Thousands Gather at Dignity Conference to Fight Communalism

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Crowd at Dignity Conference held at Delhi’s Talkatora stadium

Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI – Thousands of youths arrived from near and far at the Talkatora indoor stadium on Wednesday to attend an event styled as ‘Students for Change’ and ‘Dignity Conference’. Every time a speaker took to the stage, the crowd shouted in unison — Inquilab Zindabad.

Every shout was marked by a determination for change. “We have assembled here for spreading political awareness among students from the minority and marginalised communities,” says Waseem Ahmad, who came from Meerut in western Uttar Pradesh. The participants waved blue flags and displayed banners hailing the theme of Social Change.

The day styling itself as Dignity Conference was observed to mark the 10th anniversary of the Campus Front— a pan India students organisation led prominently by Muslim youths. Its organisers uphold the ideals of inclusivism and plurality.  The participants’ concern was common, namely, to protect the social fabric of the country amid the rising trend of communalism – of setting one community against the other.

Kannan Gopinathan from Kerala who recently resigned from a top government post in protest against the central government’s actions in Kashmir, was among the speakers. He was greeted with cheers and slogans hailing his stands when he walked up to the dais. He cautioned the Campus Front against promoting any fundamentalist ideology. “Please do not turn right-wing, fight for your rights but stay away from violence,” he advised the activists. He explained why he resigned from the civil service, and said he wanted to raise his voice on Kashmir when “others chose to remain silent.”

Gopinathan lambasted the government for its “sinister” plans to launch the national register of citizens, which allegedly singled out Muslims for harsh treatment. “How can poor and illiterate people be able to show documents to prove their citizenship? If the officials come to me, I promise you, I will not show them any document to prove my citizenship.” The other speakers too said they were equally worried over the “anti-Muslim policies” of the present government. They said that there was need for strong campaigns to protect the society from sliding further into the “fascist abyss.”

On the Ayodhya verdict, Tasleem Rehmani, a well-known TV panelist, wondered as to why only Muslims were being asked to maintain peace and calm if the Ayodhya verdict went against them. “Why no one asks Hindus too to maintain peace and calm if the verdict is in favour of Muslims?” He said that in 1992, in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition and despite Muslims maintaining silence out of fear, they were massacred in mob violence.

‘Proud of my husband’s courage.’

Shwetha Sanjeev Bhat, wife of jailed Gujarat police officer, spoke on the “hounding” out of her husband from service by the government. She said, “I am proud of my husband’s courage to speak out the truth.” Bhat, an efficient police officer in Gujarat during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots, was arrested and put in jail in September last year, in connection with some decades-old cases.

“Yes, I want Justice,” Shwetha said. She thanked the students for their support to her struggle. The stadium reverberated with slogans demanding justice for Bhat and his family. “All of us come from diverse backgrounds but we are united in the sense we feel the pain of others and that’s perhaps why we have assembled here today,” Shwetha said. She told the crowd that, for social change, the youths have to hit the streets. “We will fight the battle against fascism together.”

All the speakers expressed their concern over the plight of the minorities and the marginalised groups and urged for unity to confront the fascist forces. “Silence is not an option,” Prof P Koya, a human rights activist, said.  “We have to stand up to save the nation.”

Chinmaya Mahanand, a well-known academician and activist who identified himself as an Ambedkarite—follower of BR Ambedkar’s philosophy — said that the BJP government was following the manifesto of nationalist right-wing RSS to turn this country into “a Ram Rajya where only upper-caste Hindus will have citizenship rights”. Added he, “Brahmanwadi, (one who believes in Brahminical supremacy), is the worst terrorist.”

Another Dalit activist Vikram Harijan slammed the Congress for being equally responsible for the miseries of the Muslims and Dalits in India. He thanked the Campus Front for inviting him to the event and said Muslims had supported Dalits whenever they were in trouble. The event concluded with the reading out of a resolution by members of the Campus Front. The resolution, among other things, appealed to the government to refrain from “saffronization of text books.”

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