While no birthday in jail can ever be ‘happy’, here’s how you honour the human rights defender on her special day

Trade Unionist and lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj was among the five activists and human rights defenders rounded up by a vindictive regime in August 2018, as a part of a crackdown on dissenting voices. She was picked up in a second wave of arrests due to her alleged “maoist links” that somehow, according to the police, meant that she was a part of the Bhima Koregaon conspiracy!

It is noteworthy that Bharadwaj was neither an organiser of nor present in Pune during the Elgaar Parishad! If it sounds preposterous, it is because it is indeed utterly ludicrous!

On November 1, Bharadwaj will be spending her birthday behind bars for the third straight year. Here’s what you can do to make it ‘happy-ish’.

1)     Empower yourself with facts

Who is Sudha Bharadwaj?

Sudha Bharadwaj has been associated with the trade union movement in Chhattisgarh for more than 25 years. She is the general secretary of the Chhattisgarh unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and a member of Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS). It is her long track record of helping workers and Adivasis get their rights that have made her a thorn in the side of a regime which has many crony capitalists among its benefactors.

How authorities attempted to subvert the law

But what was most shocking about the manner in which Bharadwaj was detained, was the sheer disregard for the law shown by authorities. And though she managed to get a stay order against her Transit Remand from the Punjab and Haryana High Court, in what was clearly a breach of law and procedure, an out-and-out contempt of the High Court, the Pune police thwarted the stay granted against the transit remand of Sudha Bhardwaj and till well past midnight attempted to forcibly whisk her away to Pune!

Bharadwaj, renowned for her committed advocacy on the democratic rights of workers and Adivasis was first ‘detained’, then ‘arrested’ following a Panch document shown to her in Marathi (a language she cannot comprehend) in the early hours of Tuesday, August 28. Neither the warrant for her arrest nor the FIR were given to her in the language that she could read. She was with her young daughter, alone in her residence at the time. The police seized her laptop, pen drive, and external hard drives leading to genuine fears of “their tampering with data.”

Finally, when advocate Vrinda Grover apprised the local CJM (Chief Judicial magistrate) of the HC Order, around midnight, did he pass the Order restoring house arrest. But even this relief was temporary as we all know that the State used any and all means necessary to keep this human rights defender captive and she continues to be behind bars even today.

Fake news and concocted ‘evidence’

The most ridiculous element of the State’s willful campaign of misinformation was a strangely worded letter issued to the press as proof of her “Maoist links”. Bharadwaj denounced the letter as “concocted” and says it was “fabricated to criminalise me and other human rights lawyers, activists and organizations.” She points out to how it is a “mixture of innocuous and publicly available facts and baseless fabrication.” She further questions the police’s own confidence in the letter given how they have never presented it before any court or officer of the court.

2)     Empower others with facts

Use social media to share the truth about Sudha Bharadwaj. Here’s a profile that captures the highlights of Sudha Bharadwaj’s journey as a human rights defender:

Meet Sudha Bhardwaj: Lawyer and Trade Unionist accused of being an “Urban Naxal”

Bharadwaj is also a scholar and prolific writer. Here is a piece that she has penned for SabrangIndia:

Has India betrayed its indigenous peoples, the Adivasis?

And here the activist-lawyer gives a fitting reply to the fake letter circulated by Pune Police:

Mixture of Innocuous and Publicly Available Facts and Baseless Fabrication: Sudha Bharadwaj

Help you friends and peers understand how the law was subverted to forcibly drag Sudha Bharadwaj into a conspiracy that never was:

3)     Demand justice for activists falsely implicated and arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case

Because of the pandemic it is not advisable to come together in large numbers to hold demonstrations or hold protests. Use peaceful and creative means to express your views online. Create art for justice; posters, songs, poems and share them online. Use #HappyBirthdaySudha and #FreeBhimaKoregaon16

You can also write to your elected representatives and community leaders; tell them you do not support persecution of human rights defenders.

Another good way to walk the talk is to volunteer for a human rights initiative. Try to devote a few hours every week to empower those less fortunate than you. Educate yourself about rights of Dalits, Adivasis, socio-cultural, ethnic and religious minorities, empower yourself with the correct vocabulary before you engage in advocacy.

Remember dissent is democratic. Recognise your rights as a citizen and make sure nobody snatches them away from you. Though no birthday behind bars can ever be ‘happy’, your stroong steps to empower your fellow Indians will truly honour this human rights defender and maybe make it a ‘happy-ish’ birthday this year.