Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
June 12, 2020
Mr. President: Imagine someone being jailed for organizing a demonstration -- under
such rules hundreds of activists in the Black Lives Matter marches would be in jail!
Unthinkable in a democracy? Then imagine a judge in India denying bail for such an
offense so that the person is in jail without trial, without a preliminary hearing, and
without the nourishing food necessary in her present condition.
Yes, the person involved is a young woman only 27 years of age, newly married and
pregnant, a graduate student at a university in Delhi, and she hails from, of all places,
repressed Kashmir where India's human rights record has left a stink smelled around
the world. Her name is Safoora Zargar. It is a case that intersects multiple planes of
discrimination in the Hindu nationalist agenda.
Since April 10, 2020, she has been in jail under India's new Unlawful Activities
Prevention Act (UAPA), all because she played a role in organizing a demonstration
of women students to block a crossroads. Under this act, which covers a whole gamut
of activities, the charges can include rioting, possession of arms, attempt to murder,
incitement of violence, sedition, murder, and promoting enmity between different
groups on grounds of religion. She is now also being trolled on social media. And
yet, she did not call for violence as, for example, a member of Prime Minister
Narendra Modi's own Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Kapil Mishra, has done, calling
protesters traitors who should be shot. He of course remains at large.
The judge denying bail for Ms. Zargar chose a metaphor: "When you choose to play
with embers, you cannot blame the wind to have carried the spark a bit too far and
spread the fire." Judge Dharmender Rana, in reasoning beyond common
comprehension, laid the blame for the Delhi riots on Mrs. Zargar's little shoulders,
seeking to make an example. Some consider the judge's decision to be wrong in law
as the UAPA is vague in many aspects.
What all the demonstrations and protests have been about is very simply Mr. Modi's
Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which for the first time in India's history uses
religion as a basis for citizenship. HRW (Human Rights Watch) claims it "... violates
India's international obligations to prevent deprivation of citizenship on the basis of
race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin." It calls on the Indian government to
repeal the law, and it has produced a detailed 82-page report titled, “‘Shoot the
Traitors’: Discrimination Against Muslims Under India’s New Citizenship Policy,”
backing up its claims.
The UN too is critical. Jeremy Laurence, a spokesman for the Office of the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), thought it compromised India's claimed
commitment to equality before the law. OHCHR also urged India to respect the right
to peaceful assembly. Tell that to Judge Dharmendra Rana who conflated Safoora
Zargar's planned peaceful demonstration with the Delhi riots and packed her off to jail.
In these February 2020 riots Hindu mobs attacked Muslims resulting in over 50
deaths. It might have been anticipated because BJP leaders had belittled protesters,
some like Kapil Mishra describing them as traitors who should be shot. Worse, video
evidence demonstrates police complicity with the mobs and a failure to intervene
when help was sought. Students charged this happened when a protest at their
university in Delhi was set-upon by a mob of Hindu BJP supporters. The police
present can be observed doing nothing to help them.
Safoora Zargar continues to languish in a filthy Indian jail, in surroundings alien to a
midle class Muslim woman from the picturesque Vale of Kashmir. The tensions of
prison life and the poor diet has her husband worrying for the health of their unborn
child and the danger of a miscarriage, which under prison conditions with a lack of
prompt medical attention could prove fatal.
Is it a tragedy waiting to happen, among others (enumerated in The New Yorker) in
Modi's 'New' India?