‘Your Ideas Have Spread Like Wildfire’: A Letter to Dr Anand Teltumbde on His Birthday
The din of darkness sprawls, the night sky devours and us – those who love you yearn for the patient past to be with us and skip the present. There is a silence in the lover’s island while the canon of flames has died in a fascist land.
Anand, your vision is lost upon the maladies of the scornful. But, looking around a group of colourful youth gathered in the squares raising our popular fist into the air ejecting a dynamo of ownership. They claim the sky is theirs, so is the land upon which they firmly balance – the historical atrocity and ongoing neoliberal spitfire makes them vulnerable, forcing them to give up. The world is at the brink of not giving up, of refusing, of resisting. You are that world in a world apart who has shown us to not give up.
You are more than you. You are more than the shadow that desperately follows you with your most irritation. Nowadays, you are our strength. We can only imagine and aspire to be Shakespearen in our collective appreciations of you. Somehow there is a hail shower while the country burns. We wonder why there is no fire flaming into the minds and running like a fast-paced blood into the veins of fellow countrymen. Then we realise the cognition of the country’s rebellion is forced to lock his mind. How wonderful for an ungrateful country who stripped your ancestors of their basic humanity and now when you’ve almost ‘made it’ they want to remind you of your worth in their dreadful minds.
We do not know how the 21st century is going to turn out. But taking stock of this century’s prominent movements – the workers of Mexico and Brazil, the indigenous rising of Bolivia, Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, Indian Revolution we are hopeful that our progenies will carry this mantle ahead. They will always come back and refer to your sharp mind that acted as a guidance pole for everyone. Currently, your books are pirated, your articles are distributed and your speeches are turned into rhythms that hymn into the ears of listeners who are favouring humanism over Brahminical fascism.
Anand, your ideas have spread like wildfire, even as the powers that be seek to restrict, isolate and crush you. Your pronouncements about the dangerous times we have created have woken up people, especially (but not only) the young. The energy that you brought to every word that you spoke or wrote over the last four decades nourishes those at the forefront of change today. The sharpness of your analytical powers are sorely missed; your refusal to mince words when doing your prognosis and diagnosis has been the welcome antidote to the virus of fake-news, forked-tongues, and fantasies of the fascists.
What do people do when our leaders, our best minds, our most promising lives are put in jail for the most dubious and unsubstantiated reasons, and even while defending the Indian Constitution? With Brecht, we too are, in these dark times, writing, narrating, and singing about these dark times.
Here is one for you Anand. A poem from the past, a spirit that was not crushed, a call that was heeded, a wish that was fulfilled…
1975, Musheerabad Central Jail, Hyderabad, India. A 24 year-old political prisoner sits in his jail cell, clouds of despair engulf him but a fire keeps raging in his heart. He just learned he is going to be a father. He writes a Telugu poem called ‘Song of the Morning Star’, giving a revolutionary welcome to his baby:
rule the country today
Armies of police
fill the barracks
a war cry
to fight the monstrous
leeches with fangs of currency
you, like a prelude
for an ideological poem
that’d win Tomorrow’s battle
Come baby come”
That baby is now a young person in our midst – daring the powers that be, speaking truth to power, empowered and powerful. She is inspired by you, and writes today:
“Now, 45 years after the emergency, the country is under the clutches of an undeclared super emergency. The monsters have consolidated their power into one authoritarian rule. Its tentacles reach far and wide, choking every aspect of life in India. Student activist Safoora Zargar was arrested for organizing peaceful protests against the CAA. She was imprisoned in the overcrowded Tihar Jail without any regard for the fact that she was in the second trimester of her pregnancy. She was released on bail – ironically, not by recognizing her constitutional right to voice dissent but under ‘humanitarian grounds’. The monster is trying to put out a benevolent face, even as vulnerable political prisoners are languishing in jails while the real perpetrators of violence are roaming free. Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis are beaten, lynched and murdered in broad daylight, and journalists, writers, lawyers, activists and other citizens are being booked under UAPA and other draconian laws for raising even the mildest voices of dissent. The Janata party came into being after the emergency but withered away soon. While that emergency is the predecessor of this super emergency, the fragmented resistance must come together to fight this monster.”
We think about you and Shoma, Sudhir, Sudha, Mahesh, Surendra, Arun, Vernon, Varavara, Rona, and Gautam. We would like you to come out soon and continue your work to make the constitutional dreams come true. And as we continue to demand your fundamental rights be respected, and that each of you be set free immediately, we hope that the Indian state at least matches the dignity accorded by British colonialists to Gandhi and to Savarkar, by slave-holder-legatee white supremacists in America’s deep South to Martin Luther King Jr., and by the apartheid regime in South Africa to Nelson Mandela – the dignity to your physical and mental health, the dignity to keep up with your readings, writings, and yes – to send your letters from jail to all of us.
Meanwhile, we keep our strengths from ebbing by reading your words. Sometime back you had rightly predicted where neoliberalism and Hindutva would lead Indian society, ultimately to the destruction of the Constitution and the pluralism of India:
The opposition parties should have grasped the fragility of BJP’s strategy due to the inherent contradiction in pursuing aggressive Hindutva for its politics and intensive neoliberalism for its economics. While neoliberal policies are loved by capitalists and upwardly mobile middle classes, they would be wary of Hindutva that disturbs social stability and dents economic development. While Hindutva may emotionally appeal to the lower classes and help in managing politics, the neoliberal policies may not be liked by them as they hit them hard. This fatal contradiction, the BJP is aware, can only be managed over a short term. And it is therefore that it appears to be in hurry to accomplish its goal of achieving a Hindu Rashtra, a brahminic fascist state.” (“Introduction to Revised edition,” Hindutva and Dalits, 2020).
You were visionary, you were prescient when you wrote, “The Sangh Parivar and Dr. Ambedkar have always been at loggerheads with each other.” What is happening to you is a continuation of that epic clash of ideology. Your unjust incarceration, your suffering is the price that you are being made to pay by a ruthless regime that is eager to declare Hindu Rashtra at the first available opportunity.
July 15, 2020
Suraj Yengde, Balmurli Natrajan, Meena Kandasamy, Sangeeta Kamat and Biju Mathew