ICWI – Newswire 4

Join the fight against casteism in the Diaspora!

On June 30, 2020 a landmark case was filed by the California Fair Housing and Employment office in the federal court in San Jose against the IT giant Cisco, Inc. The case, filed on behalf of an employee (John Doe, a pseudonym) of Cisco, charges his immediate supervisors of discrimination against him on the basis of his caste. John Doe was a principal engineer at Cisco when his supervisor (a Brahmin) ‘outed’ him to colleagues as a Dalit – an action whose context meant an immediate ‘lowering of status’ of John Doe due to assumptions being made about his abilities and capabilities. This led to John Doe filing a complaint with Cisco’s HR who did not find anything the matter – since ‘caste’ does not exist as a protected category under any anti-discrimination law in the USA (federal or state). A series of retaliatory actions then followed. Two of John Doe’s supervisors (both from dominant castes) acted in ways that created a hostile  workplace for John Doe that included denial of raises, promotion, and leadership positions. A good synopsis of the case details and the larger context of discrimination at the workplace against Dalits in particular are available here and here and some scholarly evidence on discrimination here.

What does this case mean for the Indian and broader South Asian diaspora in the USA? The importance of this case can be seen in the series of mobilizations that have occurred in its aftermath. Dalit, Ambedkarite and anti-caste organizations have condemned casteism within the workplace, but also pointed out  the prevalence of casteism within everyday life of Indians. Casteism has been denied in public by the ‘model minority’ Indian community, while being practiced with impunity in multiple sites of everyday life such as temples, caste associations, marital practices, but also social networks, restaurants. One of the clearest and strongest set of initiatives has been made by the California-based Ambedkar King Study Circle (AKSC). Started in the same year that John Doe experienced his stigmatized ‘outing’ (2016), and made up in large part by workers in the high-tech industry (especially Silicon Valley), AKSC has quickly grown to become one of the leading progressive voices in the Indian diaspora – consistently taking thoughtful stands challenging “caste, class, race, gender and religious oppression and oppressors on ideological, political and social fronts” (see more on AKSC).

Taking a broad view of the issue of casteism, AKSC has launched a multi-pronged campaign. It first put out a public appeal for solidarity against caste practices in Silicon Valley and the USA (as a mark of solidarity, ICWI has hosted the solidarity statement here). This was followed by a call for testimonials from ordinary people who have witnessed or experienced caste practices. Titled in the radical tradition of Ambedkar as “Let’s Talk About Caste…To Annihilate It” this call has generated some examples of the banality and brutality of caste practices in the diaspora. A third initiative from AKSC with co-sponsors including ICWI is the Practice of Caste in USA: Discussion Series which features a weekly discussion led by scholars and activists. Now in its fourth week, it has also featured ICWI’s core member Balmurli Natrajan who spoke about “Conceptualizing Casteism: Cause and Effect”. Making a case that casteism is a set of practices that aids the monopolization of power and wealth on the basis of status claims, Balmurli laid out a number of points about how casteism works to produce ‘differences’ in order to create inequality. He also drew out the implications of his view of casteism for an anti-caste politics that is committed to an annihilation of caste.

ICWI looks forward to working in solidarity with AKSC and other like-minded collectives in being pro-active and reflexive about the ways that caste/casteism, gender/patriarchy, sexuality/heteronormativity and other forms of social identity-based inequalities continue to plague our communities including progressive collectives. Jai Bhim, Lal Salaam.

Balmurli Natrajan, ICWI core collective.

Further Reading

Poetry and Resistance

It is that moment when you suddenly wake up from a deep sleep and can’t remember who you are and where you are. Even the dark sky with twinkling stars does not make any sense. Why is the big dipper all upside down? Wouldn’t its contents spill all over, all over the universe? Racing and disoriented mind calms down slowly and I realize the world where everything is upside down. The poet, Varavara Rao, who dreams of a just world for every human being is punished with desolation and neglect while criminals are being celebrated with garlands and worshipped like heros.

Varavara Rao spent more than 60 years of his 80 year life fighting for the marginalized and oppressed people. As if to punish him for giving his life for other people, he is put behind bars under fabricated charges. The world seemed to stand still when the news broke that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was found unattended on a hospital bed in despicable conditions.

In my utter hopelessness I hear the poet. It is the “Odd Hour”, the poet whispers. It is the hour when

“Living world terrorizes itself
Imagining ghosts out of
Unquenched fire of hunger
Left in the bones of people burnt by starvation

Goodness in a person has exhausted
Monstrosity flexes its muscles for a brawl”

Varavarao’s poetry brings up the startling visions of reality. In the same poem he says,

“Municipality mosquitoes sing noisily
In a crazy man’s unoiled rumpled hair
And the moonlight loses itself in his warm embrace”

Varavara Rao is not a poet who merely tells the world all its wrongs. He also sings a ‘Sweet Song’ to the oppressed, calling them to rise up and fight to right the wrongs.

“Ten people sit on the breath
of half the people of this enormous country’
This time the tax minister writes his budget
Not on a paper but on the entrails of the destitute

How long will you still call on ‘Lord Rama’ in anguish
Open your eyes
Become an Alluri Sitaram* and revolt”

(*Alluri Sitarama Raju was an adivasi revolutionary leader who was martyred in the freedom struggle against the British)

Varavara Rao was arrested at least 25 times in his revolutionary life. But he knows that sacrifices will have to be made and he declares, “Blood for Light”

“He who desires freedom
Is always found in a jail
Without putting shackles on a free man
The imperialist can’t sleep

Iron shackles that restrain
human rights must be smashed

Revolutionary light will not flow along the way
Unless fighters who travel in this severe trail
Stand like lamp posts at every corner”

He proclaims in a “Song I am Going to Write for the Future”

“Light that hides in teary eyes
Strength in the sweaty hands of the laborer
Blood that you and I have spilled for freedom
In all that mixed experience and exasperation
With life in front of my eyes
I am writing the revolution”

The fascist, brahmanical regime in India might be celebrating that it has diverted people’s attention from its blatant disregard to basic human rights, failed policies, crumbling economy and rampant corruption by shackling the dreamers of a just world. On the other side of the world, in Brazil, ex-president Lula declared to thousands of people protesting his arrest, “There is no point in trying to end my ideas, they are already lingering in the air and you can’t arrest them. There is no point in trying to stop me from dreaming, because once I cease dreaming I’ll keep dreaming through your minds and your dreams. There is no point in thinking that everything will stop when I have a heart attack. That’s nonsense, because my heart shall beat through your hearts, and they are millions of hearts.” Revolutionary poet Varavara Rao declares in the same vein in ‘Siren’

“You are still alive
If you can imagine that even the sky is in a lockup
You are still alive
If you consider you are being shamed
for wanting freedom for people locked up
in khakee dress and prisoner’s clothes”

Into my desperate heart, the poet breaths fire in this ‘Odd Hour’

“… Wiping my eyes that teared in anguish
With frills of the moonlight
And putting them to sleep under the eyelids
I shall conjure up a dream for a magnificent future – Good Night”

Mamatha, ICWI Core Collective. Poems translated from Telugu. Poem selected from Varavara Rao Kavitvam 1957-2007 (Varavara Rao’s Poetry 1957-2007)

Pulse on BK-12 and the police state

As the tide of outrage grows around the incarceration of social workers, lawyers, and poets in the BK-12 dragnet, the Modi regime continues to escalate its repressive streak. Last week it was reported that Professor Hany Babu, a respected scholar and teacher in Delhi University was arrested by the NIA, on the claim that he was part of the so-called ‘conspiracy’ behind the violence that unfolded in Bhima Koregaon, violence orchestrated by local Hindutva leaders close to Modi. It was further revealed that Dr. Babu was subjected to intense interrogation over several days, and pressured by the NIA to falsely implicate others. Further, Dr. Apoorvanand, another professor has been questioned by the authorities in an ever-widening campaign by the Modi regime to target any intellectual associated with taking public positions to advance social justice. Meanwhile, Delhi’s Muslims – whether students, faculty or otherwise – continue to be targeted by the police under the false claim that they engineered the violence in Delhi through the anti-CAA protests (while in reality the Hindutva mobs and Delhi police were responsible).

Social Media to follow: @TeltumbdeA (Twitter), and RealDrAnandTeltumbde (Facebook)

Protests turn Sangh’s saffron splash in Times Square into a puddle

On August 5th, Hindutva groups in New York City attempted to conduct a big celebration in Times Square – by displaying Hindutva imagery on gigantic billboards – in coordination with the inauguration of the so called ‘Ram Temple’ India (a shameless celebration of the 1992 destruction of Babri Masjid, and the Hindu supremacist agenda led by Modi today). ICWI joined several other allies including Coalition Against Fascism in India, Indian American Muslim Council, Ambedkar King Study Circle, Boston Coalition and Hindus for Human Rights in quickly mobilizing public opposition, successfully turning the proposed grand celebration into a damp squib, after several companies canceled plans to display Hindutva imageryA vociferous protest by hundreds in Times Square brought hundreds to the streets, marking an important watershed moment, with the Sangh in the U.S. publicly challenged, as they tried pathetically to spin their celebration of bigotry and genocide as a religious celebration. In our statement at a Press Conference organized by the Coalition Against Fascism, ICWI made it clear that the August 5th inauguration of the so called ’Ram temple’ was an attempt to cover up a historic crime: the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the genocidal violence that followed. It was also cynically timed to commemorate the first anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370, intensifying the brutal subjugation of the Kashmiri people under Indian military occupation.

OBITUARY: Chinmoy Banerjee (10 January 1940-29 July 2020)

Note: Dr. Chinmoy Banerjee was also a new member of ICWI, having joined us a few months ago. 

VANCOUVER, BC (July 30, 2020) – It is with profound sadness that the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation announces the passing of the Foundation’s President, Dr. Chinmoy Banerjee on July 29, 2020.

“Chin da”, as he was affectionately called, was a son, dad, brother, husband, grandfather, a poet, teacher, mentor, an activist, comrade, and leader, stellar in every aspect and impacting the lives of many. He was born on the 10th of January 1940 in Baidabharty, Bengal, and completed his undergraduate and Master’s degrees in English Literature at Delhi University where he met his first wife. In 1966, their son Anand was born, and soon after, Chin moved to Kent State University in the U.S. to do his PhD in 18th Century English Literature.

Chinmoy was actively involved in progressive politics, such as protesting against the US invasion of Cambodia and the American presence in Vietnam. Whenever protests arose in India, he was always the first to lend his voice to the indignation and outrage, spearheading solidarity. In 1970, the family moved to Canada where he started teaching English at Simon Fraser University. Later that year, daughter Nandini was born. After receiving tenure in 1975, Chin joined Dr. Hari Sharma, Dr. Daya Varma, and Dr. Vinod Mubayi, as a leader of the Indian People’s Association of North America (IPANA), an advocacy organization of progressive Indians who supported democratic rights and social justice in India, and wrote for its two publications: New India Bulletin and India Now. Having engaged in struggles against racism in the 1970s, Chin, with IPANA, became a primary force in the formation of the British Columbia Organization to Fight Racism (BCOFR: 1980) and the Canadian Farmworkers’ Union (CFU: 1980).

Chin was a founding member and leader of the Non-Resident Indians for Secularism and Democracy (NRISAD) which morphed into South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD). He also founded the South Asian Film Education Society (SAFES) and was the first president of the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation (HSF). The HSF sponsors cultural events for many local and international organizations, international conferences and cultural events on migrant labour, Sufi thought, racism, and the environment.The HSF also funds multiple research projects and scholarships.

Patricia Gruben, Vice-President of the Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation, said, “Chin was the driving force behind setting up the Foundation in 2009 and keeping it active and productive as President for the past eleven years. He felt that film screenings, music concerts, literary events and gallery shows were just as important as the academic research and progressive political conferences that we funded; they were all part of a continuum of appreciation for South Asian culture and society that we aimed to support. “

Chin taught English literature, literary criticism, and postcolonial studies at Simon Fraser University for 35 years, voted and celebrated by students as the “best teacher” and received the 1991 Excellence in Teaching Award at SFU. His life was dedicated to learning, and his approach to understanding society was not limited to reading; he breathed poetry, history, music, and appreciated the medium of film. Though he enjoyed the films of Satyajit Ray, Hitchcock, and so many others, the dearest to his heart, was Charlie Chaplin. He was deeply concerned about the systematic attack on the pluralist society and culture of India since Narendra Modi came to power with a Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) majority in 2014. With the rise to power of the BJP, a secular, democratic republic with guaranteed citizenship rights and constitutional protection of minorities is turning into a state serving a majoritarian agenda that is identified with the “nation.” As public intellectuals are arrested, institutions are subverted, dissent suppressed through violence and intimidation, and Dalits and minorities increasingly subjected to mob violence encouraged through impunity, Chin knew that India is well advanced on the path of building a fascist theocratic Hindu Rashtra.

Chin leaves behind a legacy of activism in the service of the humankind. He inspired hundreds of people to fight for human rights and a better world without suffering or oppression with equality regardless of religion, caste, race, or gender. He left a better world for us where we have learned to fight battles for justice, stand on principles, and to be more compassionate. His life and legacy will continue to inspire.

He lived a dignified life, while striving to achieve the same for everyone. And, in a dignified manner, with the assistance of his health professionals, in the presence of his beloved children and a few lifelong comrades, surrounded by laughter and love, passed away peacefully on July 29, 2020, wearing his much-cherished Charlie Chaplin shirt listening to Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”.

Dr. Chinmoy Banerjee is survived by his wife of 25 years, Robyn Kathleen Banerjee, son Anand Banerjee (wife Beth), daughter Aedon (“Nandini”) Young (husband Rob), grandson Max and granddaughters Alexandria and Maya. A celebration of Chin’s life will be held when COVID19 restrictions are relaxed.

For further information, contact:
Patricia Gruben, Vice-President, Dr. Hari Sharma Foundation
Email: patricia_gruben@sfu.ca


India Civil Watch International
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ICWI – Newswire 3

1975, Musheerabad Central Jail, Hyderabad, India. A 24 year-old political prisoner sits in his jail cell, clouds of despair engulf him but a fire keeps raging in his heart. He just learned he is going to be a father. He writes a Telugu poem called ‘Song of the Morning Star’, giving a revolutionary welcome to his baby:

“Mobs of monsters
rule the country today
Armies of police
fill the barracks

Like a war cry
to fight the monstrous
leeches with fangs of currency
you, like a prelude
for an ideological poem
that’d win Tomorrow’s battle

Come baby come”

My father was arrested on June 28,1975 – three days after the emergency was declared, 18 days after marrying my mother. He was organizing students and farm laborers. He was booked under Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), a law that was repealed in 1977 but is the predecessor of today’s unconstitutional laws.

He remained in that jail until the day the emergency was lifted on March 21st, 1977 – it was my first birthday. He had held me for a few minutes during a short visit (prison interview) when my mother was able to gather money to travel from our village in Kurnool to see him, but at last he was able to hold me without any worry about time on the day of my first birthday.

And at home, my grandfather tells me at a later time, that in the night he would put his cot between my mother’s cot and an open well right next to the house. He was afraid that my mother would feel so depressed and desperate that she would jump into the well to kill herself. He didn’t know his daughter too well, my mother tells me. She spent the nights staring into darkness, thinking about the future, about how to take up the work that my father had left behind.

After his release, they left me in the care of my grandparents and went to Hyderabad to join CPI (ML). They edited the party’s fortnight magazine ‘Vimochana’ (Liberation) and worked as full timers until the party splintered into tiny fragments.

Growing up, I used to listen to their story with admiration and feel that those dark days are over. There were times, when a train of people or a dalith vaada outside a village went up in flames, that made the blood boil in anger and despair. But, even while resistance was fragmented, there was a semblance of democracy.

Now, 45 years after the emergency, the country is under the clutches of an undeclared super emergency. The monsters have consolidated their power into one authoritarian rule. Its tentacles reach far and wide, choking every aspect of life in India. Student activist Safoora Zargar was arrested for organizing peaceful protests against the CAA. She was imprisoned in the overcrowded Tihar Jail without any regard for the fact that she was in the second trimester of her pregnancy. She was released on bail – ironically, not by recognizing her constitutional right to voice dissent but under ‘humanitarian grounds’. The monster is trying to put out a benevolent face, even as vulnerable political prisoners are languishing in jails while the real perpetrators of violence are roaming free. Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis are beaten, lynched and murdered in broad daylight, and journalists, writers, lawyers, activists and other citizens are being booked under UAPA and other draconian laws for raising even the mildest voices of dissent.

The Janata party came into being after the emergency but withered away soon. While that emergency is the predecessor of this super emergency, the fragmented resistance must come together to fight this monster.

In the same poem, my father writes:

Colors on the wings of a butterfly
Do not fade even when it falls in a mud puddle”

Come baby come”

He wrote the poem in anticipation of a revolutionary future for his baby. To me, that baby is also a fragment of resistance. We have our differences and our identities. They are our colors! Bearing our bright colors, we must come together to fight this fascist regime that has become a mud puddle in Indian democracy.

(As shared by Mamatha, member of the ICWI Core Collective)

Further Reading

 

Police brutality in India

Police brutality in India is a well-known reality, and for millions in the country – especially Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, and other oppressed working class communities – the men in khaki uniform represent a malevolent, threatening and brutal force. Across India police have been responsible for horrendous crimes, and enjoy considerable impunity, as for example witnessed recently in their brutalization of Muslim communities in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, and their continued attacks on students, and peaceful demonstrators. In late June, the well-known but rarely seriously addressed brutality of Tamil Nadu’s policemen came under the spotlight after a father and his son were tortured and murdered in custody in Thoothukudi. A recent study notes that across India not less than five people die every day in police custody. In states such as Tamil Nadu, police have enjoyed total impunity with not even a single conviction despite hundreds of custodial killings in recent years.

Amidst growing protests many important questions are being raised. India’s long pandemic of police brutality enjoys state and elite patronage at various levels, but also seems to command broad social support and acceptance. We at ICWI believe that police brutality is one important avatar in which state and social violence come together. In other words, the horrific acts of men in khaki uniforms cannot be considered separate from matters of caste tyrannyHindu supremacy, toxic masculinity and class violence. We see police brutality as an important pillar of the same exploitative system that attacks and criminalizes dissent using the legal machinery, and tries to silence voices of conscience like those of Anand Teltumbde and the Bhima-Koregaon 12.

Pulse on BK-12

Prominent public figures in India, including several noted artists and intellectuals issued an appeal for the immediate release from prison and the granting of bail for celebrated revolutionary poet Varavara Rao and all the Bhima Koregaon accused, arguing that under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic the continued incarceration amounts to wantonly endangering their lives, especially since several of them are particularly vulnerable to infection given their age and state of health. In a similar effort, prominent global figures including the celebrated Kenyan novelist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, African American historian Gerald Horne, American dissident intellectual Noam Chomsky, as well as a constellation of renowned intellectuals including leading feminist scholar Judith Butler, Partha Chatterjee, Homi K. Bhabha, Bruno Latour, Paul Gilroy, and Robin D.G. Kelley, among others, issued an appeal to the President and Chief Justice of India calling for the immediate release of Varavara Rao and Dr. G.N. Saibaba, who despite being more than 90% paraplegic, has been incarcerated under horrible conditions without adequate medical support for the past three years. The appeal states: “Considering G.N. Saibaba’s and Varavara Rao’s deteriorating health conditions and the outbreak of COVID-19 in prisons, we strongly believe that there is a potential danger to their lives. We appeal to you to release them immediately on bail to restore their right to live.” The appeal also condemned the cruelty of incarcerating physically vulnerable dissidents under false charges, that too in the midst of a global pandemic that is taking hundreds of thousands of lives, with more cases of infections being reported from prisons across India including those where the BK-11 and Dr. Saibaba are currently incarcerated.

As if to underscore how horrible the conditions of incarceration presently are, Gautam Navlakha’s partner reported recently that he and as many as 350 prisoners are presently incarcerated in 6 classrooms of a school converted into a quarantine facility. “There are only 3 toilets, 7 urinals and a common bat[h]ing space without a bucket or a mug. He said that the congestion is such that apart from the fear of Covid-19, inmates are prone to skin infections too.” In yet another instance of heartless dismissal of the serious health concerns of the BK-11 incarcerated, the National Investigation Agency rejected Sudha Bhardwaj’s appeal for bail by claiming that she was “taking undue benefit of the pandemic.” Bhardwaj suffers from diabetes and hypertension, and the crowded facility she is being kept in has reported at least one COVID-19 case. As Mahesh Raut, the youngest of the incarcerated BK-11, turned 33 on July 1st, we ask that you join us in saluting his unwavering courage in defending the rights and dignity of Adivasis facing the onslaught of resource plunder and state brutality.

ICWI – Newswire 2

1. Bhima Koregaon Cases: While the actual perpetrators of Bhima Koregaon violence roam free, human rights defenders languish in COVID-19 stricken jails

On May 25th, Gautam Navlakha was whisked away from Tihar Jail in Delhi to Taloja Jail in Mumbai, even as his interim bail plea hearing was scheduled in Delhi high court. The NIA received the court’s approval for transporting Navlakha to Mumbai in a video hearing where Navlakh’s lawyers were not represented. With that move, Sudha Bharadwaj and Shoma Sen are in Byculla Women’s jail, and the rest of the BK-11 are in Taloja jail. COVID-19 cases have been identified in both jails while there was one death in Taloja jail. Sudha Bharadwaj’s temporary bail request on medical grounds was denied, while hearing on temporary bails for Varavara Rao and Shoma Sen were postponed to June 2nd because the police failed to submit their medical reports to the court on time. On May 29th, the day after his bail hearing was supposed to have taken place, Varavara Rao was admitted to JJ hospital when he fell unconscious after complaining of dizziness. He has tested negative for COVID-19 but his health has been deteriorating in the last few days and his family was informed about it only after he was admitted to the hospital.

While Bhide and Ekbote – two Hindutva activists against whom an FIR was filed for the BK violence, remain free, human rights defenders on whom fabricated charges have been filed are repeatedly being denied bail even though most of them are suffering from pre-existing health conditions and are vulnerable to catching COVID-19 with serious consequences. The National Investigation Agency has repeatedly asserted that the BK-11 are not eligible for temporary bail on the grounds of COVID-19 because they were charged under UAPA, a repressive law that is being used to target any one who raises even a faintest voice against the BJP government. While crushing labor laws, the BJP government is upholding draconian anti-terror and sedition laws with utmost vendetta-driven zeal. These laws must be repealed to uphold constitutional rights to all Indian citizens. International observers including the European Parliament have written about this to the Indian Home Minister.

Social Media to follow: @TeltumbdeA, and Facebook RealDrAnandTeltumbde

2. The uprising against police brutality in the U.S.

The recent public lynching of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police has sparked a nationwide uprising across the U.S. With growing calls for an end to the epidemic of white supremacist state violence against Black people, protesters in every major city have taken to the streets demanding justice, accountability, and systemic change.

Anti-Black racism has features akin to a pandemic today, and many people of color are complicit in it, in the United States and across the world. Furthermore, similar and comparable forms of anti-minority ideologies permeate the thinking and worldviews of majority populations in countries like India, where the rise of Hindutva has been accompanied by the intensification of multiple forms of state and extra-state violence against Dalits and Muslims. The horrific brutalities meted out to Kashmiris under conditions of a military occupation are repeated in smaller, yet equally lethal ways, by police across India, with thousands of men, women and children enduring unending daily assaults on their bodies and dignity. Police violence in the U.S. or in India therefore is not an aberration, but a systemic facet of repressive rule, most visibly evident in the vast arsenals of repressive tools, techniques, and strategies that are being shared under the guise of security cooperation.

In grappling with white supremacy or Hindutva we tend to focus on overt forms of violence and bigotry, but we ought to focus also on the shared sentiments that make both ideologies dangerously mundane. Especially to ordinary people who may not consider themselves adherents, but who share and partake in the premises and promises of supremacist views. Both white-supremacists and Hindutva adherents share a deep disdain for social equality and justice. Yet today in the U.S. many Indians who publicly voice support for, or even participate in protests in defense of Black lives, actively support the Modi regime and its ongoing assaults on Muslims in India. The most egregious example of this contradictory positioning is to be found in the public proclamations of the RSS’s ‘public relations’ wing in the U.S., the so-called Hindu American Foundation (HAF). Its recent tweet on the protests claims that “Dharma demands us to fight for racial justice.” The same HAF also fights to defend the RSS – India’s most ferocious enemy of social justice and one that is inherently anti-Dalit and anti-Muslim – in the name of Dharma. What is this Dharma that HAF claims guides its endeavors? HAF has not only consistently defended the RSS and its many atrocities, but also echoes the Hindutva perspective on a range of issues. It’s public posturing as an advocate of ‘human rights’ in America stands in stark contradiction with its rootedness in an ideology that enshrines hatred and violence against minorities in India.

In contrast to the HAF’s fraudulent posturing,other voices from Indian communities across the U.S.  are attesting to the common humanity binding struggles for justice and dignity in the U.S. and in India. In one instance, an Indian American man offered shelter in his home to seventy protesters escaping police violence. The Ambedkar King Study Circle, a California-based anti-caste organization whose mission is to “challenge caste, class, race, gender and religious oppression and oppressors on ideological, political and social fronts” issued a strong statement condemning the lynching of George Floyd, while calling out the hypocrisy of many Indian organizations that remain silent on caste oppression. Renowned Dalit leader Martin Macwan, noting that Dalits in India suffer many of the same forms of suffocating violence that Black people in the U.S. endure, called for a symbolic lighting of a candle on June 10th, when George Floyd will be laid to rest. We in the diaspora have a historic responsibility to stand in solidarity with the struggle for Black liberation, and must work within our communities to address anti-Black racism, and the anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit bigotry rife among so many. We call upon all Indians residing in the U.S. to take a firm stand in the fight for racial justice in the U.S. while also affirming their defense of the rights of millions of Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and other people beleaguered by the police state in India. Only in recognizing that the struggle for racial justice in America is consistent with the fight for social justice in India, may we be in a position to contribute to either. George Floyd: Rest in Power!

 

3. Lamakaan/ICWI – Special forum held on Kerala’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Video recording: https://youtu.be/DWbxv3ZNcQ8

On the 2nd of May, Lamakaan, Hyderabad held an online panel discussion titled Kerala: Fight with Corona pandemic. Participants included Ekbal B, who chairs the epidemic response committee, and past president of the KSSP, Dr. Antony Kollannur, former director of the State Health Resource Centre, Chhattisgarh, Dr.Jayakrishnan, Professor of Community Medicine in Kozhikode Medical Collage, and Dr. Amar Fettle, State Nodal Officer for Covid-19. The discussion was moderated by Dr Saleema Razvi, Ph.D., with the Copenhagen Consensus Centre on economic evaluation of health interventions.

Kerala was one of the early hubs of India’s Covid-19 crisis. As far back as February, Kerala’s Minister for Health ordered screening at all four of the State’s airports and a few days later the Chief Minister announced a lockdown — one that was seemingly more effective than the national lockdown, in some part because it was more humane. How did Kerala fund the capacity to respond to an emergent pandemic even before the WHO had declared it as one? What marks the state’s health infrastructure that allowed for such agility? What about the interface between government, medical teams and citizens which allowed for such a response?

This online panel discussion was co-hosted by Lamakaan, Hyderabad and ICWI, USA.

4. The Ambedkar King Study Circle organized a novel online effort to mobilize global support for the release of Anand Teltumbde.

Joining more than 20 organizations from India and the U.S., ICWI members read out a statement of solidarity (see below).

Video recordings: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcNyR-6AAKejkkjJTzIF5hwVshsq-dNjO

From AKSC’s youtube page: On May 30th People from the *United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan and India* made a video statement to demand the immediate release of *Dr. Anand Teltumbde* and *10 other human rights activists* who have been arrested in fabricated cases by the RSS/BJP. It attracted a good number of people within 2 days of the announcement. Mrs Rama Teltumbde, wife of Dr.Anand and Ms. Rashmi Teltumbde, daughter of Dr. Anand too joined the call.

The text of the ICWI statement:

India Civil Watch, USA condemns the imprisonment of Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navalakha on April 14, 2020. We also continue to condemn the arrest of nine others in the same fabricated Bhima-Koregaon case – Surendra Gadling, Arun Fereira, Vernon Gonsalves, Mahesh Raut, Sudha Bharadwaj, Shoma Sen, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and Varavara Rao. We further condemn the most recent spate of arrests of students such as Safoora Zargar, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal. This national shame has now also become a colossal tragedy for democracy in India. For example, the Bhima-Koregaon-11 have spent many decades defending India’s millions who live in abject poverty and vulnerable to all forms of stigma and violence. They have fought all their lives for the freedoms that are enshrined in the Indian Constitution. And the students who now join them in prison are some of the finest examples of young citizens who dare to preserve what is central to all democracies – the right to dissent. Their work and lives bear testimony against the immorality of the systemic and situational violence perpetrated in India today – the violence of development policies, violence of casteism against Dalits and adivasis, violence against religious minorities, the violence of patriarchy against women, the violence of capitalism against workers, the violence of educational institutions against freedom of thought, and the violence of an ultranationalism against those seeking a life of freedom and choice. If this is not enough, all of those arrested face the ravages of COVID19, which has fast spread within Indian jails. Many of them are extremely vulnerable due to age and preexisting conditions.What does it then mean for a country to put such individuals in jail? And to leave them intentionally exposed to the COVID virus in the jails? What else is this, but intellectual bankruptcy, moral degeneracy, and political repression of citizens demanding social justice and sound governance? What else is it but a textbook ploy by a repressive regime spiraling into a fascist rule? We, the international communities that oppose fascism will never cease to fight for the release of people who have been denied their basic Constitutional rights, booked under fabricated cases such as Bhima-Koregaon, aided by laws such as the UAPA – now widely recognized by a vast cross section of Indian and international scholarly and legal community, and public opinion – as inherently draconian. We urge the international social justice communities to take immediate and urgent note of India’s rapid descent into fascist rule and to defend democracy and the rule of justice.