It was Sunday, November 13 in 2016.
We had gathered at the Holland Park in Surrey to protest against the growing attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents in India under the current right-wing Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi.
The keynote speaker at the event held by Radical Desi was the visiting scholar from India Anand Teltumbde.
The occasion was the eve of the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Nanak had preached his followers to stand up against state repression. I opened the event as a master of ceremonies, quoting from his verses that say how the rulers have become barbaric and at whose command their soldiers go after people and shake them out of their slumber.
I wanted to emphasise that today’s rulers have rather become more tyrannical as they kill people at will and put them behind bars under draconian laws.
Five years later, close to this year’s birth anniversary of Nanak, Teltumbde is being incarcerated in an Indian jail, and his brother has been killed by the Indian police under mysterious circumstances.
Teltumbde happens to be the grandson-in-law of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar–the architect of the Indian constitution and an undisputed icon of Dalits (the so-called "untouchables").
He is a published author and has been writing columns on social justice for many years now. His critical writings had bothered those in power.
Teltumbde was arrested last year under trumped-up charges along with other scholars and activists. Ironically, he was taken in custody on the birth anniversary of Ambedkar whom the Indian prime minister publicly reveres.
In the midst of a long-running campaign for his release, his brother Milind—a Maoist insurgent—was killed in an alleged exchange of fire with the police on November 14. Milind was among 26 killed in the incident with no police deaths, raising suspicions of this being a staged "shoot-out".
Members of civil society are asking for an independent judicial inquiry.
It's not surprising to conclude that police are killing political activists belonging to minority groups or the Maoist movement in fake encounters or locking them up under black laws, even as authorities look the other way when it comes to deal with Hindu extremists. Notably, Modi invited a controversial female ascetic charged in the bombing of a Muslim community, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, into politics in 2019. She now sits in the parliament.
Putting one brother in jail and killing the other reflects very poorly on the world's so-called largest democracy. It only shows that the Indian state, especially under Modi, not only remains intolerant to armed uprisings that, in most cases, are the outcome of uneven growth, development, and oppression, but also to any peaceful dissent.
Modi's national security adviser Ajit Doval recently declared war on civil society. Let’s not mistake this. It isn’t the India of Gandhi anymore. The state itself is shamelessly indulging in cover-up and violence in opposition to Guru Nanak's principles of Truth and Peace.
This year’s birth anniversary of Guru Nanak reminds us all, of our obligation to raise our voices against such brutality. Let’s make our politicians, including Modi, accountable for paying lip service to Nanak. We honestly must not let such brutes even utter the name of Nanak, who dared to challenge the power without fear.