Free Soni Sori!

Adivasi teacher in jail in India on charges of being a Maoist sympathizer.  She’s currently in jail in Chattisgarh, and this video is part of an international campaign to win her freedom.

Wednesday, March 8, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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Reading Soni Sori’s Letters from Prison

Video Montage Marks International Women’s Day
In a global show of solidarity marking the International Women’s Day, concerned citizens from around the world today released a video documentary based on letters written by imprisoned  adivasi school teacher Soni Sori, currently held in the Central Jail in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. The video is available for viewing and sharing at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWnCrB1qwE4.

Soni Sori was arrested in New Delhi on October 4, 2012 and accused of being a Maoist supporter. Despite her appeals to courts in New Delhi, she was handed over to the Chhattisgarh police and taken to the state where she was beaten, sexually assaulted and given electric shocks by the police. Sori documented her torture in letters she wrote to her lawyer.

“On Sunday October the 9th 2011, I bore the pain quietly, all by myself. Whom could I tell? There was no one on my side out there,” she wrote in her letter which was read in the video. A subsequent independent medical examination found two sizable stones lodged in her vagina and another in her rectum.

Participants in this video project joined hands to draw attention to Sori’s case by reading from Sori’s letters on camera, supplementing the video with additional materials including photographs, news footage and Sori’s medical reports. As Sori said in one of her letters, she is only one of dozens of women in her prison who say they have suffered torture and sexual assault in police custody.

Sori’s lawyers have filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of India to transfer Sori to Delhi or another state where she would not be under the control of the Chhattisgarh police. Despite the severity of the torture, the hearing on the final decision on her appeal has been repeatedly delayed. Today marks the completion of five months since Sori was tortured.

Amnesty International has termed Soni Sori a Prisoner of Conscience (http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ASA20/047/2011/en) and demanded that she be freed immediately and the charges against her dropped. Human Rights Watch has appealed to the Prime Minister to investigate Sori’s case (http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/03/07/india-investigate-sexual-assault-police-custody).

Sori is in urgent need of medical treatment for the injuries that resulted from her torture. In another letter to her lawyer, she stated that the doctors in the Raipur jail have denied treatment, on grounds that she is a “Naxalite prisoner.” Protesting this, Sori went on an indefinite hunger strike.

The video documentary also highlights the need to hold the responsible police officials accountable. Instead of investigating the police officials involved in Sori’s torture, Ankit Garg, the Superintendent of Police who ordered and oversaw the torture according to Sori, was given a national award for gallantry last January 26, the Indian Republic Day.

After a long hiatus …

… New Red Indian is back.

I just finished reading this lovely review of Wajeda Tabassum (whom I confess to never having heard of) and thought it worth sharing:

Wajeda Tabassum, the noted Urdu short-story writer and novelist, has died. She was born in Amravati in 1935 and died in Mumbai on December 7, 2010. She was the third in the trinity of Ismat Chughtai and Qurratulain Hyder that represented modern Urdu women’s writing. While Hyder and, to a lesser extent, Chughtai have been accommodated in the mainstream (i.e. male) Urdu canon, Tabassum’s stories are ghettoised by their common theme of feudal Hyderabadi society and its sexual tensions. Most of her story collections are out of print and she has not been taken up by the English-language women’s presses in India for translation unlike her two senior contemporaries. In 1960, she married her cousin Ashfaq, against her family’s wishes and they fled to Mumbai where she lived till the end. Brought up in Hyderabad, she did her MA in Urdu from Osmania University.

And in another discovery (for me), I came across first an article about Aqaal Shatir and then Amitav Kumar’s piece on him (and his anti-Modi poetry):

I asked Shatir if he was true to his pen-name? Does his poetry address power? It was a slightly impertinent question but Shatir was patient with me and recited these lines of his to explain where he stood: Abhi zindaa hoon main, dekho meri pehchaan baaqi hai / Badan zakhmi hai lekin abhi mujhmein jaan baaqi hai / Tum apni hasraton ko zaalimo marne nahin dena / Shahadat ka mere dil mein abhi armaan baaqi hai (I am still alive, the person I was is left in me / This body is wounded but there is still life left in me / You, my killers, don’t let your ambitions die / The desire for martyrdom is still left in me.)

(I wonder if this is intentional, but the last line in Urdu reminds me of  “sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil me hain” which really does do an interesting number on nationalism).

Frontlines of Revolutionary Struggle reports on the growing campaign to free Dr. Binayak Sen.  Praful Bidwai has a pretty good indictment of the trial verdict:

Chhattisgarh has witnessed massive state excesses because of its abundance of natural resources which predatory capital wants to appropriate. To ensure this, the government must crush the Maoists and obliterate the distinctions between hardcore Maoists, their sympathisers, parliamentary Communists, Gandhians, civil liberties activists, progressive intellectuals, and even health workers. It muzzles people like Sen to demonstrate that it’s willing to be unreasonably brutal. This is the stuff of which Banana Republics are made.

The Communist Party of India alone has clearly condemned Sen’s conviction. The Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party Marxist have refused to do so – the BJP out of its machismo and suspicion of civil liberties, and the CPM, even more short-sightedly, because of its “Naxal problem” in West Bengal. The Congress says dismissing the verdict would amount to admitting that India is a Banana Republic. But that inverts all logic.

 


More on Naxalites

Kunal Chattopadhyay has a really great piece on the development of Naxalism and strategies for theoretical engagement with them here.

A few notable lines from the piece:

The assumption that only the most exploited were revolutionary, meant the exclusion of the organised workers, those having a little better pay or working conditions. This of course ignored the reality that they had obtained those slight gains because of militant struggles, not because the ruling class was buying them up through bribes.

Another passage on how Maoism actually helped refocus attention on class struggle in India:

The party documents, the writings of several outstanding leaders of this current, or the party papers, like Deshabrati (Bangla), Liberation, all showed a refreshing return to the concept of class struggle. Ever since the dismissal of the 1957 Kerala government, the underlying content of the inner-party debate in the CPI was whether the “progressive bourgeoisie” were in the Congress or in the bourgeois opposition parties, and who should be the allies in the bid to form governments. This has of course been the recurrent debate in the mainstream Stalinist left all the way to the present. Prakash Karat’s Third Front was an attempt to patch together a bloc of regional forces, in opposition to the line advocated by others, such as Sobhanlal Datta Gupta in Mainstream.[14] Stripping aside the veil of theory and polish, the Maoists of the 1960s revealed that debate for the opportunistic struggle for loaves and fishes by bureaucratic leaders that it really was. And by raising the slogan, “Never forget class struggle”, they made class struggle a reality, in a way it had not been for a considerable period.

And  how Maoists have been responsible for empowering women:

Neither the party, nor its struggles, were often gendered. At the same time, the Maoist movement did provide an impetus for many young women as well as men.[28] As Kalpana Sen points out, the inspiration provided by the movement was immense. Till the mid-sixties, in most women’s colleges, there were no directly elected unions. Girls nominated by the authorities ran the unions. The militant student-youth movement of the mid to late 1960s changed that picture. Women also took part in the ideological struggles around the Naxalbari peasant struggles. They fought in the jails, put up red flag, and confronted the jailers. Moreover, the path of Naxalbari meant challenging existing values in a way that the mainstream left had not been doing for a long time. Among these was a rebellion against domestic discipline and conservatism. That so many young women came to the new party was because, in Sen’s words, “the opportunity to breathe in free air”.[29] Failure to identify patriarchy as a distinct enemy to be combated may have limited the endeavours of these cadres. But the call to immediately join the revolution was something that enabled them to overcome in practice many of the constraints of patriarchy.

Finally, an excellent critique of Maoist political theory:

The major problem that the legacy of the original path of Naxalbari left was however its rejection of the rality of bourgeois democracy and the need to work out a new strategy to fight for revolution in a country where a bourgeois democracy does exist. An idealisation of bourgeois democracy does no good. It is a very restricted democracy. Yet even that, by providing certain apparent alternatives, keeps a grip on masses. Secondly, the legacy of Stalinism, its distorted democratic centralism where the leadership has too little accountability to the party ranks, also has been a major problem. Moreover, the legacy of Stalinism has meant a legacy of the two-stage theory of revolution and popular frontism, or alliances with bourgeois partners, as revealed by the Trinamool-supporting Naxalites of 2009. Finally, if workers who demand democracy, or party members who form tendencies over ideological conflicts, are immediately branded capitalist roaders, or thrown out of the party, then one will forever split into two, two will never unite into one. Not “revolutionary authority”, but workers democracy is the answer here. But in order to carry this task to the end, to turn to revolutionary Marxism, one has to subject the path of Naxalbari to a more thoroughgoing critique, without giving up its revolutionary inspiration.