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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/18/20

Whither India's Democracy?

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Message Arshad M Khan

Anand Teltumbde heads the large data analytics program at Goa Institute of Management. He is a recognized scholar and a professor. He is also in jail accused of inciting inter-caste violence in Bhima Koregaon village, Maharashtra state, two and a half years ago.

Professor Anand Teltumbde is also a Dalit, formerly called the untouchable caste, the lowest of the low in the Hindu caste system. When Thomas Jefferson, penning the US Declaration of Independence, wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, ..." he was clearly unaware of India's castes which by definition hold the opposite to be true.

The violence at Bhima Koregaon occurred at the 200th anniversary celebration of a battle where untouchables -- presumably fed up with their lot in life -- allied themselves with British colonial forces to thwart the Maratha upper caste regime. It was just one incident in the Third Maratha War culminating in the total defeat of the Marathas and seizure of their territory by the British.

Professor Teltumbde was not present at Bhima Koregaon during the celebration but the police claim that his presence at Elgaar Parishad, an event held on December 31, 2017 (the eve of the 200th anniversary), and his speech during the proceedings instigated the crowds on the following day. It did not seem to matter that the event was organized by 260 non-profit organizations in Pune and the program consisted of cultural events, speeches and slogans. It would be no surprise to add that the cultural performances often had anti-caste themes. The next day stones were thrown at the celebrants (presumably by upper caste Hindus) causing one death. Thereafter clashes broke out across the state and in other parts of the country.

So it is that two years later Professor Teltumbde is languishing in jail awaiting trial because he has been denied bail. Why, because he has been charged under Narendra Modi's Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) targeting primarily terrorists under which bail is more or less impossible.

The professor's 70th birthday is in jail. Support for him has come from major well-known human rights organizations. Amnesty International has called for his release and of the 10 other activists jailed with him, who also work for the rights of Dalits and the marginalized tribals preferring an earlier way of life.

Human Rights Watch has called for the government to "drop all charges" citing two retired judges, the actual organizers of the rally, who contend that most of the activists arrested had nothing to do with the event. "Using draconian laws against activists for simply criticizing the government or raising their voices against injustice," said HRW's South Asia director, is unjustifiable and warrants "immediate release."

Professor Teltumbde's wife is worried about his health on account of the spreading coronavirus amid the tight confines of Indian jails and the bad food. She has a distinguished lineage. She is the granddaughter of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, the father of the Indian constitution and a Dalit icon. None of it matters to Narendra Modi, who has been described earlier by the jailed professor as "a narcissist par excellence" and "more dangerous than Hitler or Mussolini."

Whither India's democracy? Surely free speech and open debate are its essence. Such thoughts are of little concern to the tea-seller from Gujarat, at present seeking refuge in lies when Chinese troops have encroached Indian territory in Ladakh.

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Arshad M Khan is a former Professor. Educated at King's College London, Oklahoma State University and the University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. He was elected a Fellow of the (more...)
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