Meet the petitioners who moved top court
New Delhi: The five petitioners who moved the Supreme Court on Wednesday against the arrest of the five activists were described by the prosecution as “strangers” who could not seek bail for “someone else”.
The five petitioners may be “strangers” to the BJP government but not to the nation: one is among the foremost historians in India, another is an economist honoured with the Padma Bhushan, the third a professor emerita and Oxford scholar, the fourth a sociology professor and the fifth a renowned civil liberties crusader who happens to be the daughter of the late Field Marshal, Sam Manekshaw.
None of them has ever been linked to the Maoist insurgency, before or during the era of “Urban Naxals” or “Half-Maoists”. Below is an introduction to those who consider Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande and Maja Daruwala as “strangers”:
A professor emerita of history at JNU, the 86-year-old Thapar helped found the varsity’s Centre for Historical Studies. A scholar of ancient history, her most famous works are Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas (1961) and Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300, for which she won the US Library of Congress’s Kluge Prize in 2008.
Thapar is a pioneer in ancient historical research, who gave new insights into ancient India by studying primary sources like archaeology and who revealed that Aryans were a linguistic group, not a race.
She studied in Panjab University and London’s School of Oriental and Asian Studies.
After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, she went beyond the confines of academic writing to speak out against the communal interpretation of history.
Thapar opposed changes to school history textbooks – one of which she had authored -when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in power. She then faced several threats and harassment.
A petition against her was filed with the Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South at the Library of Congress in 2003, alleging that she was “Marxist and anti-Hindu”. She declined the Padma Bhushan twice, on principle that she only accepted honours from academic bodies for her work.
A Padma Bhushan awardee, Jain led in the field of feminist economics.
The daughter of the diwan of the erstwhile Mysore princely state M. A. Sreenivasan, Jain read in Oxford. She founded the Indian Social Studies Trust in Delhi and was the Chair of the Advisory Committee on Gender for the United Nations Centre in Asia-Pacific and a member of the advisory panel of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the 1997 Human Development Report on Poverty and for the 2002 Report on Governance.
She was also a member of the Eminent Persons Group of the Graça Machel Study Group appointed by the UN to assess the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children.
She was married to the late Gandhian, freedom fighter, planner and former high commissioner to South Africa, L.C. Jain. Television journalist Sreenivasan Jain and Supreme Court advocate Gopal Jain are their sons.
A professor emeritus of JNU who helped set up its Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Patnaik studied at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and went to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship in 1966. He taught at Cambridge.
He was the chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board from 2006 to 2011 and was part of a four-member task force of the UN to recommend reform measures for the global financial system in 2008.
He specialises in macroeconomics and political economy and had published seminal works such as Time, Inflation and Growth (1988), Economics and Egalitarianism (1990), Whatever Happened to Imperialism and Other Essays (1995) and Re-envisioning Socialism (2011). Patnaik is also a columnist for The Telegraph.
He has worked on the dynamics of a mixed economy, theory of imperialism, and Marxist theory. Patnaik has been one of the main voices among the retired faculty against the current administration of JNU and the vilification of its students and teachers under the BJP regime.
The youngest petitioner, 60-year-old Deshpande is a sociology professor in Delhi University known for his work on caste. His empirical research on Dalits have highlighted their absence in academia and the socially inferior position of Dalit converts among Christians and Muslims.
He studied in JNU and later in the University of California. He has been on committees for publishing school textbooks.
The daughter of the late Field Marshal, Sam Maneckshaw, she headed the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative for 20 years, where she focused on prison and police reforms.
A lawyer by training, Maja has worked in India, England, Singapore and Sri Lanka. She sits on several charitable boards, including the International Women’s Health Coalition, NAMATI, International Record Management Trust and Public Affairs Centre, Bangalore. She is a recipient of the Nani Palkiwala Award for protection and preservation of civil liberties in India.