The recent turn of events in India where a Muslim man involved in the Shaheen Bagh protests was dehumanized, publicly shamed, targeted online, hounded by the police and eventually arrested is not a new one at all. We have witnessed the same pattern repeat itself over and over again when it comes to the treatment of individual voices by the State, from Rohith Vemula to Umar Khalid, Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan to Budhadeb Nayak, from Santosh Yadav to Somary Nag. This list has no end.
Many people argue that Sharjeel Imam was targeted because of his Muslim identity by the ruling Hindu fascist party in power the BJP. But this is only partly true. Sure the elements in this particular case contain within them background vocals of nationalism and bigotry. But the fundamental recipe remains the same: the Police – a tool of this State machinery – obediently carries out orders passed on to them by their overlords without stopping to consider the “law” or the constitution. This complicity of the police in State-promoted violence in maintaining structures of oppression has been bare for all of us to see from Tsunduru to Ramabai to Bathani Tola, from Hashimpura to Muzaffarnagar, from Narendra Dabholkar to Govind Pansare to Niloy Chatterjee Neel, from Pehlu Khan to Mazlum Ansari to Alimuddin. All of the aforementioned names and cases involve killings based on ideas of caste-supremacy and have one common thread running through. This thread bears the name Brahminism, not Hindutva, and it is high time we call it for what it is.
In addition to the police, the corporate media – also controlled by the Brahmin-Bania complex – has unsurprisingly chosen to take a biased approach to this debate. By presenting each instance of these incidents as a separate and disconnected event, they have been very efficient at dissecting and analyzing every detail of the incident so the big picture can be obscured. The intent of this article is not to delve into such skullduggery because this turn of events is not about sedition.
There are two concise points, however, that need to be made, for which a fundamental understanding of the law in question is required. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code states that “whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”
First, the law was first introduced by a certain Thomas Macaulay for suppressing rebellious voices in the time of the British empire. It is the same Macaulay who had once claimed that a single shelf of books from the British library was worth much more than the whole corpus of Indian and Arabic literature and knowledge. We all know now that the British finally made way because they were forced to do so by the people’s struggles. Unfortunately, the power was only transferred to another ruling class and all this country received was “borrowed independence”, as rightly pointed out in the Dalit Panther manifesto. So it is easy to see why every government so far has failed to repeal it, their views on Mr. Macaulay notwithstanding. Second, it is not clear if the Government’s policies or representatives themselves may be seditious in nature by making people lose faith in the elected representatives. Ultimately, the people asking for an equitable distribution of social capital and income are not the problem. The problems of this country have a more direct correlation with the alarming rise in the number of billionaires. But again, as stated before, this question is not about the sedition law at all. It is about the use of colonial law to an end that best serves our present ruling class. Period.
At the time of writing this article, it has already been three weeks since Sharjeel Imam was arrested. And much longer since the start of the desperate attempt by the mainstream media to paint him using their beloved “radicalized Islamist” template. The Delhi Police were equally prompt in arresting him and releasing statements confirming the seditious intents of this individual. One cannot help but wonder if the Police or the Indian State share a similar enthusiasm for bringing the culprits who stole taxpayer money through the fisheries scam in Gujarat or the Punjab National Bank Scam in Maharashtra to justice.
While Sharjeel Imam is forced to spend time in prison without any concrete evidence of wrong-doing, the Adani Group and Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group go around their daily business with no consequences, despite overpricing electricity equipment for power projects in Maharashtra and artificially increasing the price of coal in Indonesia, respectively. One does not need to delve deeper into the topic to understand the priorities of the Indian State. The Delhi Police also explained to us in painstaking detail how they managed to arrest Sharjeel Imam and how they came to the conclusions about his plans against the Indian State. But they never once mentioned that this plan was about blocking the streets in the framework of a protest. And there is nothing wrong with disrupting the working of the State when the State does not work for the people it claims to serve.
The Government of India has had a long history of turning a deaf ear to the voices of the people and even going as far as betraying the interests of the people in favor of the capitalists. They do not shy away from making use of the State machinery to distort the dominant narrative in order to suit their own selfish needs. Blatant acts of bigotry-fuelled murders of Dalits and Muslims are termed as personal rivalries. Their narratives always play out like a well-scripted book, perfectly suited for two weeks’ worth of news headlines at the cost of the activists’ lives and the community’s voices.
These voices are continually suppressed by the use of loaded questions posed through a nationalist lens. Given this experience, it is no radical act to block the streets for the sole purpose of getting one’s voice heard. For most citizens of this country, this seems to be the only way their opinions would even stand a chance of being heard by the ruling class. The nation is its people and not the government or the police. The people have the right to organize themselves – whether as farmers demanding a fair price for their produce, as work unions asking for better working conditions, as women fighting the systems of patriarchy, as Dalit-Bahujans-Adivasis Muslims uprooting Brahminism, as LGBTQs pressing on against hetero-normative ideas, as Kashmiris resisting against state-oppression, or as students from Africa or the North East asserting their right to be seen as humans.
This coming together of people for a common cause poses a threat to the current systems of oppression in place. It is about people coming together to fight injustice. It is about people taking discrimination of any kind personally and acting in solidarity. It is no evidence of them being radicalized. And it certainly is no crime.
Anurag Azad is a researcher and an activist working towards bringing questions of caste and race to the mainstream discourse. He is pursuing his PhD in Chemical Engineering at University of Magdeburg.