THE CITIZEN EDITORIAL | 16 FEBRUARY, 2021
Time For a Change in Strategy Perhaps?
Arrests and intimidation do not work
The arrest of 21 year old Disha Ravi has elicited a storm of protest. Senior opposition leaders have come out to demand her immediate release, even as senior BJP leaders including a Haryana Minister have called for the ‘eradication’ of “anyone who has anti-national thoughts.” The Delhi police who arrested the young girl from Bengaluru and now has her in custody held a press conference insisting she was part of a toolkit ‘conspiracy.’
Lawyer Rebecca Memmen John has raised serious questions of judicial duties maintaining that the young woman was not represented by a counsel at her hearing. And that the magistrate should have waited for her counsel or provided her with legal aid. Ravi broke down in court according to agency reports while trying to defend herself, saying she had only edited two lines of the toolkit and not written it, and she supported the farmers as it was because of them “we eat.”
However, two others have been served warrants and the government seems determined to break the support for the farmers amongst students and the youth. The farmers organisations have come out in support of the young people, demanding the release of Ravi. The All India Kisan Sabha, pointing out that 23 year old Dalit and labour rights activist Nodeep Kaur. young journalist Mandeep Punia and a host of others had been arrested, has condemned the “authoritarian action.”
The arrest of Disha Ravi has been linked directly, even by the cops, to the farmers' protests. This comes after the Enforcement Directorate raid on Newsclick. And while figures of foreign monies were released by the agency, questions have been raised by media organisations about the link between the raids and the coverage of the farmers protests by Newsclick. The ED action came after sedition cases were filed against a host of senior journalists, again on grounds connected with the farmers' protests. That they wrongly reported the death of a farmer, and hence were guilty of seditious activity. These cases are now with the Supreme Court.
However, the farmers stir despite over 200 deaths, and scores arrested continues. And it does so without support from the mainstream media, with the panchayats in the villages of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh growing larger by the day. It is as if the arrests and the raids are not pausing the stir, but fuelling the farmers determination to stay on the ground until the three controversial laws are repealed.
It is difficult to say whether the government is worried, as if it was, it would have withdrawn the laws. So says logic. But the action against the journalists who are merely reporting the event as it unfolds, or the arrest of a young climate activist with warrants out for others, does suggest if not panic as some have written, certainly an absence of strategy. And understanding of India’s farmers particularly from these north Indian belts. The Jat farmer does not frighten easily, and is genuinely proud and arrogant. The old stock is still very visible in these protests, and not particularly worried about ‘toolkits’ or for that matter foreign endorsements. For the average farmer the fight is now to the finish, as he and she has been convinced that the government is out to take their land and sell it to cronies.
This is what the farm laws boil down to for the farmers - the takeover of their agricultural land. This is what the farmers now believe and it will be very difficult for a government to convince them otherwise. They have accepted the leadership of the 40 farmers organisations, and given their very nature are clear in speech, and forthright in action. Hence the names of two industrialists close to the government are bandied about with abandon, becoming household names in the farmers community but not for the right reasons.
The arrests, the threats only seem to be adding to the determination of the farmers to remain united. That they have done so for close to three months is a record of sorts, with the maha panchayats demonstrating this across the states as never before. It does seem that the terror tactics are not working in the same manner as the government expected, and this will probably lead to a more intense and ruthless crackdown on journalists and activists and the farmers. However, this is a rural agitation and hence less prone to intimidation with courage and resolve as hallmark characteristics.
In fact, perhaps by now it should be evident to the government that even its supporters --apart from a smaller core group---are balking at the strong arm tactics as the arrest of young Ravi for something as sinister as sedition has shown. People are coming together in larger numbers to express their opposition to such tactics, with even the normally divided and weak opposition finding some teeth in the process.
Perhaps it is time for the government to put on its thinking cap. And move towards a shift in strategy where it seeks to assimilate and unite the different sections of society by taking the farmers demands fully on board. And not place itself in a position where it is seen to be warring 21 year olds pursuing idealism and causes, as all in their youth do and have done.
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