By Our Special Correspondent
PUNE—Elgar Parishad-2021 held at Ganesh Kala Krida Manch here four days ago was an absolute show of defiance against rising ultra-nationalism of far-right Hindutva forces, capitalism-backed fascism, patriarchy and a clarion call for the release of 16 activists, academicians and intellectuals languishing in prison over a span of two and a half years.
The conclave was organized by Bhima Koregaon Shauryadin Prerna Abhiyan, an Ambedkarite organization where the participants included Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy, former IPS officer S M Mushrif, former AMU student leader Sharjil Usmani, former Bombay High Court Judge B G Kolse Patil, Jamia Millia Islamia student Ayesha Renna who became the face of anti-CAA movement, journalist Prashant Kanojia and other prominent civil rights and social activists.
Arundhati Roy, who was the main speaker at the event, said that over the last two years, the Elgar Parishad as an event and an organisation has been relentlessly defamed and demonised by the corporate media.
To many ordinary people, two words in Elgar Parishad conjure up a shady cabal of radicals – terrorists, jehadis, Urban Naxals, Dalit Panthers – plotting to destroy India. In this climate of name-calling, of threat, dread and anxiety, just to have organised this meeting is in itself an act of courage and defiance that deserves to be saluted. It’s incumbent on those of us up here on the stage to speak as candidly as we can, she said.
She said, “It isn’t us – it isn’t this gathering of the Elgar Parishad that is radical or extreme. It isn’t us who are acting illegally and unconstitutionally. It isn’t us who have looked away from, or overtly encouraged pogroms in which Muslims have been killed in their thousands. It isn’t us who benignly watch while Dalits are publicly flogged on city streets. It isn’t us who are pitting people against one another, ruling through hatred and divisiveness. That is being done by those that we have elected as our government and by their propaganda machine that calls itself the media.”
Corporate Class Rule Over the Country With An Iron Grip
Pointing out that the moneyed class ruled India, Roy said that many, including Karl Marx himself, believed that modern capitalism would end or at least override caste in India. Has it? Across the world, capitalism has ensured that wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. In India, the 63 richest people have more money than the 2018-19 Union Budget for 1.3 billion people. A recent Oxfam study has found that in India, during the corona pandemic, while hundreds of millions lost their jobs during the lockdown – 170,000 people lost their jobs every hour in April 2020 – India’s billionaires increased their wealth by 35%.
One hundred of the richest among them – let’s call them the corporate class – made enough to be able to distribute, if they wanted to, almost 100,000 rupees each to 138 million of India’s poorest people. A mainstream newspaper headlined this news as follows: “Covid deepened inequalities: wealth, education, gender.” The missing word in the report as well as in the newspaper headline, is of course, caste.
The question is, does this tiny corporate class – which owns ports, mines, gas fields, refineries, telecommunication, high-speed data and cell phone networks, universities, petrochemical plants, hotels, hospitals, food distribution outlets and television cable networks – does this class which virtually owns and runs India, also have a caste? To a great extent, yes. Many of the biggest Indian corporations are family owned. To name a few of the biggest – Reliance Industries Ltd (Mukesh Ambani), Adani Group (Gautam Adani), Arcelor Mittal (Lakshmi Mittal), OP Jindal Group (Savitri Devi Jindal), Birla Group (KM Birla). They all call themselves Vaishyas, the trader caste. They are only doing their divinely ordained duty – making money, she said.
Muslims Targeted For Lawful Protests
Roy said that blatantly anti-Muslim Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens(NRC) led to months of protest led by Muslim women. It ended with an anti-Muslim pogrom in North-East Delhi, fueled by vigilantes and watched over by the police, for which Muslims are being blamed. Hundreds of young Muslim men, students and activists including Umar Khalid, Khalid Saifi, Sharjeel Imam, Meeran Haider, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita are in jail. The protests are portrayed as an Islamist jihadi plot.
The Abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir led to seven million people suddenly locked down for months under a military and digital siege – a crime against humanity being committed in our name – and played out for the world to see. A year later, a stubbornly defiant people continue their struggle for freedom even as every bone in Kashmir’s collective body is being broken, official fiat by official fiat.
All Communites Must Come Together To Tackle Divisive And Casteist Forces
We have to be watchful of the traps that limit and essentialise us. None of us are just the sum of our identities. We are that too, but much much more. While we square off against our foes, we must be able to recognise our friends. We must look for allies because none of us can fight this battle alone. The audacious anti-CAA protests last year and the grand farmers protest that surrounds us now has shown that. The many farmer unions that have come together represent people with different ideological beliefs, different histories. There are deep contradictions between big and small farmers, between landlords and landless agricultural workers, between Jat Sikhs and Mazhabi Sikhs, between the Left Unions and the Centrists, Roy said while reading the Hindi version of her written English article.
Elgar Revival Means That We Will Not Be Silenced, Said Former IAS Kannan
Former IAS officer Kannan Gopinathan greeted the participants with “Jai Bhim” and congratulated the organizers for reviving the Elgar Parishad. “Two types of violence-one is state violence and the other was to ensure that two groups fight against each other through non-state violence, were engineered to silence Elgar Parishad.
After three or four years, Elgar Parishad is giving a message that we will not be silent whether you use state violence or non-state violence. If you protest against the government, then you are given names. If you stay in cities and ask a question, then you are an Urban naxal, if your are Muslim asking question to the government then you are Jihadi and if your are Sikh and asking a question then you are a Khalistani. This is a game of diminishing returns but it is foolish trick by the government.
There are caste contradictions, too, and horrifying caste violence, as Bant Singh who had both his arms and a leg hacked off in 2006, has told you today. Those differences are not buried. They are spoken about – as Randeep Maddoke who was meant to be here today has, his brave documentary film, Landless. And yet, they have come together to confront this state to fight what we know is an existential battle, Kannan said.
Retired High Court Judge B G Kolse Patil said, “We must think as owners of the country and we are not becoming owners as we are unorganized. The wealth of the country belongs to its people and not the capitalists. We have adopted the path of peace and constitutional way to tackle the forces of far-right which has violence embedded in its DNA”, he said.