human rights

The country needs an anti-fascist force, says activist acquitted after 40 months in jail

Sudhir Dhawale, a dalit rights activist accused of having Maoist links, was declared innocent on May 15.

On May 20, after spending three years and four months in Nagpur Central Jail for crimes he did not commit, dalit rights activist Sudhir Dhawale finally walked out as a free man.

His arrest in January 2011 had outraged social activists in Maharashtra. Dhawale is a well-known poet, political commentator and publisher of Marathi magazine Vidrohi, and had attended a dalit literary gathering in Wardha district just before he was detained by the police. He was charged with sedition and, under the controversial Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation and waging war against the state. Meanwhile in Mumbai, the police barged into his modest home where his young sons were alone, gathered several books as evidence and allegedly coerced his wife to sign the list of seized articles.

Last week, after the prosecution failed to prove even a single case against him, the sessions court finally acquitted Dhawale – and eight other political prisoners – of all charges. His acquittal has come four months after Arun Ferreira, another Mumbai-based social activist who spent five years in jail for being an alleged Maoist, was cleared of all charges against him. Just two weeks before Dhawale’s release, however, GN Saibaba, a Delhi University professor, was arrested by the Maharashtra police for allegedly having links with Maoists.

Despite being forced to spend 40 months in prison without bail, Dhawale is cheerful and completely unresentful. “I have been saying for a long time that the Indian state is fascist, anti-people and has been involved in the atrocities committed against marginalised people,” Dhawale told Scroll.in in Mumbai just before a meeting with members of the organisation that he founded, the Republican Panthers Jatiya Antachi Chalwal (annihilation of caste movement). The group works across Maharashtra to organise marginalised groups and respond to hate crimes, and Dhawale has already plunged back into work.

Unsurprisingly, his biggest concern these days is India’s newly-elected Bharatiya Janata Party-led Democratic Alliance government under Narendra Modi. “As such, the BJP and Congress are two sides of the same coin, with similar ideologies that disregard the poor and the marginalised,” said Dhawale. “But the BJP – which is essentially the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] – is more openly fascist, so we will have to be prepared for more oppression.”

For nearly a year, the BJP has been criticising the former Congress-led government for being too soft on Naxalism, despite the fact that thousands of paramilitary troops are stationed all over central India’s Maoist-affected areas. “Usually, actual military forces are used to protect foreign borders, not fight a country’s internal wars. But who knows, the Modi government could do anything,” said Dhawale.

Most of the development that Modi has been promising, he claimed, will actually benefit multinational companies. “Most of these multinationals have their eyes set on acquiring land in central India, which is rich in natural resources but is also the place where most adivasis live,” said Dhawale.

Throughout his jail term, Dhawale had been occupied with trying to understand the nature of fascism and people’s movements. He wrote five political commentaries in prison, of which two have been published. One is about the Shiv Sena’s deceased founder Bal Thackeray. The second is on Anna Hazare and his movement against corruption. “Hazare did start a jan andolan, but it was obvious that it was a movement for the middle-classes, attempting to address only the symptoms of a corrupt system and not the system itself,” said Dhawale.

While Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal have become the face of people’s movements, Dhawale believes the focus needs to shift to the many smaller, scattered grassroots movements across the country that are already working for the marginalised. “With this new government, it is time for all these movements to come together, be vigilant and create a strong anti-fascist force.”

 
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.