Proscribed. Banned. Provocative

Two Musings on Sedition As Darkness Thickens

Don’t forget the names below.

These six are only a few of the almost 4,000 who have been arrested under UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act​).  Many, 25% is cited in press accounts, have no charge sheets filed. Only one of the names listed below has  received bail as of this writing.  Safoora Zargar who was in her third trimester of pregnancy when bail was approved.

Nodeep Kaur has been granted bail after an international outcry for three of the four charges but is still in jail waiting for the fourth hearing).


(Photos are listed in order of names above)

From a citizen of India, Anna Palmer (whose writing I profiled here a few months ago in “Running with Eyes Shut”).

N.B.: The few Hindi words that she uses, very much the way most urban Indians speak, mingling two or even three languages together, can be Googled easily. I’m not translating them.

Sedition”. Now that’s a word, a proper one with a long history. Which English-speaking country has it not been used in, since springing to life in the Elizabethan age in England? Even if one doesn’t grasp the legal intricacies of whatever application it’s being currently shoe-horned into, the word carries a sense of rebellion, disaffection, non-cooperation and fiery, idgaf anarchism when it’s invoked. When used out of all proportion, as it usually is in India, at least by using it the government indicates that it’s planning to smash you, and the first word they’re hurling in the smashing of you, the opposition, is this one: sedition. We’ve done a lot of work on “sedition” here in India, especially recently. This is sedition, that is sedition and yes that is sedition as well. It went on for a while.

But now sedition is long forgotten. Any old catchword will do to fix the seditious if, like Goebbels’ lie, you repeat it often enough. So - “tukde-tukde”, “lutyensgang”, “Khan market gang”, “urban-naxal”, “terrorist”, “Khalistani”, “comedian”, “andolanjeevi” and now TOOLKIT. Bloody toolkit yaar. Toolkit. If I hear it one more time I’m going to slap someone...

Why, though? Why not just use “sedition”? So useful! So convenient! So dignified in law.

Simple - it’s because bhai kitna use karoge? People will get bored! They’ll start thinking there can’t be so much.

SEDITION around as all that. Or come ON, tweeting is not sedition - even we know that.

So you re-weave the old web of sedition-treason-espionage into a finer web, a web made up of smaller words, words used everyday by everyone, words that can then be used everyday to catch anyone.

I predict - next fix-all words to replace “sedition“: “spreadsheet”, “worddoc”, “phonecall”, “placards”, “workingbrain”, “bookreader”, “normalperson”, “humanbeing”, “catlover”, “dogfeeder”, “coffeedrinker”, “phoneowner”...take your pick, police, media, and everyone who wants to play along in this dangerous circus. Play for as long as you like. One day an ordinary word will be remade, and will be used to arrest you as well.

[khair what am I saying that Orwell didn’t already say, but implicated in thoughtcrime is where we all are]


[From Amit] Revised from earlier this year. My question is: Why are thousands of people anti-national, against the ruling party, and willing to lay their lives on the line. Are they all saboteurs?


Someone said to me in May 2019 that the BJP (Bharatiya Jana Sangh) supporters consider May 23 (when the BJP won national elections) as the “true Independence Day” and that Aug. 15 is pro-Pakistan, Brit-engineered one that Gandhi-Nehru swallowed. After all Godse is a patriot now! And instead of “Jai Hind”, which was accepted by Subhas Bose from a Muslim student in Germany when Bose was searching for a battle cry for his struggle against the British, the saffron brigade wants to coopt that history with the new “ Jai Bharat.”

In 1967, I turned 17 and headed to college at Delhi University in July. Earlier that year, in February, there had been a famine in Bihar and a number of students from my college had gone to Bihar to work as relief workers, sponsored by our college.

I came to know most of them. They were one to three years my senior. For some of them it changed their lives forever. One of them told me that the day he saw a long line of children waiting for kichidi at a food kitchen, when their families were eating leaves and raw mango seeds, he started, in earnest, to seek a way to change that.

And like so many, myself included, it changed the way we thought about economic and political relationships.

1967 was 20 years after Independence and one party had held sway over India. Bengal and Kerala were exceptions. However, by and large corruption, inequality, lack of opportunity and the bleakness of the future for the vast majority had simply grown. The landless suffered like medieval serfs. Without social media, we can only guess at the state of caste hatreds, religious bigotry, the corruption and caste strangleholds of panchayats, a subversion of an eminently good idea, and the stink of daily oppression for thousands upon thousands.

We ( my college mates and I) were possibly the top 1–2% of that society. We were educated, never wondered about hunger, the future was rolling out in front of us and we laughed often.

As children, when I sat in the back seat of our car as it wound its way on Calcutta roads, I tried not to look at the children, my age and younger, who lived on the sidewalks. But then again, my child’s conscience had an extraordinary balm — -my family ran an educational institution where 99% of the students were poor and blind. This institution was founded and run without government aid for generations. So perhaps I could get a pass? As I finished my first year in college, I couldn’t find a good answer to how I would contribute to making my country better. There didn’t seem to be many options — -civil service, corporate companies, a small and influential journalism sector for English-language publications and academia.

Of all the political parties then, the closest one trying to get the sharecroppers (probably about 11–12% of the agricultural sector, counting in millions) who were landless some redistribution, was the Communist Party Of India, Marxist or CPI(M) in Bengal. However, there was a more radical group forming within the CPI (M) pushing for more aggressive land redistribution. That group was the Communist Party of India, Marxist-Leninist or CPI ( M-L), commonly known as Naxal or Naxalites, after the village of Naxalbari in North Bengal where the spark started but never quite blazed as prairie fire.

At its most elemental level, the hundreds of thousands who joined this upsurge in the late sixties were people who wanted to do something toward justice, equity, and human dignity. Their failure and mine is a tragedy. I am lucky but many weren’t and their suffering is one of my generation’s hidden stories.

Every political party since then has promised something along those lines. We have yet to see concrete results though three steps forward and two steps back is still progress.

India today has about 22% of its population below the poverty line ( less than $2 per day). It used to be over 40%.

Till now, I didn’t feel that I didn’t belong in India. This Hindu Rashtra (country) is different from the India for Indians that the Independence fight was for. I, an atheist, come from a line of converted Muslims and Hindus to Christianity on both sides of my parentage. They converted in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The BJPs elected ministers are openly calling such people non-Indians.

The Religious Diversity of India

In recent years, when vigilante gangs and assassination squads killed or brutalized Muslims, Dalits, northeasterners, and intellectuals who spoke out, friends — -ordinary Indians — started spontaneous protests such as Not In My NameThey will continue and I will add my support but the stakes are much, much higher and the consequences of protest in India might be a whole different ballgame. The RSS might still wear ill-fitting khaki shorts but they now fulfill their time-honored goal — as the militant cadres of the ruling party. After all, the inspiration all those many years ago were the Italian fascists.

Darkness rolls in. I’m reminded that darkness has rolled in before and we have emerged from it. But never without great suffering. I fear that.