Skip to content

Manual scavenging is a brutal occupation often imposed on the most disenfranchised dalits. Hazardous and with poor income and dignity, it often kills manual scavengers entering toxic drains without protection. This is a problem, but the answer needs to see the bigger picture.

I am mainly talking of manual scavenging as people getting into sewage systems to clear them of blockages and such - because it is the most dangerous kind. Physically carrying excreta away or removing dead animals and such is also manual scavenging, and it may be humiliating but is unlikely to kill the way a modern sewage system can and does (unless of course you're a dalit removing a dead cow and run into her sons).

Another death in manual scavenging. People routinely die in sewage. Another outrage against manual scavenging. What a hideous death! As though dying in sewage is somehow worse than making a living working in it on a daily basis. Perhaps it is. It is a symbol of the extreme of living with filth to the point of not being able to live at all. It is a symbol of the oppression of castes. It is illegal. Humans should not do manual scavenging. It is not safe or against dignity, etc.

A country of so many people poops a lot. It has to go somewhere. Us elites have these nice systems where we flush it down and it goes to somewhere out of our sight and mind. Others have a bit more thinking involved with more conscious choices like composting it for fertilizer or producing bio-gas. Still others flush it out of sight only for it to emerge in a drain on the outside of the toilet. Still others have pits in the ground that get filled with time and new pits are dug for use. Still others fertilize the railway tracks with their deposits.

All these methods have one thing in common. Manual scavenging (unless you go to a place no one cleans).

There is quite a bit of maintenance work that goes on around human excreta and acceptance levels for it vary. Some, as Rupa Subramanian so eloquently put it consider those touching the excreta to be irreparably filthy from the contact. This, indeed is the basis of the caste system, where people who traditionally do work considered unclean are considered unclean themselves. Note, the caste system was formed way before soap and disinfectants and many have refused to live outside that outdated mindset. Is there merit in separating the food, health and other public contact from people who have extensively touched contaminants in the absence of methods of sanitization? Definitely. Do you have to be an asshole about it? No, not in any century. Do you have to be paranoid about uncleanliness in the age of effective soaps, disinfectants and disposable barriers to prevent infections? Only if you get a high from judging people as inferior.

Most of the regular humans, even when not actively engaged in troubleshooting excreta management problems aren't that extremely Rupa and will casually spritz some toilet cleaner around the bowl, scrub it clean for further use (with a long handled brush) and wash our hands when done. Others have had to face blocked toilets in an emergency (let it flow out and cover the floor or deal with it and save the floor?) and valuables dropped into toilet bowls by accident (that is why your mom tells you not to use your phone in the loo).

Most of us are not too paranoid about this and will generally do the needful and address our distaste with various levels of vigor ranging from a casual swipe down the back of your jeans (you didn't need that visual, did you? I saw someone do it once and thought you should know.) to a complete hot water bath with multiple applications of soap and dettol in the water and throwing away of clothes worn.

On the other end of this spectrum are those that deal with excreta professionally, on a daily basis. I once saw a man standing in a sewer casually ask his colleague standing outside to hand him a bottle of water to drink. Doesn't sound that alarming, does it with water in the bottle still being clean, till you realize these people can't afford disposable bottles of mineral water - they likely fill their bottle at whatever tap daily. (I bet you didn't need that visual either)

Modern plumbing has brought with it the need to maintain the system of what goes on once we have flushed things out of sight. And if there is one place women must solidly shoulder condemnation, it is here. Among the biggest reasons of clogged sewage is menstrual cloths and sanitary napkins flushed out of sight and made someone else's problem to handle. Ask anyone who lived on the ground floor when sanitary napkins were newly introduced to the market and flushed away by those who lived on the floors above them. It is less common among us educated folks now that we know they clog sewage. But there are still plenty of embarrassed women who'd rather someone fished their menstrual evidence out of the sewage than them walking out of the toilet or leaving it on the floor for someone to know that they menstruate!

How many? Lots. Ask manual scavengers.

Of course, women can't be solely blamed for blocked sewage. Plenty of other things get into it too. Ill designed drains are eagerly looking for stuff to trap, it seems, which is why some sewers need cleaning more regularly than others. Some quite inexplicably. I have seen it and would definitely torture you with the details, if I could identify them. There is also necessary maintenance, dead rats and what not. It is quite an educational experience to stand and watch when blocked sewage gets cleaned. And for every 100 people who gingerly tiptoe past the grey-black oozing mess that gets shoveled out of the drain, there is one person wading in it fearlessly, shoveling it out, till the contents flow once more.

Coming to the point on manual scavenging

I have come to the conclusion that it is necessary. Unless of course we are willing to let civilization collapse in on itself and live in the filth they produce. It is necessary till it is no longer necessary. Which will be a long, long time in a country with a shortage of funds and power and an abundance of very poor and unemployed people.

What the condemnation of manual scavenging misses is the functuinality of their recommendations. "Stop manual scavenging" is an answer only if you live in a place where the drains don't clog and don't crap anywhere else. The fact is that sewage systems can get messed up in complicated ways in India. The need is to reduce problems in the entire chain that leads to the block that requires a skilled human to physically troubleshoot it.

How to "end" manual scavenging?

I am not sure it can be completely eliminated. The most developed of countries will need people willing to brave the sewers when something goes wrong. It is exactly what happens in India, except things go wrong more often. The key is to reduce instances where humans are put at risk and provide a dignified and sustainable existence. I have some ideas.

Prevent blockages to avoid sending manual scavengers when things go wrong

It is surprising how little attention robust sewage systems get when it comes to preventing manual scavenging. Manual scavenging has become a function of the system rather than service support and troubleshooting. This is hazardous and unsustainable.

Upgrade sewage systems

Create improved sewage systems designed to clog less and transport waste more efficiently. Process waste locally rather than transporting it over long distances to dump into rivers and the sea. Use technologies that allow recycling of human waste into fuel or fertilizer. Employ manual scavengers in their production so that they earn a lot more (both fuel and fertilizers are profitable products) and will still troubleshoot the fewer problems that arise.

Implement alternative methods of disposing sewage

If excreta will remain in place to clog the system without adequate water, the system is bound to fail where water availability is a problem. Develop and implement alternative methods of sewage disposal that require less water to maintain.

But this will be a time-consuming evolution for the country. Till then, while manual scavenging is inevitable...

Encourage responsible use of the sewage systems

Broadcast public service messages on not introducing objects that could prevent the efficient functioning of the sewage system. Lay stress on not flushing menstrual cloths, sanitary napkins, toilet paper and other non-excreta objects into the system.

Recognize manual scavenging as an important service

When it comes to keeping people healthy and safe, manual scavengers are probably at least, if not more important than healthcare workers. However, they face far more risks and are accorded far less dignity in their profession. This lack of respect exposes them to additional risks that can be avoided.

Manual scavenging is a profession necessary for society

People employed in this profession should not be considered any less than the far less life-essential professions like teacher or postman. Their income must reflect that. Their acceptance in society must reflect that.

Offer hazard pay and benefits

Manual scavengers face enormous health hazards so that the rest of the society is not forced to face them. Their profession brings with it physical and psychological stress as well as increased health risks. They should be accorded free healthcare (including at least some portion of it in their local private hospitals that they help keep safe as CSR). They should be offered hazard pay to help them address expenses they face because of their profession. They should have life insurance by default.

Treat all deaths on the job where inadequate protection is found as manslaughter

Manual scavengers who are not offered adequate protective equipment and die on the job should be considered to be killed, not accidentally dead. Just like a soldier shot in combat dead due to a lack of a bulletproof vest would be the responsibility of the government. This must result in convictions that include jail terms.

An argument I heard by a pro-government person recently on the subject was that "they will start asking for all kinds of perks or claim to be unprotected at work". Let me put it like this. If they ask for perfume because of the smell, and the employer isn't really economically capable of catering to such demands, it isn't going to result in dead people. Treating deaths due to lack of protection at work as manslaughter will obviously mean life-essential protection, unless anyone thinks people will die for want of perfume to make the government look bad.

Caste and manual scavenging

Manual scavenging in India is traditionally tied in with specific castes that are considered to be the lowest in the social hierarchy. This is because manual scavenging is not profitable, so they are not rich enough to influence anyone. I believe that improving dignity and income for the profession will automatically have the result of the entry of other castes. In my view, it is a superior way of indirectly detaching specific castes from specific humiliating work as well, without making it explicitly about caste.

Please leave your ideas in the comments.

2

Big moral question these days, this business of who a legitimate citizen of India is. As fate would have it, as the super-Hindu government fucks up over and over, Muslims are among those who shine. Given the kind of publicity they get, one would imagine that Muslims are the sole saviors of India - almost as a corollary to the Hindutva government in the state being its current biggest clusterfuck. Of course, it isn't true. How a person responds when they see another in a moment of need is more about them as people than their religion. Of course, when callous disregard for human life is the norm, it seems like a dramatic flourish to show the actions of the biggest targets as worthier than those targeting them.

A few days ago, we saw the ruling party's considerable voice be misused to persecute a doctor who did his best to contain the damage of a massive crisis born of criminal negligence in Gorakhpur's Baba Raghav Das medical college. It is hardly the case that he was the only staff the hospital had, but he acted well under pressure and was appreciated by the distraught parents. Yesterday, in the aftermath of yet another clusterfuck emerging from the sheer incompetence and negligence of the Hindutva government in the center, saints injured in the Utkal Express accident managed to tell media that if it were not for Muslims, they would have died. One wonders at the saints who managed to notice the religion of their saviors even in the face of death.

In many ways, what is happening is clear. Uncomfortable with the unfair attitudes toward Muslims, those who see them for the hate speech that they are, are trying to shame the Hindutva supremacists into seeing that those they support are responsible for deaths due to incompetence and neglect over and over, while the Muslims they like to find fault with are saving lives within those tragedies too. There is a catch. Hindutva extremists do not feel shame if it is pointed out that they made false accusations about Muslims. They make false accusations about Muslims routinely and on purpose. One would imagine that this works toward acknowledging the "other side" of Muslims, but in reality, it elevates absurd nonsense to the respect of an argument made in a logical debate that requires answering.

Now here is the problem. In acknowledging the "other side", you end up legitimizing the nonsensical and rabid first side. This is a mirror of the technique that was used to whitewash Modi from the "butcher of Gujarat" to "Vikas purush". Tenders on Gujarat government funds for reporting "news" that showcased the "development" in Gujarat - public funds openly used for paid news, while ignoring its ongoing horrendous human development aspects. Then trolls were unleashed to target individual journalists and dissenting voices with these pieces of propaganda in hand to "prove" that critics of Modi were showing only "one side" of the picture. Cornered over and over, the journalists started exerting caution about what they said on social media. They started being carefully "neutral" and "including the other side" of the story to avoid being called out in public by angry e-mobs.

Of course, it is a head fake. There is no "other side" to hatred being wrong. There is no "other side" to crimes being wrong. There is no such thing as "putting your finger in an electrical socket is bad, but you can do it on Tuesdays and it won't harm". The Hindutva right invents these "other sides" out of thin air at convenience.

But faced with a barrage of propaganda, many were fooled into thinking Modi was innocent and targeted by vested interests. Surely all his desperate pleas to show Gujarat's prosperity were the signs of a man sincerely into development? Well, we saw the sincerity about development over the last three years first hand. Random people were put up to promise grand "deals" in Vibrant Gujarat summits and the lack of the deals materializing wasn't reported. Carefully concerted media efforts ensured that the fake news plants out-shouted the expose and prevailed.

Today, we have the opposite. Where that was an effort to cover up reality, after this government came to power, what we see is an effort to invent a reality - where only those loyal to the BJP have a right to live in India. Everyone else can go to Pakistan. Intoxicated on dreams of disenfranchising people they dislike, bhakts couldn't care less if nothing useful is actually delivered to them. The intoxication of power over another's safety means they are important people, right? Supporting the right man, so they are important people. They decide who has permission to live in India and who doesn't.

Every day the Muslims prove themselves worthy of belonging to the country they were born. "Jeene do becharon ko, kisi ki jaan bachayenge kal." Hindutva's biggest supremacist achievement. A default of half the country as being unworthy of belonging in the country for some reason or the other. If detesting the ruling party were enough to strip someone of citizenship, India would have become Hindutva free in the 60 years of Congress rule they keep harping about. It is fine to detest the government and you are still an Indian with complete right to being in this country. What is going on is basically thugs trying to attack people and make them flee.

"Muslims are a threat to Hindus!"

Strive to show how they save lives and establish the norm by submitting exceptions to scrutinize.

"Dalits are unworthy"

Showcase their achievements or competence and prove it by providing exceptions to the rule.

The TV channels that served by looking the other way are now serving by scrutinizing the targets of one political party that has never ruled India for any significant period and pretending it is the whole of India.

This too is a head fake. And the more you engage with it, the more you feed it, the more it grows. There is no such thing as Muslims being inherently criminal. There is no such thing as dalits being inherently unclean. It is all the propaganda of supremacists trying to disenfranchise everyone except themselves to become the biggest bullies on the block. The answer to this isn't posting links about individual Muslims for them to peer at and go, "ok, this one may be all right, but most Muslims are criminals". The answer isn't posting links about dalit achievements so that they can go "ok, this one may be clever, but otherwise they are too stupid to achieve anything on merit". There is no actual argument here that you are refuting. It is the chest thumping of bullies forcing you to play by their rules.

Sure, admire Muslims if they do something good, just like you'd admire Hindus or anyone else, but admire them for their deeds, not an accident of birth for being born into a specific religion and thus serving as a convenient example to answer a fictitious requirement. Admire the work of dalits for its own sake. There is no need to "prove" their worthiness. There is nothing inherently unworthy about them. I'll tell you why.

When you point out individual examples like rare gems, you're seeing the gems, but it is also an unintended "rare" being conveyed. There is nothing rare about Muslims being nice people or dalits achieving something. They are people, just like everyone else. They have their good, bad, achievers, good-for-nothings and everything in between. Don't fall for this nonsense and start proving that they have good qualities, as though if they didn't, their dienfranchisement was right.

Get this straight. There is no quality control test for remaining a legitimate citizen. A citizen is a legitimate citizen no superior or inferior to other citizens unless there is a formal procedure revoking the citizenship. Just look at the chest thumping monuments to proud refusal to coexist - would they qualify as good members of any place that wanted to stay whole? If they are citizens without a problem, why would people minding their own business not be?

No one has to deserve being a citizen. Just look at all the privileged idiots proudly showcasing ignorance and bigotry and still citizens. It isn't only meritorious dalits or life-saving Muslims who need respect. All citizens are equal under law and they all have same value.

Don't let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. There is nothing to prove here.

1

Following on from this series of tweets

Ever since I heard of the renaming of Gurgaon to Gurugram, it was as if something exploded within me. Naming one metro station “Guru Dronacharya” did not bother me as much – especially since the next one is “Sikanderpur”. (I died mildly, thinking of the irony, when someone suggested that the next station in Gurgaon, “M G Road”, was Mahatma Gandhi Road – it’s actually Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road). But renaming the whole city for a fictional character raised my hackles no end. While this did throw up many jokes, it also revived one of the darker episodes from the fabulously flawed epic – that of #Ekalavya.

I noted, again in alarm, that no sooner did the discrimination against Ekalavya get revived that some right-wing twitterati started circulating their own fable about Ekalavya being on the wrong side of “Dharma”, apparently, because he fought against the Pandavas and eventually died at the hands of Krishna. The ultimate fate of Ekalavya, to me, is irrelevant. What is of significance is the excessive wrong done to him at the outset of his life, and this I knew from first-hand reading of the original English translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli published in the 1890s (all translations since have borrowed from this one).

The Ekalavya story, which I ended up “live” tweeting so to speak (link above), is revelatory for it throws up a number of modern parallels. But what it underlines crucially is that entitlement and appropriation have been contemporaneous with casteism – no matter to what period you date the composition of the Mahabharata, its events borrow from a deeply casteist society whose elite did not balk at any opportunity for preserving their privilege. And so I started..

"So, anyway, or not, I want to narrate the Kisari Mohan Ganguli translation of the episode of the today. Mute if you want to ignore, or just unfollow. I am doing this cos #Ekalavya is also being #appropriated, and the lie needs to be called. Also, as a final introductory point, today is most auspicious for this. Ganguli impresses me because of his rigor: he compared many versions.

Story so far: Drona has been appointed by Bheeshma on account of being a merited-yet-poor Brahmin weapons expert to teach the scions of Kuru. Also, Drona has a grudge against Drupada, who just happens to be king of neighbouring Panchala. Perfect killing two birds with one stone. So the pandavas and kauravas become pupils of Drona and soon Arjuna becomes the teacher's pet after Drona discovers him practicing at night. Quoting Ganguli "Drona, hearing the twang of his bowstring in the night, came to him, and clasping him, said, 'Truly do I tell thee that I shall do that unto thee by which there shall not be an archer equal to thee in this world.'" This is a compact Arjuna will hold. "Thereafter Drona began to teach Arjuna the art of fighting on horse-back, on the back of elephants, on car, and on the ground.'"

Drona's popularity drew many other kings. Among these "was a prince named Ekalavya, who was the son of Hiranyadhanus, king of the Nishadas (the lowest of the mixed orders)." (Important points here!)

"Drona, however, cognisant of all rules of morality, accepted not the prince as his pupil in archery, seeing that he was a Nishada who might (in time) excel all his high-born pupils."

Observe! No reservation so the Brahmin teacher rejects the "low-born" pupil!

We all know what #Ekalavya did next - goes back to his forest, builds a clay image of #Drona, worships it, practices archery in front of it! "And one day, O grinder of foes, the Kuru and the Pandava princes, with Drona's leave, set out in their cars on a hunting excursion. A servant followed the party at leisure, with the usual implements and a dog. Having come to the woods, they wandered about intent on the purpose they had in view. Meanwhile, the dog also, in wandering alone in the woods,came upon the Nishada prince (Ekalavya)..."

Observe again - it is the dog that comes upon #Ekalavya

"beholding the Nishada of dark hue, of body besmeared with filth, dressed in black", repeat "Nishada of dark hue, of body besmeared with filth, dressed in black and bearing matted locks on head, the dog began to bark aloud. Thereupon the Nishada prince, desirous of exhibiting his lightness of hand, sent seven arrows into its mouth (before it could shut it). The dog, thus pierced with seven arrows, came back to the Pandavas. Those heroes, who beheld that sight, were filled with wonder and, ashamed of their own skill, began to praise the lightness of hand and precision of aim exhibited... by the unknown archer."

"And they thereupon began to seek in those woods for the unknown dweller therein that had shown such skill... the Pandavas soon found out the object of their search ceaselessly discharging arrows from the bow. And beholding that man of grim visage, who was totally a stranger"

(again, worth noting "man of grim visage") "they asked, 'Who art thou and whose son?'" (the Mahabharata version of "tu kaun? tera baap kaun?") "...the man replied, 'Ye heroes, I am the son of Hiranyadhanus, king of the Nishadas. Know me also for a pupil of Drona..."

[For those who know Sanskrit, #Ekalavya's father's name (Hiranyadhanus), interestingly, means "Golden Bow". Worth asking if #Ekalavya's skill was hereditary!]

[tweetthis]Was #Eklavya's skill hereditary?[/tweetthis]

This has modern parallels, of course. Colonialism killed artisanship - could the suppression of skilled-but-"low-born" archers be an augury? Carrying on with the tale

"The Pandavas then.. returned (to the city), and going unto Drona, told him of that wonderful feat of archery. Arjuna, in particular, thinking all the while of Ekalavya, saw Drona in private and relying upon his preceptor's affection for him said, 'Thou hadst lovingly told me, clasping me, to thy bosom, that no pupil of thine should be equal to me."

(Oh, the effing entitlement!)

"Why then is there a pupil of thine, the mighty son of the Nishada king, superior to me?"

(Observe how "merit" works - through influence!)

"On hearing these words, Drona reflected.. and.. took Arjuna with him and went unto the Nishada prince. And he beheld #Ekalavya..."

(wait for it)

"And he beheld #Ekalavya with body besmeared with filth, matted locks (on head), clad in rags, bearing a bow in hand and shooting arrows!"

Interjection: I don't believe Ganguli is piling on his own Brahminical biases (his introduction is worth reading!) but note the repetition! Whoever composed/compiled this section of the #Mahabharata, really had to drive in the appearance of #Ekalavya - as if that disqualifies him!

On we go...

"when Ekalavya saw Drona approaching towards him, he went a few steps forward,and touched his feet and prostrated himself. And the son of the Nishada king worshipping Drona, duly represented himself as his pupil, clasping his hands in reverence stood before him. Then Drona addressed Ekalavya, saying, 'If, O hero, thou art really my pupil, give me then my fees."

(Entitlement and appropriation all over again. Drona rejects the candidature of Ekalavya, refuses to make him a student, but is conceited enough to demand fees!)

"On hearing these words, #Ekalavya was very much gratified, and said in reply, 'O illustrious preceptor, what shall I give? Command me for there is nothing, O foremost of all persons conversant with the Vedas, that I may not give unto my preceptor."

This is #OneTightSlap territory, in my opinion. A right-minded teacher should have turned into a puddle of wax at this continued righteousness. But no!

"Drona answered, 'O Ekalavya, if thou art really intent on making me a gift, I should like then to have the thumb of thy right hand."

Gift! As #Mahabharata pundits like to rave, where was #Dharma here? #Ekalavya followed it to the tee, and #Drona, the entitled pompous ass? Gift!

After this, when the Nishada prince began once more to shoot with the help of his remaining fingers, he found that he had lost his lightness of hand. And at this Arjuna became happy, the fever (of jealousy) having left him.

There you go! "Merit" wins again! The least justice for Ekalavya would have been a no-holds barred contest with Arjuna - may the best man win! But instead we hear of how he is handicapped, literally, because he follows the #Dharma of a student even though he has technically never been admitted as one by #Drona. Nowhere in the story do we here of what support system Ekalavya might have had as a student whereas Arjuna is palace-raised, in high comfort. Yet, because Ekalavya could pose a threat to Arjuna's supremacy, he is cut down in his prime. Again, Arjuna watches this with joy but never in the Mahabharata is he called to account for this! This is "establishment" behavior - "hey who cares for a low-born Nishada huh, huh? #BroCode", Arjuna might have tweeted.

To conclude #Drona fears from the start that #Ekalavya will defeat the "high-born" pupils of his. From here on it is entitlement all the way - on Drona's and Arjuna's part. And scholars far more erudite than me - both Dalit and Savarna - have demonstrated how this sort of privilege has continued to stake its claim in modern India as well. It is of this that Ambedkar sought to break the back by turning away from Hinduism itself. It is telling of India's storied lethargy and unwillingness to break from conformity that this singular act was not the death knell it should have been for casteist Hindu practices. To this day, we continue to chew the cud over this - to what end?

Today there is a new Hindu elite seeking to turn back time to that fictional era in which a Drona could oh-so-easily stomp his privilege over an Ekalavya. That Drona is being celebrated through renaming a city. Today's Ekalavya's must spit in the face of modern Dronas and Arjunas, refuse to parley with them, and, most definitely, must refuse to cut off their own thumbs.

I know I would do so as an Ekalavya. Good night and good luck.

11

The following is a first person account by Md Hasanujjaman, M Phil in English, University of Hyderabad of the brutality unleashed by the police against the students and faculty of University of Hyderabad.

12592585_483706081815349_7432427043187641619_n
VC Apparao resumes office at the face of the report of the two-member fact finding committee that stated the university should have handled the incident more “sensitively” -

I am one of the arrested students in connection with the protest against the VC of UoH. I belong to a minority community of West Bengal. My family is financially backward. Here I would like to narrate the police brutality on me and my fellowvictims in police van on the way from UoH to Miyapur Police Station on 22nd March. Before coming to UoH I was naive about the problems in the society. I had no idea of the pathetic and dehumanized condition of the dalits and the adivasis. I was hardly aware of the dangerous consequences of caste system in the Indian society. But coming to UoH I began to understand the real picture of the caste system which leads to utter discrimination and dehumanization of the dalits. I saw that this caste system makes the lives of the dalits extremely miserable. Realizing my responsibility as an independent and right thinking citizen of this country I found that the caste system is a tool of dehumanization and therefore it must be annihilated. I stood against this discrimination of the caste system and thus, I aligned with the movement which Rohith Vemula was part of.

Rohith Vemula being a dalit, was institutionally discriminated and forced to take his own life. The ‘Vice Chancellor prof Appa Rao Podile’ directly perpetrated in the institutional social boycott against the five dalit students including Rohith. Following the suicide of Rohith, the VC was booked under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act according to whose provision the accused must have been arrested within 24 hours from the lodging of FIR. However the FIR was lodged on 18th January, 2016 and till date he has not been arrested. This is a gross violation of the constitutional provision. Instead he returned to the university and attempted to illegally reclaim his ‘vice chancellorship’ on the 22nd March, early morning.

huc-police-action-759
Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and other security personnel unleashed brutal physical and sexual assault on students and teachers protesting against VC resuming office for Justice for Rohith

On the same day that is on 22nd March I went to attend a PreSubmission Seminar in the department of English, School of Humanities, at exactly around 2.00pm. Coming out of the department at around 3.00pm I saw that the peacefully protesting women and men teacher and students were being dragged and beaten up mercilessly by the police. The police were chasing and lathicharging on the protesters indiscriminately. It was obnoxious to see that the protesters are beaten up for raising voice against the injustice. It was a day of police violence on the democratic and peaceful protesters. I saw one student losing his sense and was rushed to a hospital. Many students got their clothes torn due to the brutal manhandle and lathicharge. But it was most painful to see that the women students and teachers being mercilessly beaten up by the police. They were thrashed on their private parts. I also witnessed female teachers being manhandled/molested by the police. It was a violation of women's rights as the women students and teachers were molested by the male police. Dr Tathagata Sengupta, an assistant professor of Mathematics was beaten up too.

It was a threatening moment in my life. I never saw such police violence in front of my eyes. I could not restrain myself from speaking against the police and as a result I was the next to be victimized. However, the police brutality actually began when one teacher, one film maker and the sixteen students including me were chased and dragged into a police van. I was standing near the ‘Goodwill canteen’ which is around 250 meter away from the VC`s lodge where the protests were happening. Standing there itself I could see students and teacher being dragged into the police van. But I never thought that I would also be a victim of the police brutality. Suddenly, one police chased me and caught the collar of my shirt. I pleaded not to apprehend me as I did not commit any crime except the fact that I stood for the Justice for Rohith and supported the students’ movement for justice. I feel that I was targeted because I questioned the police on their face that why Rohith did not get justice even after more than three months; why the accused for Rohith's murder has not been punished; on what ground the VC has come to take charge of the university. Instead I was beaten up and thrashed hard and pushed into the police van.

This inhuman and brutal torture continued on all of us for around 50 minutes on the way from UoH to the Miyapur Police Station. Dragging me into the van the police forcefully pushed me down into a corner seat. Before getting hit I quickly looked at a fellow victim Subhadeep Kumar and asked him what might happen to me as for the first time my life I got into a police van. He assured me that nothing will happen as I did not commit anything wrong. I could not turn my face to have a look at the rest of the victim in the van. Again the police hit me on shoulder. I pleaded not to hit me but the police pulled my hair and punched me hard on my back. Another police hurried at me snatched my mobile and spectacle. But when I pleaded to give me back the spectacle as I have serious eye problem, the police boxed on my right eye saying that why despite being visually challenged did I spoke against the police. Whenever I tried to look at my fellow companions who were beaten up black and blue, the police hit me and cowed me down not to raise my head again. I heard my fellow friends shrieking in pain as they were mercilessly thrashed and hit. Those who had beard and looked liked ‘Muslims’ were beaten up specifically as the police suspended them to ‘like’ terrorists. The sounds of slapping and hitting still haunt my mind and I feel the pain. Professor K Y Ratnam was also a victim of the police brutality. A filmmaker, Moses Abhilash too was unlucky to be a victim of the brutality. Abhilash was just shooting the videos of police lathicharge which the police did not want the public to see. The police beatings left wounds on my body. When I requested for water they gave me the water only to be ready to get beaten up again. The physical assault was extremely systematic and cruel. At that moment I doubted whether I was at all a human being. While beating up, the police also unleashed verbal abuse on all of us at extreme level. During the journey of police brutality from the UoH to Miyapur P. S., the police were continuously abusing us with the most vulgar and objectionable language. “M***d, b**d, chu**a, bho**ke” and etc were the common words they were throwing at us. They called us Pakistani ISI agents and alleged that we are spending Indian money and supporting Pakistan and threatened us to send us to Pakistan. They called us antinational alleging that we are conducting “beef festival”, “kiss of love” events on “Afzal Guru’, “Yakub Memon’. They said that they were taking revenge on us for their hard work on duty. They also assaulted our departed friend Rohith Vemula saying that he was a ‘bastard’, ‘spoiled child’ and people are unnecessarily paying attention to his death. They used extremely antiwomen, derogatory, and sexist comments. They said that they would rape our mothers and sisters and also they vowed to bring them here and take their naked videos. They also threatened to do the same with our women friends in the university. Hearing these comments I feel that the safety of the women is at great risk and I also feel that the posting of police poses direct threat to women teachers, students and workers in the campus. Their comments and attitudes were dangerous as far as the safety and security of women is concerned at large in the society. It is appalling to think what the police remarked against the women.

hcu-police-brutality.jpg.image.784.410
The language police used against women protestors : "Tu kahaan ki rehne wali hai? Itti kaali hai! Aa tere ku sabak sikhata hoon! (Where are you from? You are so dark. Let me teach you a lesson)"

After brutal torture in the police van we were subjected to harassment in Miyapur P. S. After reaching there at Miyapur we all of us were made to sit on a dirty and spaceless corridor. The police humiliated us by making our respected teacher Prof K Y Ratnam sit on the same dirty floor. The police lectured us about moral and ethical correctness. They behaved with us very rudely while taking our detail information and pictures. On asking about our release the police told us that everything is in hand of their “BIG BOSSES” and they also said that the Gachibowli police have already decided our fate. We were kept awake throughout the night by putting light on in front of eyes and playing songs and videos. When we requested to let us sleep they laughed at us. The next day, a Subinspector of Miyapur P.S. called me for interrogation and he took all my information in detail including my family, relatives’ information. He also took the photos of my PAN, Aadhaar and university ID cards. He also took the phone numbers of my relatives checking my mobile. He abused me very badly and threatened me that in future if something happened in the university, I will be a target even if I do not commit any crime.

Thereafter we were secretly taken to Balanagar Police Station where we were again harassed both physically as well as mentally. The police made us sit in a dirty and suffocating room. Professor Ratnam was again humiliated by making him sit at the feet of the police who was sitting on a chair and giving us pedantic lecture on nationalism and education as to how we should develop our society. This is the same subinspector of Miyapur P.S. who abused me in vulgar language and giggled his teeth and lied to me when I asked him where we were taken to. He also mocked at me by calling me “team leader” and “mastermind”. I don't know his motive for calling such things. But I am apprehensive of my Muslim identity as he was targeting me. I was also not allowed to inform my worried family or friends about my whereabouts.
From Balanagar P.S. we were taken to ‘Government Area Hospital’ secretly. We were shocked to know that we were taken to a hospital. I had wounds and pain caused by the police brutality the previous day. But I had no reason to expect any medical treatment. In the hospital I was forced to stand in the queue for treatment. The doctor gave me “fit to be produced at court” certificate despite my critical health condition. I also saw Professor K Y Ratnam`s Blood Pressure reading to touch around 220 mark in the BP machine. After the “treatment” the Gachibowli CI J. Ramesh forced me to sign the arrest papers at around 9.00 pm on 23 March whereas actually I was arrested by the police at 5.30pm on 22 March. When I tried to raise objection the Gachibowli CI J.Ramesh threatened me that not signing the arrest papers would amount to additional cases against me. I was denied any interaction with any legal expert on these serious issues. When I politely asked him “Sir, my career would be shattered if my future is tarnished by filing cases against me”, he aggressively threatened me saying “shut your mouth up otherwise I will file more cases against you”. I do not know how to express the fear generated in me by J Ramesh. After medically certifying me “fit to be produced at court” I was again confined in the police van. It was suffocating and scorching hot. I requested the police to let me stand out of the van until it moves. But the police as usual again threatened us. I was very hungry as I did not get anything to eat throughout the day. The police did not bother to hear any of my problems. Then I was taken to the honourable Magistrate at around 11.40 pm. But the Gachibowli police Naveen and Bhupathi did not allow me to appear at the honourable Magistrate to narrate my suffering and wooes. At the Magistrate's order I was sent to Cherlapally Central Prison. Coming to the prison my health further deteriorated. I called a prison physician for treatment. He gave me a general painkiller injection and some medicine for the wounds and pain caused by the police on 22 March. But he did not give me any proper health treatment as I needed the most. It still pains me to remember that in prison the doctor was not allowed inside and therefore, I had to take an injection through the window. I also failed to have an eye check as 22 March as the police hit me on my right eye. The police action threatened my life and also the hopes of my family. I feel helpless, hopeless and unsafe. The police filed false cases against me and others with the deliberate intention to destroy our future and our lives. The police terrorized us throughout the first 33 hours to ensure that we do not again protest against the government and its agencies. They kept us saying that we should only study and not get involved in politics. They wanted to create a fear in us so that before protesting we will remember the trauma of the police brutality. This poignant memory will always be haunting my life.
Md Hasanujjaman
M Phil in English,
University of Hyderabad

1

This post began life as an attempt to boost the response to the latest wave of targeted violence and/or State-sponsored suppression of civil liberties in Chhattisgarh. Even as I typed away, trying to summarize the ever-mounting brutality in that state, the news breaking from the University of Hyderabad took centre-stage. Every day this past week I have been reflecting on the horrors unfolding in India. Whether Chhattisgarh, or Jharkhand, UP or Hyderabad there is only the sense that the various agencies of the central and state governments are brazen in their attempts in maintaining control of their narrative, either through commission or omission.

The War against Scholarship

The Central Government's Ministry of Human Resources & Development seems to be waging its own war against universities across the country. The earlier controversy at FTII was just the curtain raiser - the Ministry recanted on its decision to stop Non-NET Fellowships last year after massive protests from students across the country. But now it seems to be opening that can of worms all over again - with the current fire directed at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. However, over and beyond the critical question of supporting research is the amount of control being handed to the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The massive blow-up of sloganeering at a student event at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (even if it was about the controversial hanging of Afzal Guru), now appears to have been kicked off by the ABVP inviting media teams to campus, possibly without permission from the necessary authorities. Even as student leaders from other campus bodies were arrested (and subsequently released on bail), no questions were asked of the ABVP's leadership, with them seeming to get implicit support even from the Central Cabinet. This has emboldened them to become the government's henchmen on various campuses.

Which brings us to the grim episode as yet unfolding at the Hyderabad Central University. This too, started last year, with the shocking apathy of university officials towards Dalit research scholars leading to the suicide of #RohithVemula. The central player in that episode, the Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile, was suspended pending investigation into his abetment of Rohith's suicide. Strangely, he made an unannounced return to campus, in what appears to be a carefully orchestrated move. Again, it is important to note that on his return, Podile had the ABVP's support, as noted by many of the student protestors.

The other thread throughout this narrative is the inordinate, disproportionate amount of violence by the State. If Delhi witnessed scenes of lathicharge, water-cannoning, etc. during the UGC protests, the violence against the #HCU students seems to on a different scale altogether. It is almost shocking to think that this latter bout of violence has, up to the time of writing this, not received even one statement of censure from any state or central government official. Add to this the fact that the police detained and questioned protestors in Chennai (for attempting a hunger strike) and Mumbai as well.

As I write this, Pune's Fergusson College is becoming the latest theatre in ABVP's war for control of campuses India-wide. In this, the ABVP is only following the #BJP, whose gameplan to be India's politics new singular force was signaled by Amit Shah when he first took over as the BJP President. To be fair, there were some ABVP members who found the whole JNU fiasco, particularly the assault by the lawyers at Patiala House, revolting enough to step down.

Highlighting the Real Issues

The issue of student scholarship must be seen in the light of whom it affects most. The most-telling characteristic of the student politics at JNU and HCU is that they empower students from the most marginalized sections of society who would otherwise hardly get such an opportunity.  Their battle must therefore be seen against the backdrop of the various conflicts being fought in the remotest parts of India. As the journalist P Sainath said when speaking at JNU after the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, JNU was now fighting the criminalization of dissent that had long been fought by India's poorest and most disempowered.

In Chhattisgarh, the State has continuously waged war against the tribals in the quest to make mineral resources available to corporates - this war is older than the state of #Chhattisgarh itself. Much of the most critical reportage on the circumstances in the state are already beginning to look dated, although their relevance is as yet intact, with on-ground situation mostly remaining intact, until now. Commentators now see a "Mission 2016", particularly in #Bastar, wherein any and every agency that attempts to speak for the tribals is flushed out of the State - the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group has been forced out, likewise doctors and journalists. Those two bravest of local voices - Soni Sori and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi are being attacked more insidiously now, but continue to speak. As do other local activists and lawyers like Bela Bhatia and Shalini Gera continue to hold their ground, even as they too are targeted by the government.

In Maharashtra, the impact of the irrigation crisis has now been compounded by the crippling drought that affects a large swathe of the state. The famed Section 144 of the Criminal Penal Code, is now imposed in places like Latur prevent riots over water. Latur's MLA, meanwhile, has disappeared leaving even his party whip in the legislature clueless. On the other hand, the state's Attorney-General, Shreehari Aney, has resigned his office after the legislature found controversial his support for separate statehood for Vidarbha and Marathwada (Latur falls in Marathwada, btw). Mr. Aney is now planning to take his protest to Jantar Mantar. It is useful to remember that Devendra Fadnavis sought his mandate in Maharashtra on this very promise.

The list goes on - the state of Orissa now fights the very people it is supposed to represent to get mining rights for POSCO in Niyamgiri, while Jharkhand's cow vigilantism seems to find support at the highest echelons of government. There are famine-related horror stories coming in from Bundelkhand,

Response

The purpose of this article is to not to recount a litany of horrors,  but to highlight the urgent need for responses. The resignation of Mr. Aney, the Orissa government's lawsuit, the ABVP members' resignations can all be seen as alarm bells of one kind or another. The journalist Prem Shankhar Jha also highlighted the worsening situation of India's Muslims vis-a-vis education and unemployment.

The students of various institutions have also shown the way, by becoming a credible opposition to the whip being wielded by government.

It is now essential that empathetic citizens also raise their voices. In Bastar, when journalists found no one to carry their stories, they went online, posting stories on Facebook. Suresh Ediga and Bhavana Nissima are now using social media to leverage public support for the initiatives of Soni Sori, through their  #OneMillionPostCardCampaign for #Bastar. Similarly, most of the news from Hyderabad has come out through Facebook, with the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice -UoH carrying content on its page.

The violence highlighted here runs across caste, class and (religious) community lines, especially in the run-up to elections. There is a visible attempt to communalize violence that isn't communal to begin with. Ultimately, these issues, along with those of land and water, will affect each and every one of us. I ask, beg, request, that readers at least broadcast any and every effort at combating these issues, if not supporting them in every way possible. Good night and good luck!