Even while police and mafia repression propelled by the Naveen Patnaik regime moves in repeated waves in the Posco conflict zone, anti-Posco satyagrahi and CPI leader Abhay Sahoo\\\’s life and struggle reminds us of the spirit of Gandhi, Marx and Ambedkar.
I do not know whether we won the freedom of this subcontinent called India because of Gandhi or Ambedkar. While thousands of people worked selflessly for the freedom that you and I enjoy today, and often take it for granted, without realising that this freedom is fast eroding under our own feet, there were certainly some individuals who shaped our present spaces due to some of their selfless actions of their past. While Gandhi was celebrated for his role in the freedom struggle of our ancestors, I believe that our real freedom was shaped by one great man’s work: The structure of Indian constitution created by Ambedkar. It is due to his work that I am able to express my freedom of expression, freedom of identity, right to protest and freedom to dissent along with many other areas of freedom that all of us enjoy. But I am also aware that we are going to lose all these very soon, if we are not vigilant.
After the colonial rule, the Indian State remains today under a different form of colonial force without the direct presence of the colonisers. Under this neo-colonialism, our lands, seas, hills, forests, water bodies and minerals are looted more effectively than what Britishers could ever imagine. In this process, some Indians are able to deposit vast amount of black money in foreign banks. While such news hit the newspapers, nodescription questions where such money is coming from. It is certainly a loot of our own rights of our environment. But what doesn’t hit the headlines of the sensational media is news about another section people: Hundreds of people who are languishing in Indian Jails for the simple crime of continuing to fight for our freedom. Abhay Sahoo, the leader of anti-POSCO struggle in Orissa is one such person.
Abhay Sahoo is a warm person, simple but determined. He is in prison today with 50 fabricated false cases, four of which cannot be bailed. But he is not alone. There are over 200 fabricated false cases on over 800 activists of the anti-POSCO movement, whose freedom is restricted without being jailed. But they were attacked by the police and the goons of the company for defending their lands. Having faced bullets and bombs in this non-violent struggle for India’s freedom, our Gandhis and Ambedkars are not in position to join them for their rescue. Because our political ancestors only remain as statues, roads or postal stamps for modern India. Hence, even their followers cannot defend the new freedom struggle represented by the anti –POSCO struggle. The only crime of the villagers who defended the multinational giant called POSCO is that these committed and brave men, women and children fought for the freedom of their lands – A freedom that you and I wish to enjoy without remembering the sacrifices of our political ancestors.
Why does the Indian State decide to place this simple, good-hearted person Abhay Sahoo behind bars? There is only one reason – he led the freedom struggle against the largest foreign investment project of this country – a project which will displace thousands of farmers, fisherfolk and adivasis and steal their livelihood, dignity and freedom. It is also a project conceived to invade on large description river, forests, sea and land, apart from the invasion on a wide number of species other than human beings. The destruction will be irreparable, threatening a multiple and varied sections of life for generations. For those who support this destructive project, an investment of Rs 54,000 crore is not small money.
A fraction of this amount will be enough to make many who are blamed for the unaccounted investments in foreign banks happy. Anna Hazare will not touch this real issue of corruption. But we have to realise that the real corruption in this country is due to the loot of our own lands, water, forests, hills, seas and natural resources. Thousands of people’s movements are taking place in this country today against such loot. Very few are known to the minds of the middle class activists. But we have to recognise that this is the real freedom struggle going on in this country with or without the help of Gandhi, Marx, Ambedkar, Lenin, Lohia or many others in their graves.
This is not the first time that Abhay Sahoo is arrested. Last time, when he was in Jail for ten months, his mother was happy. For, she felt that her son was safer in jail than outside. That was the situation of Abhay Sahoo at that time. Times have changed. Different political parties are supporting the struggle today indirectly even if their interests are different. Even the committees appointed by the central government have been favourable to the movement. Three out of four members of the committee appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests have declared that the POSCO project is illegal and all clearances were obtained by breaking the law.
I do not know whether Ambedkar would be laughing or crying with this reality. But the committee says: `The POSCO project is an example of how a mirage of `development’ can be used in an attempt to bypass the law. Such attempts, if allowed to succeed, will result in neither development nor environmental protection, but merely in profiteering. This will cause immeasurable harm to the nation and to the rule of law and justice in our society.’ Obviously, a section who represented the Government of India tried to portray the struggle to remove POSCO from this land as a struggle to save the `nation’. But the Government of India has to brush aside these recommendations under the carpet along with the Indian Constitution conceived by Ambedkar.
I met Abhay Sahoo a few months back in jail along with Prashant Paikre, the official spokesperson of the anti-POSCO movement, Kavita Srivastava of PUCL, and K. Sajeed of Solidarity Youth Movement. I informed him that I would be prepared to replace him in Jail if situations allow. I was clear that his involvement outside that stupid jail was more crucial to the freedom of people of this country than my being outside. Abhay Sahoo laughed whole heartedly. I was glad to make him laugh if not to release him.
But it is not just Abhay Sahoo who has to be released. It will not be enough if all the fabricated cases on all the eight hundred villagers are removed. It will not be enough if the Orissa Government and the Central Government apologise to them and provide proper compensation for such misuse of law and authority. It will not be enough if POSCO leaves this subcontinent forever after paying the damages with their heads below their shoulders with shame for attempting to disturb and destroy our environment and displace our people. The Indian State has to release many others who have been fabricated in similar manner from the jails of India and apologise and compensate for their difficulties due to the misuse of power of Indian police, army and judicial system.
Though Dr. Binayak Sen is released on bail, who will compensate the time he spent in jail for no reason? Activists who worked selflessly for the release of Dr. Binayak Sen will have to continue to work for the release hundreds of adivasis who are in jails of Chattisgarh alone, branded and fabricated as Maoists without sufficient evidence. After spending nine and a half years for no reason the judge told Abdul Naser Ma’dani that he was innocent. But the judge did not book those who were responsible for creating such fabricated cases on Ma’dani and he did not order any compensation for his wasted time, almost equivalent to life imprisonment for no reason. Instead, he is in jail today for another series of fabricated false cases.
Well known journalist KK Shahina who dared to expose these lies in Tehelka by interviewing the very same witnesses claimed by the Karnataka police, is also going through the same problem of fabrication. Many people’s movements other than anti-POSCO movement are also facing similar fabricated false cases today. If you look at the north eastern states of India, Around 500 people are killed every year and 300 women are widowed in Manipur due to such fabrication. The scenario in Nagaland, Kashmir and other areas where people are struggling for self determination is also not different. While the Muslims were killed, raped, tortured and humiliated in Gujarat, many of them are also spending their time in jail under fabricated false cases. The list of fabrication is long. While a few judges have been sensitive to such human rights violation, others have succumbed to the power of communalism, national chauvinism, and misuse of power and authority. Unless these prisoners of conscience are released, India will not be free.
The number of fabricated false cases in this country is increasing day by day. This is only an indication of the erosion of our democracy which is slowly slipping into a fascist model of governance. It has to be clear to all freedom lovers of this country that so long as the prisoners of conscience remain in Indian jails, our own democracy is at stake. If we do not work for their release, it only means that we refuse to work for our own freedom – the very freedom of this subcontinent called India.
Abhay Sahoo is only a symbol for the struggle for freedom of modern India. Among the many struggles against globalisation, the existing Communist parties including CPI, CPM and Maoists have very limited role in the leadership of such struggles. Abhay Sahoo is an exception. He belongs to the Communist Party of India, though there are many other political forces in PPSS, the organisation which leads the struggle against POSCO. Even if the left looks away from people’s movements against globalisation and destructive development, the minimum they can do is to initiate a national campaign to release their own comrade, Abhay Sahoo! The supporters of the new freedom struggle in this country have only one appeal to the left and democratic forces. Even if they cannot initiate, the minimum they can do is to join the new freedom struggle – a struggle which will go on with or without them.
But the issue is larger than the crisis of the left. The Sangh Parivar is responsible for a large number fabrication of false cases. We understand today that a number of people who have been jailed or killed as terrorists have been fabricated by the Sangh Parivar. The media who mouth such versions of the Sangh Parivar, police or the politicians have a major role in this fabrication. The Rightwing parties including Congress are largely responsible for such fabrication. They do not wish to deal with another freedom struggle in this country. A section from the emerging middle class who benefit from globalisation is also getting threatened by this new freedom struggle. Because they fear that this new struggle will demolish their concept of individual happiness and identity from the new consumerist world affordable only to few. Their fears may have some grounds. But it is time that they fear about their own freedom.
Since Abhay Sahoo is fighting against one of the largest neo colonial projects in India, his freedom can rightly symbolise the freedom of this subcontinent. His freedom will not be complete unless thousands who are fighting against POSCO and thousands of people’s movements which are fighting against such destructive projects of Globalisation along with thousands of adivasis, dalits, muslims, self-determinations struggles, sexuality minorities, fisher folk and other weaker sections of this country are free. He represents the courage of the struggle for this Indian subcontinent which is still fighting for freedom against the neo-colonial forces. And activists will have to regenerate their convictions on the fact that if all likeminded people do not work for the release of the new breed of prisoners of conscience today, the minimum freedom that we enjoy will vanish in no time. Fighting against the largest neo colonial project in democratic ways, if Abhay Sahoo is behind bars, it is clear that all other similar struggles will face the same situation.
Hence, the struggle to release Abhay Sahoo and throw POSCO out of this subcontinent is only a symbol of the new freedom struggle. If we do not join this struggle against the lies, fabrication and false cases against those who fight for our freedom, time will come when this subcontinent called India will be ruled by a section of corporates violating all the basic human rights which our political ancestors struggled to provide us. No doubt, such a rule will be worse than the British rule in India.
Those who criticise the people’s movements who struggle against destructive development, for turning the wheel of history backwards, must realise that the political wheel of history is already moving backwards to primitive ways. These fabrications and human rights violations can shame all indigenous people who are branded as `primitive’, for they practice democracy within their own communities in a much healthier manner. The shame of the present situation is also on those great men and women who shaped our democracy, for they must be wondering about what they left behind. The real question to those freedom fighters as well to us is whether we really deserve freedom. If we do, then, the middle class, the media and the political parties will have to move differently.
Abhay Sahoo reminds us that the spirit of Gandhi, Marx or Ambedkar is not dead yet. It is only from such spirits and energies of the emerging freedom fighters that we can generate hopes for a new world.
(KP Sasi is a film director and political activist; this article was first published in Hardnews magazine)