Rights

'Won't Pursue Narrow Interests': Farmers’ Union Explains Why it is Demanding Jailed Activists' Release

'It is important to build solidarities around people who are the target of sectarian and communal state policies.'

On Thursday, December 10, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan), the biggest group among the 32 organisations demanding the repeal of the three farm laws, marked Human Rights Day by demanding the release of all rights activists and intellectuals who are lodged in prison

The event, at Delhi’s Tikri border, marked the farmer movement’s broadening, with farmers’ union leaders asking for the release of ‘political prisoners’ or academics, lawyers and activists held under oppressive laws over dubious charges.

A section of mainstream media had been quick to brand the demand a “hijacking” of the farmers’ movement by Leftist intellectuals. The following statement, released by the BKU (Ugrahan), offers an idea as to why the protesters decided to add another cause to their agenda.

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The intellectuals whose release we are demanding are those who have stood firm against the oppressive and communal attacks waged by the Modi government on Indian society. They have made huge sacrifices, and are now braving a life in prison but they have never shied away from their duty to speak truth to power and communicate this truth to the people.

With their pen, art and speech, they have exposed the communal and pro- corporate agendas of the BJP government. They have raised their voice in support of the Adivasis whose rights have been violated by the government just so as to facilitate the greed of the corporate and business class.

Activists like Stan Swamy have spent their lives in the forests of Jharkhand. Intellectuals like Sudha Bhardwaj have dedicated all their knowledge and educational qualification for the upliftment of poor workers. They have given up every kind of comfort and luxury and made the service of workers their mission.

Their only fault is that they have stood firm against the pro-corporate policies of anti-people governments. They have played a critical role in creating awareness, organizing and mobilising those who are being oppressed – the people of Kashmir, women, Dalits, adivasis and all others who are oppressed and marginalised in our country.

Companies like Vedanta could not deter their resolve with all their dollars. And this is why they have become targets of false allegations. Sometimes they are labelled “urban Naxals”, sometimes anti-national, and sometimes they have been called the “tukde tukde gang”. We must remember that such allegations have been levelled against not only these intellectuals and activists but also so many innocent young men and women among all these oppressed and marginalised sections. This includes people whose families were first targeted during communal violence in Delhi, and later they themselves were accused of that very violence and thrown in jails under draconian laws.

Incarcerated activists, academics and students. Illustration: The Wire

As such, is it not our duty that we speak up for and embolden the voice of these warriors of truth? We have not raised our voice for them for the first time. We have been voicing our concerns ever since emergency-like provisions were being created during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The demand for the release of the intellectuals and activists has been put forth right from the beginning of our current struggle.

Their photographs have been put up across sites of dharnas and protests in Punjab. The demand is also included in the charter of demands that we put in front of the Central government. Not only has this been included in our organisation’s list of demands, it has also been raised by the platform of 30 kisan organisations. The entire democratic movement in Punjab has been raising the demand for their release ever since they have been targeted by the government. By resisting and opposing the poisonous communal propaganda of the Modi government in the past 6 years, Punjab has been a beacon of hope for the entire country.

For people of Punjab, targeting these intellectuals and activists is akin to targeting prominent journalists like Charanjit Bhullar and Davinderpal and activists like Professor Jagmohan Singh, nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, in order to silence people speaking for human rights. The state wants to ensure that nobody takes up cases of human rights activists in the courts. It would be like putting theatre activists performing in villages to make people aware of their rights in jail. It would be like putting late theatre artist Gursharan Singh in jail for his acts of resistance against state repression.

Also read: A List of Activists, Scholars and Scribes Whose Personal Liberty Remains at Judiciary’s Mercy

Socially engaged intellectuals have informed the farmers about the reality of farm laws. They have exposed the true character of the laws touted as welfare measures. These people have been targeted by the ruling class and hence are implicated in false cases. Raising out voice for these pro-people activists mean raising our voice for the people. It also means enabling them to continue with the important work of exposing anti-people policies of the state. Mobilising support for these activists means strengthening these voices and being on the side of justice.

Violation of human rights in rampant in our society. We have consistently raised our voice against such violations. We unconditionally stand for human rights of workers from all the castes, religions, races, regions and languages. We do not speak for any specific section of the society. We support all ideological struggles against communal politics. We are strongly against those who violate the laws of the land which ensure freedom of speech and expression to everyone.

The people put in jails became target of the state as they exercised their right to free speech. On the occasion of International Human Rights Day it is important that we raise our voice in their support. We have fulfilled our duty by raising our voice in their favour and we will keep on doing so. It will be wrong to associate this demand of ours with any religion, caste, colour or region.

A play being performed at the protest at Tikri on December 10. Photo: Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta

BJP has resorted to the policy of ‘divide and rule’ which people need to be aware of. They dub anyone who raises the voice for rights of people as a traitor. It is their tested formula to defame people’s voices as seditious or insinuate that they are coloured by a specific religion or ideology. They dub dissenting voices as Naxalites or Pakistan sponsored terrorists. We should be conscious about the troll armies managed by their party’s IT cell.

Their advice to us that we remain confined to farmers’ issues is flawed. The demand for the release of intellectuals is integral to people’s struggles. They have been arrested to erode intellectual support of people’s struggles. The state wants people to remain confined to their narrow identities and narrow interests so that no one resists people being subjected to repression and torture.

The state finds it easy to control people when they are divided. It is important to build solidarities around people who are the target of sectarian and communal state policies. We are of the opinion that pursing narrow interests and keeping aloof from the wider democratic-minded community will weaken our struggle, rather than strengthening it.

Let us unite our struggle with the voices of all people victimised by the state.

– State Committee, BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan)