As another year came to an end, we witnessed huge turmoil everywhere. The intimidation of dissenters continued while political opponents were targeted by the Hindutva groups. Mob lynching and cow terrorism aggravated all over the country and as the state remained subdued and muted, the goons with political patronage had a field day during the year. Institutions continued to crumble as orthodox Brahmanical political devotees were appointed as Directors and Vice-Chancellors. The worst part was that the fourth pillar of democracy, the media, surrendered absolutely and reached its nadir, much worse than what we could have witnessed during the infamous emergency. Now media has become a party to propaganda by the Hindutva hate groups where character assassination and intimidation is the way of life.
The year gone by saw the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh and continued with threat to the life of Prof Kancha Ilaiah by the Vaishya community groups in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana openly encouraged by the ruling Telugu Desam Party. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh virtually abdicated their responsibility in taking action against the goons who were threatening Prof Ilaiah. Now, Dr Sujatha Surepally, who is a teacher in Satwahana University, Karimnagar has come under the target of the Sangh Parivar-supported goons who have been abusing her on their Facebook page and threatening with dire consequences. The accusation against her is that she incited students to burn Manusmriti on December 25 to coincide with the historic Mahad movement of 1927, led by Baba Saheb Ambedkar, that burnt Manusmriti. As we all know, the first person who burnt it was a Brahmin called Sahashrbuddhe. Since then, Dalit Bahujan groups organize various programmes and protest marches including symbolic burning of Manusmriti for its defamatory and contemptuous directions towards untouchables, shudras and women.
Dr Surepally is a well-known activist in Telangana who teaches sociology in the Satwahana University, Karimnagar. She has been active in the movement for a separate state of Telangana and has participated in various social movements for the land and other rights issues. Over the years, she has been supporting the anti-caste struggles in Telangana as well as those related to land and other issues of violence against Dalits and Adivasis.
Recently, she helped two landless Dalits who faced insult and humiliation by a BJP leader in Nizamabad. It was like the video that the perpetrators of criminal act in Una last year circulated deliberately to humiliate and intimidate the Dalits. In this case, the two Dalits were forced to take a dip into the dirty pond in a village for their ‘alleged’ complaint against the leader. Dr. Surepally helped mobilise people’s opinion and support against this and perhaps the leader is in jail because of the pressure from the ground.
As we know, Telangana is next on the target of the Sangh Parivar. Telangana is a state where Dalits and Muslims have worked together and remained a peaceful region. Dr. Surepally is a powerful voice against the hate-driven politics and has stood with people’s movement for their rights. She goes out of her way to help students particularly from the Dalit Bahujan communities and has been active in cementing the relationship between the two communities. Over the past few years, she has been active on anti-caste platforms.
On December 25, a group of Dalit Bahujan Students at the Satwahana University organized a protest against Manusmiriti to remember Baba Saheb’s historical struggle in Mahad. These are not big university campuses, but they have more rural students than urban ones. I am not sure whether any one of them had Manusmriti in his/her hand. Most of these protests are more in symbolism and less in contents. It is alleged that some teachers might have participated in it which is a normal process in the university campuses. Suddenly, the student groups affiliated to BJP attacked the protesters inside the campus.
The BJP-affiliate group said that the Dalit students burnt the poster of Bharat-Mata and it was being guided by Dr. Surepally who, in fact, was not present on the campus. She was in Hyderabad because of Christmas holiday. A video was circulated of the alleged involvement of her but the police could find nothing. After the incident, the BJP-affiliated group launched vicious campaign against her on the Facebook page. They are putting pressure on the administration for her arrest and suspension from the university.
There are a few issues here. We may or may not agree with Dr Surepally and many of her thoughts and activities which come under the democratic right of an academic as citizen. But we should ask whether those threatening her are a threat to democracy or not? Whether the administration should keep quiet and not act against those goons who abuse her? It is also important to understand that student groups of diverse thoughts fight among themselves. Teachers too participate in various programmes organized by student groups and have their political choices. Those choices are fundamental for our democratic freedom.
Of course, the political choice should not be allowed to make them judgmental about all those who do not agree with them, at least, when they evaluate the academic work of their students. So, nobody is here asking anyone to agree with everything that Dr Surepally does or speak. It is the issue of fundamental right and the nature of discourse which the Sangh Parivar and the organization that it is encouraging, has approved as a political discourse.
I am happy to see the nature of support that Dr Surepally has got in public, but what is most disappointing is the way those who speak about human rights, Dalits, Bahujan Ambedkarite rights, Dalit women groups, etc. have kept conspicuously quiet. As a human rights defender and an Ambedkarite, I have stood with all the friends of any ideological variety when their rights are violated. We must not forget the way women are being targeted by goons on the social media by morphing their photographs; threatening them with rapes; and making mockery of their life. Should we allow this to happen? Should we not have a position on them?
In this case, the Sangh Parivar and the BJP played ‘Dalit fight Dalit’ card. They could not have fought against Dr. Surepally on a Dalit vs non-Dalit fight; hence they ensure to bring Dalit students and that too some Dalit women activists of Sangh Parivar to defame her. The blame is not for burning of Manusmriti but they suggest that the students burnt portrait of Bharat Mata on the direction of Dr Surepally which is ridiculous. I have seen imaginary photos of Bharat Mata or Telangana Mata during the Telangana movement and questioned that. A few decades back, none would have raised such slogans and one would have just laughed at the idiocies of those accusing.
We have sung Bharat Mata kee Jai numerous times even when we never knew who she was. The best definition came from Jawahar Lal Nehru who said that all the mazdoors, kisans, hardworking citizens of this country are Bharat Mata, but Sangh Parivar and its political offshoots want us to believe what they have taught their children in the school for years. We all love our motherland and it is natural. We don’t need to get a certificate from Aryan immigrants led by Sangh Parivar to do so. It is our country and we will protect it with all its might. The attempt to create division and make one community fight against other is the real anti-national act and must be dealt with.
It is strange that the Telangana police have not acted on the complaint filed by Dr Surepally. It seems that the administration does not act on its own; the Hindutva outfits want to drag the issue on and on in the public. Will India be governed by the lynch mob or will it be ruled by the Constitution and rule of law? It is for all of us to think, whether we will allow humiliation of women activists, authors or all those who are in public life by openly intimidating them and call for rape and murder. Should we not speak up against this in one voice?
No democracy will survive if we allow goons to settle scores in street. If Dr Surepally has violated any law then action should be taken against her but definitely those thugs who are threatening her with dire consequences deserved to be booked and arrested for the crime against a Dalit woman. The Telangana government needs to act on this positively. Dr. Surepally and many other academic may provide support to people’s movement on social issues that threaten them as it is the duty of those who understand law to stand with their own people. Everything they have done is in public domain using their democratic right. It is time for us to sit together and speak about the gutter level of discourse that has crept in our polity and to understand how it will ultimately not only undermine our democracy but also provide a grammar for anarchy.
Will we allow chaos and anarchy in the street to be handled by goons or should the law enforcement agencies be kept away from political interferences and made to abide by the rule of law and our secular democratic constitution. I am sure, no ‘ism’ is bigger than working for the people and if we are unable to understand who poses the biggest threat to Indian democracy then we are either politically naïve or opportunists.
(Published on 08th January 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 02)