Anand Teltumbde, a visiting social justice activist and scholar from India, is worried about growing state violence in the world’s so-called largest democracy under its right-wing government.
On a speaking tour that includes a stop in Vancouver, Teltumbde believes that repression of marginalized communities and political dissidents has increased since the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014.
He noted that Hindu fundamentalists who wish to transform India into a Hindu state have become emboldened, terrifying religious minorities, while voices of dissent are being suppressed by police and the justice system.
Teltumbde pointed out that only recently, 32 people were killed after being branded as Maoist insurgents in Malkangiri in the northeastern Indian state of Odisha. Another eight facing trial as Islamic terrorists died after a jailbreak in Bhopal.
In both cases, police claimed that those who died were dangerous extremists killed in shootouts. But human-rights activists continue to challenge these claims, based on statements of eyewitnesses and other evidence, like videos that have gone viral on social media. “Even a child can tell you that these were cold-blooded murders,” Teltumbde said.
He called these incidents instances of war against India's own people in the name of security. “Whether you agree with Maoists or not, they are fighting the peoples' struggle. By exterminating them, you are killing your own people.”
Teltumbde has been regularly writing on issues affecting oppressed groups, like Dalits, who are considered “untouchables” under India's brutal caste system. And he has often been among those questioning why they are incarcerated with no hope of bail.
Talking to the Straight, Teltumbde said that he hopes that the left in alliance with activists from oppressed groups can work together to challenge the Hindu right and bring a radical change. An ardent follower of Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar—a towering Dalit activist, scholar, and architect of the Indian constitution that guarantees religious and social equality— Teltumbde observed that the left has always tried to examine the problems of India through a class lens.
This ignores the ugly reality of caste-based discrimination that led many not only to misunderstood Ambedkar, but also to ridicule him, causing divisions in the past between leftist and Dalit movements. (Teltumbde's wife happens to be one of Ambedkar's granddaughters.)
“The two sides have now come together to challenge Modi following growing attacks on the left and the Dalits by the Hindu nationalists, which gives us some hope for a better future.” he said.
Teltumbde was equally critical of certain opportunistic Dalit leaders who have been appropriated by the BJP. This, he said, is also distorting the history of Ambedkar’s struggle.
Quoting from some of the writings of Ambedkar, Teltumbde clarified that the legendary Dalit leader was in fact very critical of Hindu nationalism and had cautioned against the dangers of a Hindu right government that would exclude all religious minorities. “No one can deny what Ambedkar had predicted, which has been proven correct.”
Teltumbde has been active in both Dalit and trade-union movements. He coined the slogan, “Jai Bhim, Laal Salaam” ("Victory to Bhim, Red Salute") that resonated with followers of both Ambedkar and the leftists.
In fact, Teltumbde is going to speak on this subject at Simon Fraser University's Surrey campus on Saturday (November 12). His lecture is titled “Red, Blue and Saffron: Can the left and Dalits in India unite against Hindutva?”
The Gursharan Singh and Ambedkar Memorial Lecture will take place from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Room 2600 of the Surrey campus. At 3 p.m. on Sunday (November 13), he will attend a rally in Surrey's Holland Park, which is being organized Radical Desi against state repression in India.