Dr Archana Prasad is a professor and chairperson of Centre for Informal Sector & Labour Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi. With two decades of experience in the academia, Prasad has conducted extensive research and activism in tribal areas of Chhattisgarh. In 2016, scholars including, Prof Prasad and a Delhi University professor, Nandini Sundar, were named along with four Maoists in an FIR for the murder of a villager in Dantewada. The FIR invited condemnation from the civil society which dubbed it ‘vendetta politics’ by the Raman Singh government and erstwhile Inspector-General of Police (IGP) of Bastar, S.P.S. Kalluri. Later, the Chhattisgarh government told the Supreme Court that Prasad and others would not be investigated in the case.
In an interview with News Central24x7, Prasad spoke on an array of issues including the recent arrests of human rights activists across the country, saffronisation of education and ‘development’ in relation to tribal rights in Bastar.
NC24x7: Pune Sessions Court has sent activists Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira to 14 days’ judicial custody on November 6. The three activists, along with Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha were arrested by the Maharashtra Police in nationwide raids on August 28. On November 15, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut were charge-sheeted by the Pune Police. Why do think activists across the country are being targeted now? Prof Archana Prasad: It is common knowledge that Sambhaji Bhide of the RSS and Milind Ekbote of the Hindu Ekta Aghadi were accused in the Bhima-Koregaon violence. It was a peaceful gathering till they arrived with their men and incited violence at the place. Thus, the Bhima-Koregaon riots were clearly an organised hindutva upper caste reaction to the growing consciousness of the dalits to fight for their rights. After dropping the charges against these accused, the Maharashtra government has started looking for scapegoats to hide the crimes of Hindu fringe groups. The first causality was Chandrasekhar (Azad), the chief of the Bhim Army and there after five other activists. The latest are human rights activists like Sudha Bharadwaj who have been fighting for the rights of adivasis through peaceful and legal means in Chhattisgarh. Sudha is known to have no maoist sympathies so why arrest her? The answer is simple, Sudha Bharadwaj has fought the atrocities of the Chhattisgarh government and also against their corporate agenda. So the latest strategy of the government is to clamp down on all those who expose them and fight their unfair and arbitrary politics. In contrast, fringe groups who spread the policies of hate are roaming around with impunity and freedom. NC24x7: Last month, the executive council (EC) of Jawaharlal Nehru University decided to set up a fact-finding committee to probe a two-year-old charge against you by Bastar Police. What is its current status? Why is the university probing the issue after two years? Prof Archana Prasad: So the JNU administration is a microcosm of the draconian Modi government. Ever since this vice chancellor (Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar) assumed office, he has been trying to tarnish the image of this prestigious university with strong democratic ethics and functioning. The first attempt was 9 February 2016 when the JNUSU president was arrested for anti-nationalism and sedition. The entire university came together and defeated the nefarious designs of the government. Then came our case: I and my colleagues who are known critics of the violent politics of the Maoists and the State were branded “naxals” and a trumped up murder charge was put on us in November 2016. Fortunately, the apex court stepped in and provided us protection. In May 2016 Chhattisgarh police wrote to the university that there was a police complaint against me…..the university slept on the complaint presumably because they thought the government will fix me and Nandini Sundar. Obviously, they were wrong. After two years, out of the blue, some private person allied with the Sangh Parivar writes to the VC saying he has forgotten to take action against me. Once again Delhi University ignores the complaint against Nandini, but JNU VC is pro-active because it is a good way of witch-hunting a teacher who is loyal to the cause of the teachers and students movement which has exposed his misdeeds to the world. The question is, why was a dormant already adjudicated complaint in the Supreme Court revived by this private person from Chhattisgarh and at whose behest? It is obvious that the letter was written at the behest of IGP Kalluri (S.P.S. Kalluri) who was removed from Bastar because of our case. Further, it was an attempt to rake the issue of “urban Naxal” up during the elections, and also during a period when the final hearing on the Salwa Judum matter has begun. The VC and the administration of JNU used this opportunity to target me once again. However, I assure you they will face bad defeat in this case because what they are doing is against the law and challenges the good sense of the Supreme Court itself.
NC24x7: Recently while campaigning in Chhattisgarh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the term “urban Maoists” and said that they are remote-controlling the left-wing insurgency in Bastar and other districts across the state. When the prime minister of the country does not shy away from labelling charges against activists openly, is there a reason for activists to fear? Prof Archana Prasad: Why should we be afraid? It just shows that they have not succeeded in turning the public perception against us. What we say and read and write is an open book and within the constitutional morality of the country. We stand for the rights of the down-trodden and have demystified the corporate hindutva agenda of “(non) vikas”. We are fighting against state atrocities and for the rights of workers and peasants. We stand for the truth and for equality, not for violence, lynching and targeting of minorities or anti-hindutva people. If you ask me, Modi, his Sanghi friends and the crony-capitalists wedded to his agenda are targeting the ordinary toiling people because of whom the values of this country are still alive despite heinous attacks on the Constitution. Modi has nothing to say but create a false “urban naxal” discourse. But the working classes of the country will show him his place in 2019 – he will lose.
NC24x7: Mr Modi also said that the Raman Singh government has ushered in a new era of development in Bastar while earlier governments did nothing for the region despite having funds. Your comments. Prof Archana Prasad: Our report of 2016 “Caught in an Irresponsible War” May 2016 clearly shows that there is no development in Bastar. All UN indicators show that adivasi development in Chhattisgarh is abysmal. Chhattisgarh ranks very low in health, education and other social indicators and there has been not much improvement over time. The so called development model of Bastar is security force driven and led. If you are pro-security forces you can rape people with impunity and get sops in MNREGS or rations. Our report shows that security forces are being used to dispossess adivasis of their lands and resources. The armed conflict between the maoists and the government has strengthened the politics of violence, and the people of the region are suffering. So where is the development? Why do you need to whip up sentiments during elections and buy MLAs and politicians if you are doing development? Why do you need so many security forces for ensuring that people defeat all politics of violence? This is because the adivasis are neither Maoists nor hindutva supporters. They are people struggling to survive in this conflict and those who are willing to stand in solidarity with them are getting into trouble. Any government that follows this model of development should be thrown out forever. NC24x7: An effort is being made to saffronise the education system, in general. How far did the current government succeed in doing it? Prof Archana Prasad: The current government is using force to not only saffronise but also privatise publicly funded higher education systems which have been democratic and inclusive in their approach. However they are losing…look at the way the BHU girls, the teachers of Manipur and Hidayatullah university, students of Hyderabad and other universities fought. The JNU teachers and students elections also show that you can change names of roads, manipulate statutory bodies to get Sangh cronies into the system, but it is difficult to control the democratic consciousness of teachers and students who are fighting for social justice. That the administration is facing protracted opposition at every step shows that they are not succeeding. If we carry out a united struggle, they will also not succeed in the future. NC24x7: Farmers across the country are protesting as they are getting less than the MSP for their produce and there is no mechanism to complain about it, many cases of farmers committing suicide are also reported. However, the government is not taking any concrete steps to help the farmers. Do you see the situation changing ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections? Prof Archana Prasad: Peasants and workers are up in arms. In the last UPA-II government which also followed horrible economic policies, people were a bit muted in their response because repression and targeting was not so obvious. But in the last 2 years, the movements of workers, peasants, women, youth and others show the churning that is taking place to channelise the discontent. There will be a huge march of farmers between 28-30 November 2018, where 182 organisations will mobilise people: it is called Nation for Farmers campaign. We will all be there to support the farmers and carry out a united campaign against this fascistic and corporate-oriented government. We are at a crucial time, when if we pool our resources, we can hand a resounding defeat to the corporate hindutva ‘anti nationals’ who are ruining the basic fabric of our nation.
NC24x7: In JNU, many instances of maladministration were reported in the past few years. What are the steps that academics, including you, are taking to prevent all the malpractices? Prof Archana Prasad: As I said earlier, the teachers and students have time and again showed the administration that they can not succeed in their mala fide intentions. What is even more interesting is that we are continuously resisting the administration even while we responsibly carry out all our normal teaching and learning activities. No one can say JNU has become dysfunctional – we are still one of the most prestigious universities in the country and also in the world. So it is the administration that is behaving irresponsibly and we are trying to keep the democratic, pluralistic and socially inclusive traditions of the University alive through resistance. ‘Study and Struggle’ is our motto and we have shown we can do it.