these games was shrouded in secrecy and marked by a total lack of public information. But in recent weeks, here are just some of the skeletons that have come tumbling out of the Games’ closet:

  • The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) in a preliminary investigation of Commonwealth Games works has found evidence of pervasive corruption: work was awarded at higher rates and to ineligible agencies, bids have been tampered with, there have been irregularities in issuing of tenders, and needless ‘upgradation’. Virtually all government organisations involved in executing these works — the PWD, MCD, DDA, NDMC, CPWD and RITES — stand implicated in this mess.
  • The Housing and Land Rights Network has shown that as much as Rs 744.35 crore from Delhi’s special component plan (SCP) – which aims to improving the standard of living of the poor sections of the community through various government schemes and programmes – was diverted to the Games projects.
  • For the Queens’ Baton Relay, a London-based group, AM Cars and AM Films were hired for a staggering price of 238,093.56 pounds. This included, among other things, the hiring of cars and mobile toilets from London. The Joint Director General of the Commonwealth Games’ Organising Committee, T S Darbari, who was sacked after this fiasco, had already roused suspicion after a courier was arrested from the Kochin airport in February, carrying a diamond ring worth 28 lakh meant for him. Proof has also come to light that Suresh Kalmadi himself doctored emails so as to hide the financial irregularities associated with the Queens’ Baton Relay.
  • The reckless manner in which money is being spent is well illustrated by the expenditure of Rs. 40 crore for an aerostat (helium balloon) that would be used for lighting and sound equipment during the four to six hours of CWG ceremonies. The amounts spent on free sightseeing trips, luxury transport and other perks offered to visiting officials and dignitaries still remain unknown.

As many more irregularities come to light, we know that what we are seeing is only the tip of the iceberg.

We were told that the Games would make Delhi an international sports hub and tourist destination. But far from setting up, ‘world class’ sports and infrastructure in the capital, it is evident that construction quality is shoddy and has been deliberately compromised. Already, the effects of this are beginning to show: a section of the false ceiling at the Yamuna Sports Complex collapsed after heavy rains, and at a test event at the SP Mukherjee Swimming Complex, a swimmer was hurt thanks to the shoddy construction.

As work proceeds rapidly at the CWG construction sites, labour laws and safety regulations are being rampantly violated at Games worksites, resulting in the deaths of a large number of workers in worksite accidents. Working conditions are unsafe and worksite facilities, crèches or even proper housing are absent. Over a hundred workers have died at these sites from accidents or diseases such as cerebral meningitis, but their death is as cheap as their lives and their labour. These are the human ‘costs’ of holding the games to which no notice is given.

The Games have also provided a pretext to the Congress Government to rush through the liberalization agenda of evicting street vendors and the homeless, all in the name of ‘National Pride’ Between 2003-2008, up to 4 lakh people are said to have been evicted from the capital. The evictions have taken place without resettlement or compensation and have left most of those evicted homeless. Arbitrarily, last winter, shelters for the homeless were demolished, leaving their residents to freeze to death. Slums that couldn’t be demolished or set on fire, are being hidden behind hedges of fast-growing bamboo, so that our rulers’ ‘embarrassment’ of Indian poverty need not mar the eyes of foreign tourists.

While the sun has long set on the British empire, its apologists and defenders still remain. Foremost among them is our Prime Minister who, in a remarkable speech delivered in Oxford University, declared that the ills of Empire were exaggerated and the British Raj was in fact a model of “good governance!”  These Games that our ruling elite is celebrating as a marker of ‘national pride’ began in 1918 as a celebration of the British Empire. Today, the ‘Commonwealth’ – a collection of former British colonies in unity with Britain, all symbolized by the British Crown and Queen – is an anachronism at best and a shameful survival of the colonial legacy at worst.

In the face of the country’s poor who wage a daily battle for survival, the fact that government officials have been lining their pockets in the name of these games is nothing short of a national shame. Not only are the Games proving to be corrupt, wasteful and exploitative – the very idea of the ‘Commonwealth’ Games as a symbol of national pride is a tasteless joke with our legacy of anti-colonial struggle. Such an exploitative and spectacularly corrupt extravaganza, with a colonial hangover to boot, should be exposed and resisted by all democratic voices in our country.