Opinion

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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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.