Gautam Navlakha earlier today. He officially ‘surrendered’ to the NIA at its Delhi HQ, around 2pm this afternoon

This letter was sent to Gautam Navlakha earlier today. He officially ‘surrendered’ to the NIA at its Delhi HQ, around 2pm this afternoon. As they prepare his arrest memo, I have decided to put it out, as my personal solidarity with him and Anand.

Dear Gautam,

Don’t you scoff at me for making public what should ideally have been a personal note! But here I am, writing this to you as you walk in to the NIA headquarters in Delhi this afternoon, on Ambedkar Jayanti, to ‘surrender’.

You were one of the first persons I got to interact with, in my very early days of activism in Delhi, as a student! I saw you and heard you speak at PUDR meetings, giving immense energy and positivity to people’s rights, that transformed my own personal life and that of many others around me! You were and continue to be my inspiration, a star, who was not far away from us, but was and is amidst us!

Your conviction on the political rights of Kashmiris, Nagas, Adivasis and the people colonised by Brahmanical social order inspired many of us to jump into human rights work! You were always a voice for voluntary socio-political-cultural action, but our paths kept crossing despite my joining organisations and opting for ‘salaried activism’ as a political choice. Despite your differences, you never, not even once, criticised younger people like me for opting that line. Rather, you were quick to amend your own line, to give people space, orientation and chance, to become activists!

In Kashmir, in Naga areas and Chhattisgarh, many like me learned baby steps of human rights fact-finding work from you and others like Adv Balagopal. A sharp critic and editor, you were soft to us, encouraging us despite our huge lapses and laziness! Today, with the same rigour when you write in your note to friends: “My hope rests on a speedy and fair trial for myself and all my fellow co-accused. This alone will enable me to clear my name, and walk free, having also used the time in jail to rid myself of acquired habits”, we are at a loss for words. We choke in our own selves, the guilt of never able to do all that we’ve wanted to, in activism. For probably, we have let down the expectations of seniors and mentors like you, in not being able to do enough for the rights of the oppressed and the vulnerable! But you and others also taught us to celebrate life and resistance, to be culturally attuned to the people, to be with them, as if nothing else matters.

Today, I refuse to have any ‘sympathy’ for you, for you taught me to stand in ‘solidarity’ and not sympathy! You showed us the way in upfront activism and not defensive, petition-mode! You prove today with your smile that it’s not difficult to be a role model for aspiring political activists, that it just takes courage in the face of authoritarianism, that truth shall prevail. You proved that this country indeed has an opposition, not of political parties, but of people.

Yes Gautam, we will do all that we can, to whatever degree of success, for the release of political activists, for undertrial prisoners, for those languishing in jails simply because they cannot afford legal assistance! Our battle will not be just for your release, but for the release of every Kashmiri man or woman, jailed for their convictions and not for any crime! Our battle will continue against AFSPA, UAPA, PSA and others. Our voices will go out there and be counted, for the peace process in Naga areas, for the rights of the armed and the unarmed!

But we are weak humans too! These are agonising times... Give that to us! We are pained by the downturn of our legal systems, by the utmost abuse of the Constitution by our judicial masters, by the fascist regime. We are pained to see you, Anand Teltumbde, and earlier Sudha Bharadwaj, Shoma and others go to jail! We are in tears, we need you to console us and tell us that ‘we were, we are and we will be’, that this is not a challenge, but an opportunity! We need you to remind us that ‘these are political battles and political battles have to be fought politically’!

As you brave yourself into the legal process, which as you rightly said, is the punishment itself, we sing for you! Lockdowns, clampdowns and emergencies will not stop us! Thank you for reminding us the poetry of the incredible voice of freedom Bob Marley, the evergreen Redemption Song! We shall sing today, rejoicing in your courage and honesty, and for your (and others) freedom.

I am joined by thousands of people, peace and democracy activists, writers, academia, trade unionists, artists, in paraphrasing and singing Marley: 
‘We will help to sing, 
These songs of freedom, 
‘Cause for all we ever have, 
Redemption songs...’

Salutes, Gautam and Anand! We shall fight, we shall win ✊🏽✊🏽✊🏽

Vijayan MJ