The Logical Indian Crew

Bearing The Torch Of Future Activism! Relooking At Indian Activists Who Stood Up Against Dissent

Activists in India have had to continue the fight for a range of issues while also contending against acts such as AFSPA and UAPA which clamp down on dissent.

In 2021, activists in India have had to continue the fight for a range of issues such as gender discrimination, tribal and Adivasi rights, while also contending against acts such as AFSPA and UAPA which clamp down on dissent. Some of these activists passed away fighting for their cases but they persevered in their activism throughout 2021 and carried the torch for future activism in India.

Kamla Bhasin

In an appearance on the popular television show 'Kamla BhasinSatyamev Jayate' in 2014, Kamla Bhasin declared, "When I'm raped, people say I lost my honour. How did I lose my honour?"

"My honour is not in my vagina. I want to ask, Why did you place your community's honour in a woman's vagina?" she went on to say as per mentioned by Republic World. As this statement indicates, Bhasin was known for her unabashed fight against sexual discrimination prevalent in Indian society.

Following her education in Germany, she joined the Udaipur-based voluntary organisation Seva Mandir in 1972. This organisation worked with the rural and urban poor, empowering them. In her activism spanning nearly 50 years, she co-founded several women's groups to address women's health and education issues and violence against women, both in rural and urban areas.

She used her creativity, penning poems, songs, slogans, speeches and books to protest against patriarchy and campaign for gender equality. In 1991, at the Women's Studies Conference, Bhasin pioneered the "Azadi" slogan as a chant against patriarchy.

"Meri behane maange Azaadi, meri bachhi maange Azaadi, naari ka naara Azaadi"… (My sisters want freedom, my daughter wants freedom, every woman's slogan is freedom) she chanted at the Conference as per this Hindustan Times article. Her slogan has taken on several new meanings, from being used in student protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University.Bhasin passed away in September of this year, leaving behind a tremendous legacy for activism against gender-based discrimination in India.

Stan Swamy

Stan Swamy was India's oldest prisoner charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) who died under custody earlier this year. He was a Jesuit priest and a tribal rights activist who had worked for more than three decades on several issues of the Adivasi communities on land, forest and labour rights.Swamy criticised the delay in implementing the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, specifically the setting up of a Tribes Advisory Council.

He was arrested by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) in an alleged Maoist conspiracy that led to clashes between caste groups near the Bhima Koregaon village in 2018. After his arrest in October 2020, Swamy's health worsened. His lawyers had repeatedly moved the court for bail, which the court and NIA opposed. Conflicts ensued between Swamy and the NIA over his request for a straw and sipper to consume liquids. He finally received the items a month later.

Despite his admission to a charitable hospital in Bandra in May 2021, he suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away on July 5, 2021. However, his legacy is carried on by the many students who gathered at Dr BR Ambedkar's memorial in Mumbai following his death and the 21,000 people who attended his last rites service, as per this Hindustan Times article.

Following his death, the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet commented, "We stress, once again, the High Commissioner's call on the Government of India to ensure that no one is detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,"

Irom Sharmila

Through her 16-year long fast, Irom Sharmila has become one of India's enduring symbols for activism. In light of the recent controversy surrounding AFSPA, her activism has become relevant again. Her protest against AFSPA began when she was 28-years-old, following the alleged gunning down of ten civilians by the 8th Assam Rifles at Malom bus stop, near Imphal's Tulihal airport, as per this Indian Express article.

This incident, also known as the 'Malom massacre', compelled Irom Sharmila to begin a hunger strike against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). She believed the Act encouraged the soldiers to execute the massacre. AFSPA is an act by the Indian Parliament grants special powers to the Indian Army to maintain public order in "disturbed areas". The Act was imposed in 1958 after the rebel group Naga Nationalist Council formed a parallel government.

Despite being restrained to police custody, her protest emboldened the protest against AFSPA. She was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission, followed by the Rabindranath Tagore peace prize from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management. She ended her fast in 2016, noting that her hunger strike had little impact on the government and AFSPA was still in force. Irom then took to politics, forming the People's Resurgence and Justice Alliance, which failed to garner votes.

Despite her failure in politics, Irom Sharmila remains one of the most resilient voices against AFSPA. Earlier this month, AFSPA was extended for another six months in Nagaland following the Army's botched ambush that led to the horrific killings of six civilians, according to this NDTV report.

Following this incident, protests against AFSPA have gained a new vitality following the example set by Sharmila. In an interview reported in The Indian Express, Irom Sharmila said, "The Nagaland incident has once again shown why the draconian AFSPA should be withdrawn from the northeast. It should be an eye-opener. Human lives are not so cheap."

Sudha Bharadwaj

Sudha Bharadwaj is the only activist apart from Varavara Rao to be granted bail out of the 16 activists and academics arrested in the Bhima-Koregaon case. After three years in jail, she was granted bail following her arrest in August 2018, as per this The Hindu article.

She grew up in close proximity to the student political movements at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Bharadwaj spent her early years with her mother, noted economist Krishna Bhardwaj. Through her college days, she formed strong relations with mess employees in the college, which gave her an understanding of the concerns of contract labourers'. Sudha Bharadwaj has become popular as a 'people's lawyer' in India due to her decades of fighting for community forest rights, Adivasi rights, environmental causes.

Also Read: Looking Back At India's Five Mega Projects Conceptualized In 2021

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Writer : Anish Yande
Editor : Ankita Singh
Creatives : Ankita Singh

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