Yet again, America's racist underbelly has been exposed: the murder of an 18-year old unarmed black boy by a police officer was followed by systematic state-sponsored efforts to subvert justice and protect the police officer. Last week, a 'grand jury' in the US ruled that criminal charges would not be brought against police officer Darren Wilson who had fired 12 rounds of bullets into the body of Michael Brown, whose only 'crime' was that he was black and unarmed in a country where racist prejudice runs deep in the police forces and in American society. From the beginning, the entire judicial process was rigged for the sole of protecting the police man. In fact, as it has been correctly pointed out by various commentators, throughout the hearings, the prosecutor's office sought to place Michael Brown, not Darren Wilson, on trial. Soon after Michael Brown's murder, 12-year old Tamir Rice was killed by a US police man while he was playing with a fake gun. Earlier in 2012, a young Black boy Trayvon Martin was shot dead by a man claiming he felt threatened because Martin was wearing a sweatshirt with a hood. Martin's killer was acquitted by a jury. Police officers and civilians alike in the US seem to enjoy a licence to murder Black children, claiming that the latter appear 'threatening'.
The Ferguson grand jury verdict has been met with massive protests all across the US, including militant demonstrations of anger in Ferguson itself.
Racial killings and their rationalization of course have a long history in the US. The killing of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice in 2014 brought back memories of the horrific lynching of 14-year old Emmett Till in 1955. Emmett Till was kidnapped and beaten up, his eyes were gouged out and he was shot. He was then thrown into the Tallahatchie river with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire – the images of this violence proclaiming the deep-rooted racial prejudices and hatred in American society. As in Michael Brown's case, Till's murderers too were acquitted. The saga continues unabated.
Clearly, the rhetoric of America having left behind its racist legacy rings hollow. The jubilation over the election of America's first Black President has evaporated, with Obama himself castigating the protestors, defending the atrocious verdict in favour of Michael's murderer, moreover preaching 'peace' and 'morality' to the protestors, and justifying the repression unleashed on protesting crowds.
The Ferguson verdict, for us in India, is a reminder that racist violence is on the rise in India too. The lynching to death of a young African student in Punjab, the recent incident where three African men were beaten by a violent mob at a metro station in the capital city Delhi, and the earlier racist mob violence on African women in Khirki in Delhi, as well as organized racist propaganda and violence against Africans in Goa, are just some of the examples of racism against Black people in India. And racist discrimination and violence against people of the North East is reaching epidemic proportions.
Moreover, it is impossible to ignore the stark similarities between racial violence in the US and feudal casteist violence as well as communal prejudices and stereotyping in India. Just as the judicial system in the US protects police officers as well as civilians who kill Black people, we have courts in India committing judicial murder, by refusing to indict feudal violence by the Ranveer Sena. Till date, the victims of Bathe and Bathani massacres, as well as communal pogroms against Sikhs and Muslims, remain deprived of justice, even as the state colludes with the murderers to discredit unmistakable evidence and deny justice. The police in India as well as paramilitary forces and the army routinely enjoy huge immunity as far as murder and custodial torture is concerned. Massacres of adivasis in conflict areas by paramilitary forces happen routinely and go unprosecuted. This shield of protection and immunity is of course enhanced through the AFSPA in Kashmir and the north-east, and through several provisions such as UAPA. Many, many Fergusons take place in India: custodial killings like that of Ishrat Jahan, as well as massacres of adivasis in Bastar, are all justified by the claim that the victims were presumed to be a threat based on their identity.
In the US, Blacks form the majority of jail populations – and the same is the case for the Dalits, adivasis and minorities in India – encouraged by a state machinery and society which is quick to brand them 'criminal' and 'violent'. Written into the exiting SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act is in fact an acknowledgement that false implication of Dalits in heinous crimes, leading to imposition of the death sentence against Dalits, are rife in our society.
In the US, with boasts of 'liberty', 'equality before the law' and 'equal opportunities' for all, Blacks continue to face tremendous social, economic and political discrimination. In India too, the all-permeating discrimination faced by the Dalits continues to be an ugly reality. Decades after untouchability was officially 'eradicated' from India, a recent survey which shows that at least one in four people in the country still practice untouchability. Undoubtedly, the rhetoric of being the world's 'largest democracy' sits uncomfortably with the reality that untouchability continues to be justified in the name of 'health', 'hygiene' and 'culture' – all code words in this case for deep-rooted prejudice and hatred.
Ferguson has become a reminder that 'violence' is more than the policeman shooting down an innocent Black boy. The systematic denial of justice by the same judicial process that sends a disproportionate number of Black men to jail and death row is as stark a symptom of racist violence in the US. The same can be said of communal and casteist violence in India – where the actual massacres and pogroms and custodial killings are compounded by the judicial and political system that protects the perpetrators while sending a disproportionate segment of Dalits, minorities and adivasis to jails and death row!
The fight against the systematic racist, casteist and communal violence will continue and grow as the people's movements for justice all over the world forge solidarities with each other.
A massive Chetawani rally (Warning Rally) was held on 28 November at Ludhiana at the call of the CPI, CPM Punjab, CPI(ML) Liberation and CPI(M). The massive gathering of peasants and workers warned the Akali-BJP Badal government to scrap the draconian 'Prevention Of damage to Public And Private Property Bill 2014' law, and accede to a 14 point Demand Charter. The rally was addressed by CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat, veteran CPI(M) leader A B Bardhan, CPM Punjab Secretary Mangat Ram Pasla and CPI(ML) Liberation General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya besides various other Left leaders. CPI(ML) PB Member Swapan Mukherjee was also present on the stage.
Addressing the rally, Comrade Prakash Karat underlined that the Modi Government had ushered in 'acche din' only for Ambanis and Adanis, while the Government was accelerating the offensive on the poor people. He hailed the Left assertion in Punjab as marking a new beginning. Comrade Bardhan called for a powerful Left assertion against the Akali-BJP Government of Punjab. Comrade Pasla spoke of the inspiring legacy of Bhagat Singh, and tasked the Left with carrying forward this legacy. He said the battles of the people could only be fought with the independent assertion of the red flag - and the huge response to the Left parties' rally showed the potential for this.
Among the demands raised by the Rally were Rs 3000 as old age/widow pension; strengthening the Public Distribution System; Rs 15000 as minimum wage; and steps to curb the illegal activities of drug mafia and sand, gravel, transport and cable mafias.
AISA and AIPWA jointly held a conference under the banner of the magazine Adhi Zameen on "Women's Freedom versus Moral Policing" on 24 November at the AN Sinha Institute of Social Sciences in Patna. AIPWA National Secretary Kavita Krishnan, addressing the seminar, said that on the one hand reactionary and patriarchal forces are curbing women's freedom in the name of morality, perpetrating killings in the name of 'honour', branding inter-religious marriages 'love jehad', spreading communal passions, and persecuting boys and girls; but on the other hand women are also fighting for their freedom in every part of the country, especially after the December 2012 movement. Com. Kavita pointed out that while the current language of governance talks a lot about women's safety and protection, but does not say a word about women's freedom which is their basic right. She also pointed out that those who blame women's clothes for rape are unable to answer why women are subjected more to rape and violence inside the home rather than outside. Patriarchal and fascist forces make false propaganda of forced conversion of Hindu girls in inter-religious marriages, but even within the Hindu religion, a woman is forced to change many things, including identity and tastes, after marriage in the name of Indian culture, she pointed out.
The Director of the AN Sinha Institute stressed that the question of women's freedom is inseparably linked to the struggle for change in the entire social system. AIPWA National President Meena Tiwari said that Hindutva forces are not only curbing women's freedom, they are also openly coming out in support of rapists and perpetrators of violence against women, and students and youth must raise their voices and oppose these forces strongly. Com. Shivani Nag pointed out that those who complain about 'misuse' of women's rights laws forget that powerful people misuse every law, but that does not mean that all laws should be scrapped. Prof. Bharati Kumar, presiding over the function, said that the 'Adhi Zameen' magazine is powerful centre of thought to combat the rising right wing dominance. She said that the whole issue of moral policing is for controlling women's sexuality and maintaining the political and social domination of reactionary and patriarchal forces. JNUSU Vice President Chintu Kumari and writer Tulika Asthana, Manita Kumari, Meera Mishra, and Captain Aiman also addressed the conference. The cultural group Hirawal also presented several songs.
In the second session, presided over by journalist Nivedita and advocate Alka Verma, many women related their experiences and took part in the discussion that followed. There was unanimous agreement on the need for women to struggle for their rights inside the home and outside, individually as well as collectively. Bihar State President Saroj Choube, Secretary Shashi Yadav, Anita Sinha, Vibha Gupta, Anuradha, Madhu, Samta Rai, and several women intellectuals were present at the conference.
Hundreds of vanwasis, van gurjars, and khattawasis participated in a massive rally on 15 November organized by the All India Kisan Mahasabha, Uttarakhand, and submitted a 6-point memorandum to the District Magistrate of Haldwani after a demonstration in front of the district headquarters. The rally was led by AIKMS National Secretary Purushottam Sharma, State Council member Bahadur Singh Jangi, Ganesh Chandra Pathak, Mohammad Yamin, and Ghulam Rasool. CPI(ML) CC member Raja Bahuguna, State Secretary Kailash Pandey, and AICCTU State general secretary KK Bora also participated.
The Forest Department of Nainital district has imposed a one-year ban on sowing of pasture crop by van gurjars and khattawasis in the eastern and central forest sectors, whereas as there is no ban for non-gurjars. The demonstration was organized to protest against this discrimination. Addressing the meeting which followed the demonstration, Com. Purushottam Sharma said that the van gurjars who had played a significant role in voting the Harish Rawat government to power, were now left to suffer on the brink of starvation, deprived of the occupation which was theirs for the past so many generations. This is not only persecution, but also racial discrimination against them. Purushottam Sharma also pointed out that the Forest Department is refusing to issue grazing permits to people who separated years ago in family partitions, resulting in their being deprived of their traditional forest rights. The State government and district administration are procrastinating on the issue of registering the names of goth-khattawasis in the family register, on ensuring their basic civil rights, and their integration and rehabilitation. He warned that if these issues are not addressed, the Kisan Mahasabha would accelerate protests.
Com. Raja Bahuguna said that all governments so far had worked against the interests of farmers and workers, and for mafia forces, resulting in a rising graph of crime in the State. He called for the immediate rehabilitation of khattawasis and disaster victims. Com. Bahadur Jangi spoke on the failure to meet the demand for electricity connections, landline phones and a 3-G BSNL mobile tower in Bindukhatta as well as on demands to give Bindukhatta the status of a revenue village, and to take effective steps to end the pollution spread by the Century Paper Mills in the region. The memorandum of protest submitted to the DM elaborated all the above concerns and demands.
The verdict of the Allahabad University Students' Union (AUSU) elections held on 21 November has manifested the aspiration of common students for a fundamental change inside the University for democracy, equality and struggle for students' rights amidst an overall atmosphere of violence and lumpensim created by dominant casteist lobbies and ruling class political parties. Comrade Neelu Jaiswal from AISA has won the post of Vice-President and comrade Vidyotma Maurya has been elected as the PG/Research Scholar representative from Arts Faculty. Comrade Pawan Kumar from AISA gave a tough fight to the ABVP candidate for the post of Joint Secretary and polled second in the post. Other than AISA comrades, two representatives from AIDSO were also elected – comrade Ankush Dubey as Cultural Secretary and Comrade Vimsingh Chandel as UG representative from the arts faculty.
ABVP, which was trying to cash on the claimed NaMo wave, got a major setback. Even as the Left forces registered these victories, the much hyped 'saffron wave' got reduced to only one central panel post which it won by a very slender margin. The post of President and General Secretary were won by candidates of the Samajwadi Chhatra Parishad, the student wing of the SP.
Among the contesting forces in the elections, it was only AISA that made the rights of common students and deprived sections of society an agenda of the election. Along with raising issues of academic rights of the students inside the university, AISA also took up the task to expose the anti-people policies of the SP and BJP governments. When the ABVP representatives thought they could win the elections by simply naming Modi, AISA comrades made sure ABVP was held accountable by common students on the question of CSAT, scam in the SSC results, price rise, black money and communalization of academics and society.
During the past two weeks, AISA has been leading struggles in BHU for campus democracy, basic students' rights and restoration of student union elections in BHU. During a recent visit of the MHRD Minister Smriti Irani to the BHU campus, AISA activists and leaders demanded her immediate intervention to address several crucial demands of the common students of the University, including restoration of the student union elections which have been stalled since 1997. The students pointed out that a regime of repression and denial of campus democracy continues in BHU, through administrative diktats and denial of democratic participation of students in decision-making at all levels. These demands were answered by a massive crackdown on BHU students. As a result of the crackdown, hundreds of students had to be hospitalised, and several were seriously injured.
After this brutal crackdown on BHU students, JNUSU organized a massive protest on 26 November at the MHRD against continuing assaults on campus democracy, and against the Lyngdoh committee recommendations. Elections in campuses like Allahabad or DU remain dominated by money and muscle power, while democratic models as In JNU remain scuttled by the Lyngdoh recommendations. Exposing the real motive of the Lyngdoh recommendations, which is to curb the organized student movement in the country, JNUSU as well as students representatives from BHU, Allahabad, Lucknow, Punjab, Jamia and DU participated in the protest demanding restoration of democratic elections to student unions.
Thousands of jute workers from all over West Bengal gathered at Rani Rashmoni Road, Kolkata on 26 November after organizing a successful strike that shut down operations of the entire industry across the state. The strike call was given by 20 operating trade unions, including AICCTU, CITU, INTUC, AITUC and BMS. A charter of demands of jute workers had been submitted to the IJMA, the association of jute mill owners as well as to the state and central government on 30 Jan 2013. However, these demands have not being met till date, leading to the huge strike of 30 November. The workers have demanding minimum wages of Rs 450 daily, a hike in DA point, introduction of grade and scale in the jute industry, payment of all statutory dues like PF, gratuity, ESI etc., mill wise manning ratio 90:20 for permanent and special badli, issue of identity card to all the workers and abolition of all sorts of vouchers.
The TMC sponsored union opposed this strike. But despite threat and intimidation from the TMC union, workers maintained unprecedented unity. Com. Atanu Chakravarty from AICCTU, Debashish Dutta from AITUC, MD Amin and Anadi Sahoo (both former labour ministers of the Left Front government in West Bengal) and others addressed the rally.