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Politics of Naming the ‘Naxal’

Action against intellectuals/activists by the state is procedurally flawed and morally humiliating.


The recent attempt of the Maharashtra government to arrest some of the leading social activists and raid the houses of two Dalit intellectuals has been seen by the defenders of democracy as the suppression of the democratic right to dissent. However, such action by the state government raises two relevant questions: Why does the government need to summon the label “Naxal” to its usual gaze of suspicion? And, what is the social and moral cost that the intellectuals have to pay when the department of home affairs and its empirical hard core—the police—overreaches itself?

Ruling party combinations, including the Bharatiya Janata Party–Shiv Sena-led government in Maharashtra, seem to be rais-ing the bogey of charges against intellectuals and civil rights activists as a problem of “law and order,” basically with two pur-poses. First, they raise such a bogey to possibly overcome the “acute” sense of anxiety stemming from the feeling that the 2019 general elections are going to be tough for them. Hence, the need to first use the bogey of the Naxal as a problem of law and order in the particular context of the Bhima–Koregaon issue, and second, portray through the media and other propaganda machines, the negative role of the Naxal particularly in regard to nationalism. Thus, it becomes necessary on the part of the government to confuse the focus of at least the urban middle classes onto the pressing issues of inflation and good governance. Of course, such anxiety is likely to persist in the context of central government’s colossal failure on the socio-economic front.

Second, the central government in general and Government of Maharashtra in particular, have involved themselves in the political production of the term “urban Naxal.” The timing of the police action against these politically produced “urban Naxals” is intended to deflect public attention from the setback that was caused to the entire Hindutva brigade by the arrests of those accused of killing the rationalist thinkers/activists, namely Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. As the chastisement of the Maharashtra police by the apex court suggests, the police, as a part of this design, seems to have adopted a rather “fast-forward” mode with the intention to convert their assertions into evidence that could then be used to confirm their reading of these activists as having links with the Maoists. This has led to the neutralisation of public attention that was otherwise very much focused on the issue of the links to Hindutva that those accused of killing the rationalists had.

The second question pertains to the morally devastating experience that the police sought to make integral to the entire process of interrogating the activist scholars. This design of the police was clearly evident in the interrogation of a Dalit scholar and his family members from Hyderabad.

Hence, for the state, designating someone as “Naxal” is not a mere act of verbal naming. On the contrary, it often deploys methods that are both spectacularly terrifying as well as morally offensive. They look spectacularly terrifying through a big operation involving a platoon of police who marched towards the house of these intellectuals as well as other activists. As is clear from the reactions that were expressed by some of the intellectuals, they felt a sense of humiliation. Such a sense of humiliation seems to have played out in a compounded form, particularly for the Dalit intellectuals. Their humiliation, along with the rest, began with the police raiding their houses without following any intelligible procedure.

As reported in a section of the print media, the Maharashtra police, during their raid on the house of the Dalit intellectual from Hyderabad, asked him and his family members questions that were much more humiliating. For example, some of the questions asked had the stink of malaise. They indicated that inter-caste marriages bring shame to Brahminical patriarchal norms. The casteist self in police uniform seems to have overwhelmed the law-bound functionaries. It also shows that the bureaucratic process fails to drain out the dirt of caste from within the police. The police, in their strategically conceived move to arrest the civil rights activists, also sought the Dalit scholar’s interrogation; in order to get the “better” out of the such unwarranted interrogation that was intended to soothe the police’s casteist desire. This overreach, thus, involved not only the violation of the right to privacy but, much more importantly, the moral right to one’s unconditional dignity. This moral good was put on trial in the police interrogation. It is absolutely important to note here that the state refuses to acknowledge the contradiction that is internal to its idea of a nation based on law and order. As the predicament of the Dalit intellectuals from Hyderabad suggests, the police is concerned about protecting the abstract entity called nation, but holds the concrete human being in utter contempt.

Such morally offensive and politically terrifying action does not allow activists to stand with the vulnerable, and neither does it stand with those whose rights it is supposed to safeguard.

Updated On : 11th Sep, 2018


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