The use of National Security Act to keep the Bhim Army’s Chandrashekhar in prison is draconian

Preventive detention has no place in a democracy. In Uttar Pradesh, it is being used in a blatantly partisan manner to target the BJP’s Dalit opponents.

A day after the Allahabad High Court granted bail to Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan the Uttar Padesh government has extended his custody by charging him under the stringent National Security Act.

Chandrashekhar has been accused by the Uttar Pradesh government of fomenting violence in the town of Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh. May 9 saw clashes between the Bhim Army, the Dalit rights organisation started by Chandrashekhar, and the Uttar Pradesh police in Saharanpur town. The Bhim Army, in turn, blamed the police for the May 9 violence, denying any role in the riots, which happened as the Dalit organisation was protesting an upper caste attack against Dalit homes four days earlier in Saharanpur district.

Authoritarian move

On Thursday, the Allahabad High Court rubbished the Uttar Pradesh government’s contention that Chandrashekhar had organised the violence. Calling the charges “politically motivated”, the court granted bail to the founder of the Bhim Army in various cases of rioting. Unable to detain Chandrashekhar under the initial charges of rioting, the UP government turned to the draconian NSA, which gives them the powers of preventive detention. The move highlights the undemocratic nature of the NSA as well as the high-handed nature of the BJP administration in the state, which is using the might of the state to snuff out political challengers.

This sudden detention comes even as the Bhim Army claims Chandrashekhar has faced violence in prison, having been assaulted by other prison inmates in July. On October 28, the Bhim Army founder was rushed to the intensive care unit of a hospital in Lucknow after he experienced acute abdominal pain.

Starkly, the upper caste Thakurs who attacked a Dalit hamlet on March 5, setting off this conflict, have faced no punitive action from the administration.

Instead, the BJP government has partisanly attacked the Dalits protesting the attack, first on May 9 by lathicharging activists and then using the NSA on Chandrashekhar.

Undemocratic democracy

Preventive detention is rarely found in any modern democracy across the world today. Yet a number of Indian laws have it, the most prominent of which is the NSA, a Union law passed in 1980 by the Indira Gandhi government. Under the NSA, the government can detain a citizen for as long as it wants. Moreover, the detention is out of reach of the judiciary. Only an advisory board, set up by the government itself, can review the detention. In addition, the accused is not even allowed to hire a lawyer to defend himself. The board can, if it so wants, function in secret, refusing to publish any justification for its orders.

In its structure, the NSA is rather similar to the British Raj’s Rowlatt Act which also denied those detained access to courts or lawyers, leading to them being described as “no vakil, no appeal, no daleel” in Hindi. No lawyers, no appeals, no arguments. Unfortunately, the draconian practice of preventive detention did not go away with the transfer of power to Indian hands. Within three years of independence, the Jawaharlal Nehru government passed the Preventive Detention Act. Later, the Maintenance of Internal Security Act – used extensively during the Emergency – would also allow for preventive detention to then by replaced by the NSA. There are also a variety of state laws such as the Goonda Acts which allow for preventive detention.

Curious law

The imprisonment of citizens even before they have broken the law is bizarre and contravenes logic and natural justice. Unsurprisingly, it is often misused against the weak and by governments to serve narrow partisan goals rather than in the service of law and order.

In the case of Chandrashekhar, the organisation he founded, the Bhim Army, has challenged caste oppression in western Uttar Pradesh, taking on the powerful Thakur caste (Chief Minister Adityanath is a Thakur). If Chandrashekar had indeed broken the law by inciting violence on May 9, the government should prosecute him under the relevant laws. But to keep Chandrashekhar in prison without any charge shows up the UP government as authoritarian and unable to deal with democratic dissent.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.