Remembering Rajbala Devi, woken from sleep and killed under UPA

She had been fasting for days. She was a 52-year-old woman. It was midnight. She was asleep, stretched out on the ground.

The Delhi police arrived at the Ramlila Maidan where Baba Ramdev and his followers were holding a protest. The same Delhi police that answers to the Ministry of Home Affairs, then under UPA in 2011. And possibly to the extra-constitutional National Advisory Council, headed by Madam Sonia Gandhi.

They rained blows on her. With thick lathis, they hit her again and again, breaking and dislocating her spinal column in multiple places.

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She did not die immediately. Instead, she was put on constant ventilator support. She suffered nearly four full months before finally succumbing to her injuries in late September of 2011.

The government’s excuse? The permit was for a Yoga camp, not a Satyagraha. For this, Rajbala Devi paid with her life.

Truth be told, I don’t know much more about Rajbala Devi. The media never cared to tell us anything about her. That night when they came for her, there were actually hundreds of television crews watching. But nobody was interested in telling us her story. Who was she? What were her hopes and dreams in life that were squelched that night under the jackboots of the UPA government as she was beaten to a pulp?

Nobody knows. The prima facie evidence suggests that she was not a leftist and so it hardly matters what happened to her.

These days, we hear a lot about “dissent” and the price that leftists are allegedly paying for it. Some have had to spend a few hours in police custody. Some are facing “arrest” within the confines and comforts of their lavish properties in Delhi and Mumbai.

Everything they do qualifies as “dissent”. And it is not just ordinary dissent, it is all brave and heroic; paeans are sung to their greatness and nobility. Apparently, one of them was born in America but decided to move to India. How dare we arrest her?

A convicted terrorist who has served time in jail after getting arrested in connection to the recovery of nine detonators and twenty gelatin sticks? Legitimate dissenter.

Raising provocative slogans in an airplane is the obvious equivalent of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre? Legitimate dissent as well.

Meanwhile, the left-liberal elite laughs off the death of Rajbala Devi. They say we shouldn’t do “whataboutism.” They say we should focus instead on the left-liberal “dissenter” who wakes up in the morning to find her timeline crowded with angry tweets.

Rajbala Devi woke up to find lathis raining down on her spine. And then she never woke up again. But so what? Who cares?

There are so many like her that I could tell you about. Their bodies are strewn all across time. There is Trilochan Mahato, the BJP worker who was found hanging from a tree in West Bengal. He was just a boy. They even wrote on his shirt: “Killed for doing BJP politics.”

Who cares? Trilochan was just a BJP worker, that too a tribal. His death is not as big news as the arrest of some “tribal rights activist” who may have come from the big city, maybe even from America. Trilochan was from a modest family in a tribal district. That too he was doing the politics of BJP, probably not realizing how thankful tribal people should be to have “tribal rights activists” visiting them. Let him die. It’s his fate, right?

Some bodies of BJP workers are found hanging from electric poles. Some bodies of BJP workers with their hands tied together are fished out of ponds. These people don’t matter one bit.

I remember a case from Tripura where a woman who dared to quit the CPI(M) was tortured, gang-raped and blinded in one eye. The incident is fresh in my memory because it was reported in a major newspaper only recently, almost two years after it happened. Because her dissent was not cool and hip of the Press Club of India variety and so it took two years before it was reported. Her dissent did not trend on Twitter. They say that talking about her might invite the sin of “whataboutism.”

Do you know the name of a single person who perished in S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express near Godhra junction on Feb 27, 2002?

Don’t answer that.

Last night, I happened to catch snippets of the primetime show of a celebrity journalist. He seemed quite incensed about the “fascism” of people getting arrested for raising slogans in planes. Because airport security and DGCA rules don’t matter any more in a post 9/11 world. Only “dissent” does.

It reminded me of an earlier time when the same journalist lunged at somebody on the open street because they were heckling him. It reminded me of a few months ago when people were reportedly interrogated by police for screaming at him while he was in a restaurant. It was reported that the accused in question were let off with a warning. I wonder what was in that police warning. Do not exercise your free speech rights within 20 feet radius of a celebrity journalist, which increases to 50 feet if the journalist in question is also a Goud Saraswat Brahmin?

I watched bits of his primetime show. I felt his views on dissent have evolved between then and now.

Call me crazy, but it appears to me that we have two classes of people in this country now. The slightest inconvenience to people of one ideological bent is considered a national tragedy. As for people of the other ideology, they can be deprived of life and liberty at will. An apartheid-like mentality has taken hold in our national discourse. And a civil right like the movement is needed for the emancipation of the underclass.

Not asking for very much here, merely the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. If that is “whataboutism”, so be it.

Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.

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