Rising threat to natural resources, Constitutional values, principles of equality and justice

convention1An account of the 11th National Convention of National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM), which began in Patna on December 2:

More than 1000 representatives of 200 organisations from across 20 states came together in Patna for the 11th National Convention of the National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM) to send out a strong message on the need for all of us progressive individuals, rights based organisations and people’s movements to come together and create an alternative world at a time when  there is a rising threat on our Natural Resources, our Constitutional values and the principles of Equality and Justice.

Veteran activist Medha Patkar raised the need to look inwards as the NAPM celebrates its 20th anniversary but also not get so caught in self-critique that we lose focus of the larger struggles. She remarked, “At a time when electoral politics and political parties are becoming increasingly opportunistic, exclusive and anti-poor, people’s struggles have to lead the way towards a better tomorrow. We have to fight the battles of our own lands, forests, rivers but we also need to locate ourselves in the larger ongoing struggles the world over”.

She also chose the occasion to invoke and congratulate the various movements rising across the country including land rights struggles in Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and the Narmada valley, the struggle for self-determination in Kashmir, the fight for Transparency and Accountability or the Dalit students movements across campuses. She ended by saying: The younger generation is rising and speaking up. We old ones should learn to sit back and gave them space, they are not a force that can or should be stopped”.

A known face from the JNU students struggles, Umar Khalid, himself a victim of media trial and clampdown on student movements by the State and Universities, was also present and reminded us of the this being the 20th anniversary of the infamous massacre of Dalits by the Ranvir Sena who are still awaiting justice. However he acknowledged that the Ranvir Sena that was responsible for the massacre is today no more and the credit rests largely on all the movements and voices that rose and keep rising against right wing Hindu fascist groups.

Umar said, “Union Ministers keep issuing statements against the need for students to engage in politics and claim it is a waste of tax payers money. But the taxpayers money is truly wasted when we read about Marx but are not allowed to join in the Honda Maruti workers struggles, when we are taught about the native Americas of a different continent but are threatened, shut down and incarcerated the meeting we speak up against discrimination of Dalits, Muslims and women of the country”. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” he quipped wittily, drawing attention to the current regime and its attempts to censor control and depoliticise campuses.

medhapDontha Prashant from the Ambedkar Students Association of the Hyderabad Central University reminded us of how any Ambedkarite struggle automatically links to the struggle for Universal Right to Food, Right to Education, anti-patriarchy, anti-communalist movements and even against capital punishment. He shared with us his friend and comrade Rohith Vemula’s letter to the VC Appa Rao  where he had drawn attention to the systemic discrimination and boycott being faced by Dalit students but to no avail. He urged us to observe 18th December as a day to remember Rohith and keep fighting till we get Justice for Rohith and other victims of a Brahminical Hindu state that keeps discriminating against all political minorities in newer more heinous ways.

Prashant said, “Our university today is worse than a jail. Public meetings aren’t allowed, there is total control and censorship over students, even progressive pro-people intellectuals and activists like Medha Patkar are not given entry”. He encouraged all movements need to work towards Babasaheb’s call for the annihilation of caste. “That is really our only way out”.

Sunita, one of the brave hearts from Bijapur, Bastar, who is herself a survivor of state violence in Chattisgarh spoke on behalf of all the children being brutally murdered, all the fellow adivasis being constantly threatened and all the women suffering extreme sexual violence in the name of countering terrorism and Maoist factions.

“The attack on us in open and regular and the police and army enjoy impunity because of the laws operating in Chattisgarh. It is difficult for people to come out of their homes and speak up. The truth of this ongoing corporate loot of resources and stories of violence that are so commonplace today in Chattisgarh need to come out before the rest of the country” she insisted.

Grace Bano, transgender rights activist from from Tamil Nadu was here also for the Justice For Tara Campaign in Patna, in remembrance of the transwoman who was found murdered in Chennai under suspicious circumstances outside a police station in early November. Grace is a living example of the newer voices that are emerging in the field of peoples struggles.

She is one of first the transgender persons to be pursuing an engineering degree in the country and took us through the multiple discriminations that Dalit transgender women face daily in their families, in education, in employment leaving them with little option for earning a living except for beggary or sex work. The Constitution guarantees us all our rights and yet any action to ensure dignity for transgender persons remains only on paper. Further, she said: The NALSA judgement for the rights of transgender people lies under-executed. The new proposed bill for transgender people is lacking in many aspects and the Government should get proactive in consulting with the community to bring forth a truly progressive and representative Bill. In a bid to raise awareness among all groups gathered today and to get them to join in the struggle for righs for transgender people, Grace emphasized” We are human beings and we deserve to live too”.

Ashish Ranjan, NAPM Convener and trade unionist from Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan, Bihar drew our attention to the entire Vidhan Sabha election process in the state, where multiple efforts were made to distract people from their issues of daily survival by introducing feelings of communal hatred and nationalistic jingoism, of gau raksha and of pitting minority identities against each other. However the results were like a resounding slap on the face of Hindutva forces and a huge victory for the democratic spirit of the people of Bihar. “These forces might have taken a beating but are still quite active and ready to break us apart in the name of caste, class, gender, sexuality, religion, region etc. Till the time we stay aware and united, we shall not be defeated” he concluded.

Saathi Suresh Khernar from the Rashtriya Seva Dal who has recently been spending time with people in the Kashmir valley chose to speak on the plight of those people, on the historic neglect they’ve been facing from the Indian state, on the atmosphere of complete lockdown imposed on them at present and the ongoing protests of the peoples there, in the wake of the murder of Burhan Wahi which is about five months long and still going strong. He insisted that the people of Kashmir should be guaranteed their right to self-determination and sent out a call for everyone to join the Kashmiri struggle in solidarity on the 23rd of March in various symbolic ways.

Other noted activists of NAPM including Vimal Bhai from Uttarakhand, Samar Bagchi from Bengal, Lingaraj Bhai from Odisha, Venugopal from Kerala and Mahendra Yadav from Bihar also addressed the gathering about struggles they are a part of.

The day continued with parallel discursive sessions on gender, AFSPA, demonetization, agricultural and labour issues and ended on a note of high with songs of protest by Rela, a group of performing folk artists from across the country and by cultural teams of various organisations.

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