Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh refuses to 'retreat in the face of threats'. Jyoti Punwani reports.
Will the 9th Anuradha Ghandy memorial lecture be held on Friday, October 13?
"Of course," says Narendra Wable, president, Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh, the venue of the lecture. "If we retreat in the face of threats, then who will stand up?"
On the other side, Vinay Joshi, convenor of the Legal Rights Observatory, is certain the lecture won't be held.
"We are sure the police will declare prohibitory orders around the Patrakar Sangh on Friday," Joshi told Rediff.com.
The theme of Friday's lecture is '50 years of Naxalbari Looking Back Looking Forward' and the speakers are the well-known poet and writer Vara Vara Rao from Telengana and Tilak Dasgupta, a former Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist activist.
A message circulating on social media from the little-known LRO says: 'Anuradha Ghandy was central committee member of banned Maoists apex body and wife of dreaded Naxal leader Kobad Ghandy. Maoists political wing (sic) is also banned …providing venue (sic) for such a notorious anti Indian terror group is serious offence and can invite action under stringent UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) & MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act)..'
Joshi said he had given a memorandum to Mumbai's police commissioner that the programme should not be held, and the commissioner had forwarded it to the deputy commissioner of police, Zone I, under whose jurisdiction the Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh is located.
"The Anuradha Ghandy Memorial Committee is a registered trust, not a terrorist group," said Wable.
"In 2015, Dalit writer Meena Kandasamy had given the Anuradha Ghandy memorial lecture in our hall. We see nothing wrong in allowing our venue to be used for expression of different viewpoints. We are, after all, a democracy," Wable added.
But countered Joshi: "Tomorrow if I register a trust under the name of Osama bin Laden, won't it have a symbolic meaning? What sort of consciousness is this memorial committee spreading?"
Joshi alleged that Vara Vara Rao was providing logistical support to the Maoists.
Joshi refused to see the difference made by the Supreme Court against membership of a banned organisation and a person's beliefs in a certain ideology. "The Supreme Court can't impose its views on us," Joshi said.
Asked who but the Supreme Court could impose its views, Joshi replied: "The people."
Joshi described himself as an 'activist' based in Delhi and Mumbai. Why didn't he come to the lecture to debate with Vara Vara Rao? "That's a futile exercise. These are people who believe in the gun. One can't debate with them. What if I am shot?’" he replied.
If the lecture was held, Joshi said he would take legal action against the Sangh and the Mumbai police.
Anuradha Ghandy (nee Shanbag), an alumnus of Elphinstone College, Mumbai, taught sociology at the city's Wilson College and was a founder-member of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights.
She later moved to Nagpur where she worked among Dalits and mine workers, and later moved to Bastar. She wrote extensively on women and Dalits.
She passed away from cerebral malaria in 2008 aged 54. Since then, the Anuradha Ghandy Memorial Committee has been holding a lecture in her memory every year.
Speakers have included American black feminist Angela Davis; Swedish author Jan Myrdal, writer Arundhati Roy, former Nepalese finance minister Baburam Bhattarai, and Professor Samir Amin.
Gurbir Singh, a member of the memorial committee, told Rediff.com that every year, the anti terrorist squad and the police try and browbeat those in charge of the venue where the Anuradha Ghandy lecture is to be held, but in vain.
Susan Abraham, another member of the committee, said the aim of the lectures is to spread awareness about Anuradha Ghandy and her work, as well as to present different points of view to listeners.
IMAGE: Busts of 'revolutionary leaders' near a school in Naxalbari's Bengaijoth village. Photograph: Kind courtesy Anuradha Ghandy Memorial Lecture/Facebook