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
December 25, 2020
Mr. President: It has to have been a different Christmas season this year. The spirit
of Christmas, of goodwill, giving and sharing, may still reside in hearts but in muted
expression when the key word that we will remember always has to be ... isolation.
Covid-19, the culprit responsible for all this, gave us a holiday season surprise in a
new variant -- a different version of the virus. The UK reports a rapid increase of
cases linked to it in London and southeast England. Scientists have identified
changes to the spikes on the virus and other parts which allow it to spread more
easily although it does not affect the severity of the disease.
Evidence so far suggests the change is unlikely to affect vaccine efficacy. One can
only hope it remains so, and life returns to some form of normalcy.
The EU, which has reported over 335,000 Covid-related deaths, has been quick off
the mark. They have delivered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to all 27 member states
and commenced vaccinations on Sunday. It has contracted to purchase more than 2
billion vaccine doses.
An unusual consequence of the epidemic is the treatment of activists jailed in India by
the Modi government. Father Stan Swamy is an 83-year-old Jesuit priest who has
long worked for Dalits, formerly called untouchables. Suffice to say their treatment in
Indian society leaves a lot to be desired for they are the bottom of India's caste
At a Dalit rally in Bhima Koregaon village (located in Maharashtra in India's west) on
January 1, 2018, sixteen activists, lawyers and poets were arrested. Father Swamy
was one of them.
He suffers from Parkinson's and is unable to hold a cup without spilling the contents
because of hand tremors. He therefore uses a sealed plastic drinking container with
a straw. His jailers denied him his sipper and straw.
Outraged his supporters called for flooding Taloja jail with sippers and straws and
#SippersForStan becan trending on social media. Fortunately for the Jesuit priest the
cumulative effect of the campaign secured him a sipper and straw.
Then there is activist Gautam Navlakha who has spent his life working for civil
liberties. Also arrested at the same rally, he is 68 and almost blind without his
spectacles, which were stolen from him a few days after he arrived in jail, He was sent
a replacement promptly but the jail refused delivery because of Covid-19.
Indian jails are no longer accepting parcels for inmates because of the epidemic, and
inmates are also not allowed visitation by family or lawyers. Anticipating the problem
his wife had discussed the situation with the jail superintendent before mailing the
parcel, and had been assured there would be no problem. So how exactly does one
deliver spectacles to a political prisoner in India these days?
Then there is 80-year-old Varvara Rao also imprisoned over the same rally. He
wears a catheter that was not changed in three months. His family had to hold a
press conference asking for emergency help before Mr. Rao received treatment for
Covid has had many consequences including maltreatment of jailed activists,
themselves protesting the mistreatment of the most vulnerable in Indian society,
namely the Dalits.