MEHRU JAFFER | 11 MARCH, 2020
An Unfair State: Adityanath’s Government is Damaging Society
Causing others acute mental pain makes them retreat from social participation
To paste photographs and the postal address of 53 citizens and to blow them up on larger than life hoardings displayed at different crossroads of Lucknow has traumatised the city, and caused unthinkable seelenschmerz. By publicly displaying these citizens as common criminals the Uttar Pradesh administration means to name and shame them for participating in a peaceful protest that turned violent last December.
People wonder why this is being done to ordinary fellow citizens. Are these people criminals? Has any court convicted them? If not, then why the harassment by the UP administration? The Allahabad High Court stepped in to rap the adminstration on the knuckles on March 9. It ruled that the state’s action violates Article 14 of the Constitution and is an unwarranted interference in the privacy of people. The court has ordered the hoardings to be brought down.
“The damage has been done. The court’s ruling is a moral victory for us but our postal address and photo is already known to the public, and anyone can visit us anytime to hold our hand or to hold a gun to our head,” Deepak Kabir, poet and social activist told The Citizen.
The phrase seelenschmerz was first used by Sigmund Freud, Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis in 1926 as pain of the soul that is difficult to describe in words. In recent times Salman Akhtar, a professor of psychiatry interprets seelenschmerz as a wordless sense of mental pain caused due to the breaking up of the self.
The Lucknow born, and USA based psychiatrist uses the term also to describe the unease felt by minorities when attempts are made to use them as a dehumanised target of the majority community’s projections. The result is that an entire society is soiled when attempts are made to marginalise a section of the population.
Causing others acute mental pain makes them retreat away from social participation. In isolation they fantasise of a place where they will no longer be a minority. They are tempted to romanticise fundamentalism and may release impotent rage through acts of terrorism. In more rational moments, minorities take to asserting their rights and want the majority to realise the benefit of living together.
In a healthy society, the place of all citizens is assured in history and symbols like statues and memorials of all the different cultures and identities in society are celebrated. Only when all citizens feel protected and their fundamental right to vote, to run for office, to enjoy freedom of movement and expression, and to own property is in place - only then can a society hope for relative harmony.
In the classroom Akhtar tries to make his students understand how collaborative efforts between individuals belonging to the minority and majority groups play an integral role in fostering greater positive change for all members of society.
However this lesson falls on deaf ears in UP today. Far from instilling any sense of safety or strengthening judicial provisions against acts of violence including hate crimes against minorities, the UP administration is on a vengeance spree. It is busy naming and shaming its own citizens without trial.
In times of such dire economic stress when ordinary citizens find it difficult to afford onions and potatoes, the administration has spent money on hundreds of hoardings with photos and contact addresses of citizens whom it wants to pass off as rioters and defaulters who must pay for damages caused to public property during violence that rocked the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests that began last December.
The hoardings include pictures of Shia cleric Maulana Saif Abbas, former inspector-general of police SR Darapuri and poet Deepak Kabir, who spent three weeks in jail where he was accused of being an “urban naxal” and beaten up mercilessly by the police.
If this is not prejudice, what is? Otherwise why make attempts to keep religious or intellectual minorities unsuccesful, devalued, and why try to lower their status in society? Such things happen only in an unfair society where one group opportunistically tries to dominate and diminish other groups, and all those who seek to escape from the domination and diminishment are exposed to dangers like jail, confiscation of property and constant threats.
In every society opportunistic groups of people identify victims whom they can live off both economically and psychologically. But no fair society allows intrusive forces to fracture countless individual worlds beyond repair. For this is a well tested recipe for long lasting trauma. The constant stress upon a section of the population due to prolonged exposure to threats of oppression and humiliation, leaves psychic scars that may be invisible but work secretly to make societies sick.
While bigots and tyrants eventually perish, the sickness they leave behind lingers on to infect future generations. The effect of organised oppression is not always obvious but if unchecked it violates the soul and spirit of a society, causing severe seelenschmerz to its citizens.
What we have in UP today is unchecked oppression. According to Everyone has been Silenced: Police Excesses Against Anti-CAA Protesters In Uttar Pradesh, and the Post-Violence Reprisal, the UP police’s deadly use of force against civilians is encouraged by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Released this month by Citizens Against Hate, the report says that after the anti-CAA protests last December, Adityanath declared he would take “badla” or revenge. The Chief Minister is angry with all those who oppose the CAA.
The 200-page report is the joint effort of a team of human rights experts, defenders and lawyers. It concludes that Adityanath issued public threats against protesters to exact ‘revenge’, and slap sedition charges against them. His office celebrates the silencing of citizens with the use of the iron fist.
In Lucknow, human rights lawyer Mohammad Shoaib, social activist and lecturer Robin Verma, and political activist and artist Sadaf Jafar were arrested on December 19, 2019 and without a trial jailed for serious offences, including rioting with deadly weapons, obstructing public officials from discharging their duties and assaulting them.
They are now out on bail. It turned out that the prosecution failed to produce any evidence of the claims made against the accused in FIRs, and failed to establish their specific role in any crime. Mohammad Shoaib and Robin Verma were not even named in the FIR originally registered against unknown persons in Lucknow, and were added only later on. Verma and Jafar were physically tortured in custody, while Shoaib was orally abused and humiliated on orders of Adityanath, a controversial Bharatiya Janata Party leader.
Adityanath is founder of the anti-minority vigilante group the Hindu Yuva Vahini (Hindu Youth Militia), implicated in several attacks against Muslims in UP, before he assumed office as chief minister in March 2017. In elections run on an Islamophobic campaign, the BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate among the 403 seats it contested to the state assembly (UP had a 19% Muslim population, numbering 38 million in the 2011 census).
On assuming power, Adityanath targeted Muslims economically, by dismantling previous governments’ efforts to include Muslims and others in public provisioning, and hitting at their livelihoods by disrupting the meat supply chain business that employs mostly Muslims and Dalits.
He has also sought to give police a free hand to fight crime. Police have come down disproportionately against Muslims and others from vulnerable groups. Hindu vigilante groups including the Hindu Yuva Vahini have been given protection by police to enable them to carry on their targeting of minorities - Muslims, Christians, Dalits and women.
The vigilante groups are now being incorporated into state police structures, as special police officers called friends of the police or police mitra, to aid police in law and order duties with serious consequences for police neutrality.
Adityanath encouraged, on assuming office, an official state government policy of eliminating alleged criminals, leading to a series of extrajudicial killings – or ‘encounter killings’ – with most of those targeted being Muslim. UN Special Rapporteurs, alarmed by the use of extrajudicial killings as state policy in UP, sent a special communication to India in January last year.
The highest authorities in government have therefore not only failed to intervene to prevent police excess, they have fuelled communal hatred. Police bias against Muslims in UP is being weaponised, says the CAH report.
The current state targeting of Muslims exercising their democratic right to protest against the CAA 2019, in the form of murders, arbitrary detentions and widespread custodial torture, including of children, by police often working with vigilante groups, portends ill for the security of the people of the state.
The unfair attitude is giving birth to countless damaged identities, as radical violence turns members of the majority community into arsonists and murderers, while minorities increasingly see themselves being turned into victims. The idea of unity and equality amongst the population is dying.
What is alive in the face of extreme police brutality are the words of German playwright Carl Zuckmayer, who was in Vienna in 1938 after Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany, and the fascists wasted no time in attacking the city’s Jewish population:
The underworld had opened its gates and let loose its lowest, most revolting, most impure spirits. The city was transformed into a nightmare painting by Hieronymus Bosch... and the air filled with an incessant, savage, hysterical screeching from male and female throats... resembling distorted grimaces: some in anxiety, others in deceit, still others in wild, hate-filled triumph.
A journalist present at the same time in the same city noted that soldiers had dragged an elderly Jewish worker and his wife through the applauding crowd. Tears rolled down the cheeks of the old woman, and while she stared ahead and virtually looked through her tormentors, he could see how the old man, whose arm she held, tried to stroke her hand.