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22

We, the undersigned, are shocked by the serial raids across the country on the homes of activists and public intellectuals who are critical of the government and the ruling party at the Centre. The arrests of prominent activists and intellectuals Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Kranthi Tekula and others, are nothing but an attempt by the government to strike terror among those who are fighting for justice for the marginalised. This is also an attempt by the BJP to invent a false enemy and engage in scaremongering in order to polarise the 2019 elections in its favour. Already, the government and the media houses close to the BJP have been trying to spin a false narrative of a Maoist conspiracy since June, 2018. Terms like “urban naxals” are invented in order to stifle any criticism of the government. We have learnt that the Delhi Police, after having arrested Sudha Bharadwaj, waited for Republic TV to arrive before taking her to the court. This simply shows that the arrests are incomplete without the accompanying sensationalist media propaganda to demonise activists, human rights defenders and intellectuals.

The so-called raids carried out on the houses of these activists are aimed at creating a spectacle, as the writings and views of these intellectuals are already publicly known and are well documented. This seems like a conspiracy to divert attention from the gravity of the Sanatan Sanstha conspiracy to carry out serial bomb attacks on Eid and Ganesh Chaturthi! The same Sanatan Sanstha was also involved in the murder of Gauri Lankesh, as per the ongoing investigations by Karnataka police. Today’s arrests have been carried out in order to give cover to the murderers of Gauri Lankesh. People like Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha and others who have been arrested are friends of the people who have dedicated their entire lives to the betterment of the Indian public. By arresting them, the BJP is only exposing its insecurities and its intolerance to any dissent or criticism of its policies.

The arrests should be seen in continuation with the recent attacks on pro-justice voices such as Swami Agnivesh, Umar Khalid and many other student activists from Delhi to Lucknow. A BJP lawmaker from Karnataka even advocated the murder of “intellectuals.” Both the arrests and the physical attacks on justice loving people must be seen in a series of attempts to stifle dissent and deny social justice.

We demand immediate release of the arrested individuals, dropping of all false and malicious charges, as these arrests are politically motivated and unjustified.

Shehla Rashid Shora, former Vice-President, JNU Students’ Union.

Mohit Pandey, former President, JNU Students’ Union.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Author, Journalist, Publisher.

Neha Dixit, Journalist.

Jignesh Mevani, MLA Vadgam, Gujarat.

Sanam Sutirath Wazir, Human Rights Activist.

Nakul Singh Sawhney, Documentary Filmmaker.

Teesta Setalvad, Journalist and Social Activist.

Harish Iyer, Equal Rights Activist.

Swami Agnivesh, Arya Samaj, Social Activist.

Admiral L Ramdas

Lalita Ramdas

Shabnam Hashmi

Vidyut, blogger.

Ashok Bharati, Dalit Leader

Maj Priyadarshi Chowdhury, SC, ESM Activist & Coordinator Joint Agitation of Farmers, Dalits & ESMs

Shri VM Singh, Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sanghatan

Kumar Prashant, Chairman, Gandhi Peace Foundation to the statement

If you agree with the above statement, please add your name in the comments and I will periodically add names to the post.

4

"Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent, but the tests that have to be applied to them are not, of course, the same in all cases." began George Orwell in his landmark essay "Reflections on Gandhi". It is a good principle, to go by news reports.

One such controversy raging these days is the violent stand off between the supporters of "Sant" Rampal and the police, who were trying to arrest him to execute the non-bailable warrant against him. Rampal is wanted in several cases of murders and attempted murders against him, which appear to be originated in clashes between his supporters and those of the Arya Samaj.

Why did these clashes happen? There are several reports that could point to reasons. The first and biggest being "Sant" Rampal's criticism of the Satyartha Prakash, written by "Swami" Dayanand Saraswati the founder of the Arya Samaj.

In a country where anything religious is respected, both Arya Samaj and the bhakti traditions and Kabir (whom Rampal supposedly follows) are respected for social reform and one would imagine that if masses must go for opium, they at least went for one that desired better things on some social evils at the very least. This ongoing controversy however discloses a dark side.

One where godmen and religious traditions associated with social reform have enough informal "troops" to fight riots.

The criticism of Dayanand Saraswati's Satyartha Prakash by Rampal seems to have been the trigger for ongoing bad blood between the rival religious gangs (for want of a better word) and Rampal has alleged on several occasions that he is being persecuted because of his criticism of the book.

That his views are not popular among locals appears to be apparent, but then if we're speaking of Haryana, jeans and phones with women aren't popular either, so that doesn't really say anything one way or the other. People who criticize religious figures or books generally get rabid responses from unthinking masses that the state is not interested in suppressing since sooner or later they are useful for political goals.

After spending 18 months in jail, he seems to be evading courts (42 times so far, it seems), which has led to this non-bailable warrant that got resisted by his followers on mini-war footing. This definitely seems to be a question mark on his credibility. While it may be understandable for an innocent person with no hope of getting justice from the law to avoid it altogether, this seems to be more of a situation of show of strength against the state and will probably not help his case either.

On the other side, what seems suspicious is that those attacking him seem to have got away with very little scrutiny - if any. While Rampal makes news, there are no questions raised about the Arya Samaj - which seems a little surprising. Media is again in one of their rare unanimous modes on his guilt - which is always suspect in a country as diverse as ours. This alone is worth wondering whether he is being framed.

Casualties in the clashes seem to all be from among his followers with women in the lead. Which does not seem to speak of dangerous assaults made on police, though the reports sound like pitched battles. The original case where clashes led to one death also seem to have had cases only against Rampal and not Arya Samaj.

Rampal also has other issues with Arya Samaj who do not want his influence to increase in areas they control. They have tried to show his ownership of the land with Satlok Ashram as a result of forgery - this would not raise skepticism, except the forgery case was filed on the day after the two followers clashed in 2006. It is a little unrealistic to imagine that a forgery done in 1999 was brought to light and objected in 2006 and one day after clashes with rival religious group. A later case of assault was filed by a person claiming to have been beaten to get a fake confession of being a spy for Arya Samaj. A murder charge was added to it when a woman out of four protesters to die (and hundreds injured) to police bullets was alleged to have been killed by Rampal or on his orders when police opened fire on Arya Samaj protesters opposing the turning over of possession of ashram to Rampal.

Rampal insists Arya Samaj is behind all the cases on him, and this is entirely possible given the timeline of cases unfolding and inevitable connections with Arya Samaj since then. On the other hand, it is equally possible that he is guilty. His views are no less abhorrent. For example those on eating meat.

Sant Rampal - a self proclaimed Godman
Self proclaimed Godman claims to be a reincarnation of Kabir

In other words, the freedom of views that he claims for himself in critiquing Satyartha Prakash is not something he is willing to allow others who are not even criticizing him.

No one appears to shine in this sordid saga.

However, one point remains to be made. Free Speech must include the right to challenge views in particular if social thinking is to refine. Even if it is religious leaders doing the criticizing. Every religion has a concept of what it will not accept. Whether it is the godless heathens or the shudras or women or whatever is deemed not good enouh to coexist with. When masses are in the grip of religious zealotry it becomes all the more important that an unpopular views survive or we end up waking up too late like in the case of Narendra Dabholkar.

Therefore, ugly as it all is, I want to say this:

I endorse Rampal's right to have an opinion on Satyartha Prakash and other religious entities and to state it without fear of repercussions. It is my hope that the court can get to the bottom of this matter and judge the case with due punishment to crimes. It is also my hope that if there appears to be sufficient merit in Rampal's allegation of being targeted by Arya Samaj in retaliation for his views, the court takes appropriate action to punish Arya Samaj as well, in the interest of safeguarding the increasingly narrowing social space in which religious entities may be criticized on merit (or otherwise). It would be the final nail in the coffin of this sordid saga if persecuting rivals for religious criticism succeeded.

12

Remember the stories of Rajasthan as the land of valor, where honor is more important than life? Well... that still isn't too far from the truth. To date, women and men without power suffer at the hands of those with power. This horrifying email from a reader shares some of the environment growing up in an "honorable" family in Rajasthan. Just establishing that Rajasthan is no easy place to be to go against the family. Other news of honor related deaths - killings and suicides are routine.

In this kind of society, the Arya Samaj was a bastion of legitimacy and hope for many who wanted to marry but were not certain of parental approval. People who could "run away and marry" and perhaps return when things calmed down somewhat, or in the case of difficult families, not return at all.

The easy process and group weddings made it affordable to the poor.

In a recent ruling, the Rajasthan High Court has put a ban on any such love marriage unless parents of both the bride and bridegroom are informed through police about the intention of their children to enter into wedlock and if they object, the couple must produce three "prominent persons" from each side as witnesses. The court further directed that at least six days time be given to the parents to take a conscious decision on such a"love marriage".

"The pious purpose of the Arya Samaj Mission has been lost by the local units in the state and they are becoming a tool for pacification of 'greed and lust' for girl and boy and once it is over, the marriage lands in courts resulting in irreversible breakdowns. We fail to appreciate the Arya Samaj becoming a tool of such pacification. The persons running Arya Samaj are minting money by such marriages resulting in a serious problem in society," observed Justice Kothari Sajjan Singh.

While I understand that thoughtless, hormone laden marriages help no one, I believe that stupidity, greed or lust are currently legal in India and individual rights, if at all love marriages are that. This kind of moral policing has led to more deaths for honor than anything else. It is extremely shameful that a court violates human rights blatantly to restrict the freedoms of young people and compromise their safety out of a sense of upholding "the pious purpose" of an Arya Samaj that has absolutely no problem with these marriages. In other words, the court claims to know Arya Samaj better than the Arya Samaj, the circumstances of marriage better than the people marrying, and imposes restrictions based on their idea of "serious problem" in society.

If at all there were research that showed that marriages from the Arya Samaj had a higher rate of divorce than other love marriages, it would still be an individual's right to marry and divorce according to their needs in life. I married an older man at 18 to escape an abusive family. It was a mistake, sure, but I did escape my abusive home and it was my mistake to make. No such reference to conclusive evidence that the so called  has been made in any case. Arranged marriages having a lower rate of divorce is no surprise, but arranged marriages also have higher rates of dowry related harassment and deaths. Would you ban arranged marriages for that?

As for the court having a problem with marriages landing up in courts for divorce, my maid doesn't like dishes landing up in the sink for cleaning. It isn't a popularity contest. If you don't like your job, find another one, pressurize the govt for awareness creation so "less dishes land up for cleaning" but you can't "ban eating rice because many dishes are from eating rice".

The ban was supposedly prompted because a 34 year old man married an 18 year old girl. 18 is legal in India for giving consent. There are no riders for parental approval. The parents forced the girl back after marriage, and there doesn't seem to be any misconduct involved at least from the news reports other than the parents taking her back forcibly, forcing the  filing of a Habeas Corpus petition by 34-year-old Buddha Ram Meena who entered into such a marriage with 18-year-old Maina Bhatt. It is entirely shocking that a court can supposedly uphold the forcible removal of a married woman from her husband's house AND impose restrictions on their method of marriage!

34 years old isn't exactly like a 54 year old! 34 year old men look and act young, and while the difference in age is large, it isn't exactly impossible for them to fall in love with 18 year olds!

On the other hand, this ruling has legitimized the kidnapping of a girl from her married home in a land where honor killings still happen. Will the court admit culpability if the girl is killed for honor, commits suicide or otherwise comes to harm, including remaining unmarried for life because of this "scandal"? What about the lives now in danger because of hostile families seeing their marriage as a very public deadline for either banning (and they have been given that right now) or preventing through more extreme means?

Where earlier people could marry and present as fait accompli or run away till the anger died down, this ruling forces people to endure resistance, possible dangers, turns the wedding into an open challenge and defiance, And then it also makes sure that escaping will not work, since all the parents have to do is deny approval and land up at the place of the wedding to prevent it.

In pretending to protect the piousness of the Arya Samaj, the Court has successfully flatlined it as a viable option for love marriages where family may be a threat. How is this different from the Khap panchayats?

In the meanwhile, the increasingly expensive "cheap" option of Arya Samaj draws no restrictions - who actually cares about the poor people wanting to get married?

The better options for love marriages for those with dangerous families would be:

  • Not marrying - this is tops. Even if you live in for long, and later separate, the courts have started treating it like a kind of marriage if it comes to a break up. Even if you end up divorcing, by then this will only improve. It makes their job tougher, but the way I see it, they asked for it.
  • Change religion. You can be a 64 year old Muslim/Christian and happily marry an 18 year old girl, and show me the court that will challenge that. Downside - it is a stupid idea, because it won't feel like any marriage you recognize - different rituals.
  • Run away and register for a court marriage - the witnesses can be anyone. Absolutely anyone. Indeed, many people stand outside courts to offer such services.
  • Do a normal Hindu marriage with any couple sitting in for parents - the priests are fine with it.
  • Don't do an Arya Samaj marriage, because an honor supporting judge has made it too dangerous.

It seems to me that the court is taking Rajasthan back to times when people were the property of parents, and village elders ruled according the rights of parents to own them. Shame!

Update: I have been waiting for an online version of the judgment to become available, but nothing so far. If you find, please comment, and I will add it in.