On the morning of 1 January, Anita Sawale, a 39-year-old resident of the Pimpri-Chinchwad suburb in Pune, left for Bhima Koregaon with her husband, Ravindra Sawale, and their two children, to pay their respects to a war memorial in the village. The memorial is an obelisk constructed by the British to commemorate their victory in a historic battle at Koregaon, in 1818, when a small British battalion, largely comprising soldiers from the oppressed Mahar caste, defeated a Peshwa army, predominantly of dominant-caste Marathas. The Mahar community takes pride in the historic defeat of their oppressors—they celebrate the day as a festival known as “Valour Day,” while some even consider a visit to the memorial an annual pilgrimage. But on the bicentennial anniversary of the battle, the Sawale family’s pilgrimage was interrupted by unprecedented violence.
On 27 January 2007, despite injunctions from the district magistrate, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath, delivered an incendiary speech
urging revenge for the death of a young Hindu boy who had got caught in a clash between two groups in Gorakhpur during Muharram. In February this year, the Allahabad high court accepted
the state government’s refusal to sanction the prosecution of its chief minister. On 20 August, based on a plea challenging that decision, the Supreme Court asked
the Uttar Pradesh government to explain why Adityanath should not be prosecuted for the alleged hate speech. Days before the case comes up for hearing before the apex court, Sunil Singh, once Adityanath’s right-hand man and now in police custody, has claimed that the charge of hate speech is true.
It was mid April, the onset of the heat wave in Rajasthan. Twenty-one-year-old Mamta had spent three consecutive days lying on her bed next to a mud wall in her round, thatched hut. That day she gave her husband, 24-year-old Oma Ram, an ultimatum: either he finds work outside their village or she would leave.
On 6 September, in a landmark unanimous verdict, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court partially struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to decriminalise sexual relations between consenting adults. The provision had long been a tool of oppression used against the Indian queer community and its decriminalisation marked a momentous recognition of basic human rights in the country. In 2009, a bench of the then chief justice of the Delhi High Court AP Shah and Justice S Muralidhar ruled that the provision violated the right to equality and right to life in the Constitution. Four years later, on a petition filed by an astrologer, Suresh Kumar Koushal, a division bench of the Supreme Court, presided over by the justices GS Singhvi and SJ Mukhopadhaya, overturned the high court’s verdict, upholding the constitutionality of Section 377.
On 1 January this year, Dalits from across India gathered in Bhima Koregaon, a village 30 kilometers from Pune, to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of a historic battle that took place in the village in 1818. The battle had culminated in the victory of a small British battalion, largely comprising soldiers from the oppressed Mahar caste, over an army of dominant-caste Peshwas. On the 200th anniversary, as lakhs marched towards the Koregaon Ranstambh, or Vijay Stambh—a memorial pillar erected by the British to commemorate the battle—mobs of people carrying saffron flags
attacked the predominantly Dalit gathering.
As I made my way towards Ramlila Maidan on the evening of 5 September, the red flags kept growing in number. It was nearly 8 pm, and the daylong farmers’ protest in the national capital was drawing to a close. Many of the farmers were gathering their belongings and rushing to the nearby New Delhi railway station. But Ramlila Maidan was still buzzing—a few thousand of the estimated three lakh protesters still remained, having made plans to leave the following day. People were huddled together in groups, chatting at the end of a tiring day. Some were queuing up for dinner, being sold at Rs 20 per head, or at a water tanker provided by the Delhi Jal Board. A man in a red shirt shouted slogans about the government’s lies as he left. Many protesters had already dozed off.
A recent book on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is receiving significant media attention these days, was borne out of a desire expressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon after he ascended to the post in 2014. This revelation comes from Shridhar D Damle, the sanghchalak of the Chicago branch
of the RSS’s overseas equivalent, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, who has co-authored the book—The RSS: A View to the Inside—with the American academic Walter K Andersen. The book was published last month.
On 28 August, the Pune Police raided the homes of nine prominent human-rights activists and intellectuals across the country. These included the trade unionist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, the journalist and activist Gautam Navlakha, the lawyers and activists Vernon Gonsalvez and Arun Ferreira, the lawyer Susan Abraham, the Maoist ideologue and writer Varavara Rao, the writer and professor Anand Teltumbde, the journalist Kranthi Tekula, and the Jesuit priest and Adivasi-rights activist Stan Swamy. Five of them were also arrested through the course of the day
, and booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which disallows bail. They are currently under house arrest
, following a Supreme Court intervention.
On 28 August, the Pune Police arrested five activists—the trade-unionist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, the writers Gautam Navlakha and Varavara Rao, the lawyers Arun Ferriera and Vernon Gonsalvez—and conducted search raids at the homes of several others. The police have offered different explanations for the arrests—including a purported connection to the violence that broke out at Bhima Koregaon in early January, an “anti-fascist plot” to overthrow the government, and reportedly, yet another plot
to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During his reign as chief minister of Gujarat, in his campaign ahead of the 2014 general elections, and while serving as the country’s prime minister, Modi has survived several reported plots and attempts to kill him.