By Mumbai Rises to Save Democracy
20th December, 2019: A Public Meeting titled, “STILL WE RESIST: Rise in Defense of Human Rights” was held at the Dadar – Matunga Cultural Centre, Dadar (West). The program marked the International Human Rights Day, bringing together activists from various walks of life to talk about the attacks on human rights and human rights defenders by the current political regime.
At the event, Prakash Bhoir – the Adivasi leader from Aarey Forest and one of the leading voices of the Aarey struggle – spoke about the struggle and how the Adivasi community living in the forest were not consulted at all while cutting the trees. Talking about how the government has been bringing in one project after another in the name of development, he said “Government says, we will give you new houses somewhere else. Save you from animals in the forest. But we are not scared of animals around us, they are our family. We grew up with them. It’s the government which bothers us.” While emphasizing the importance of agitation “Only people who agitate are alive. Those who don’t are dead.”
Manisha Dhinde, a fierce young Adivasi woman also at the forefront of Aarey struggle spoke about how the forest is her home and the animals are like her brothers and sisters. She said “We are treated like we don’t exist or live inside the forest or that there aren’t any Adivasis in Mumbai. Come and see. Come and see how we are treated and how basic rights are denied to us.”
Aloka Kujur, an activist from Jharkhand, spoke about the Pathalgarhi movement and the resultant repression on the communities and activists there. She said that more than 10,000 people have been charged under sedition, “even motorcycles are charged under sedition here!” She further declared “We will keep fighting in Jharkhand, we will ensure our dissent is registered and not simply suppressed via fake cases and intimidation.”
Aisha Kader, General Secretary of the Student Union, TISS, spoke about students’ movements against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) across the country. She said “They say that they can recognize us by the clothes, well we can recognize the rioters by their khaki pants too.”
Prabhat Patnaik, a leading economist and one of the 5 citizens who filed the public interest litigation in the Supreme Court questioning the arrests in the Bhima Koregaon case, spoke about the state of the economy under the present government and how they have no idea how to repair it. He further stated that the present crisis is not because of communalism but because of the fascist dictatorship that this government seeks to achieve. He ended his talk by appreciating the Maharashtra government’s move to quash cases against the various protestors in the state while also appealing to the Maharashtra government to take back the cases registered against the activists arrested – or at least not object to the bail pleas – in the Bhima Koregaon case.
Arfa Khanum, a journalist working with The Wire and a brave and outspoken critique of the government’s policies, spoke about how these present protests have filled her with hope in these difficult times. She said that the protests involving lakhs of people has shaken the government, and that – if we were to keep this momentum going and growing – the pillars of this government would shatter.
Afterwards, Advocate Mihir Desai updated on the Bhima Koregaon Case and clarified that, contrary to what was reported in the mass media on the 19 December, the court is not framing any charges in the case at this moment. The accused activists had raised the issue that the prosecution has yet not supplied all the cloned copies to them despite a clear order. The court then assured them that until all the documents (the cloned copies) are not provided to the applicants, he is not going to proceed further. Mihir added that while the case will continue in the court, the struggle for the release of the activists has to be fought on the streets.
All of the speakers then jointly released the book titled “A Quest For Freedom: The Story of Bhima Koregaon Conspiracy”, containing background of the Bhima Koregaon Case, profiles of the 9 arrested, and their writings from Prison. Sagar Gonsalves, the son of Vernon Gonsalves, read out excerpts from writings of all the prisoners. The event concluded with a powerful and inspiring performance by Samta Kala Manch during which the hall echoed with “Dabe pairon se ujala aa raha hai, phir kathaon ko khangala ja raha hai.” (From repressed feet bursts forth illumination, of stories there is now re-examination).