2016 has been an eventful year indeed. With the BJP government completing 2 years, one can begin to see the beginnings of the radical changes in store for the country in the years to come. From the ban on cow slaughter, to the crack down on freedom of speech in college campuses to the push for the GST and demonetisation, at the national level there were several issues that made the news. In Tamil Nadu too, the demise of Jayalalithaa has created a huge vacuum in the politics in the state. Here is a look back at some of the major events that made the news in 2016. Read more from the author:
Resurgence of student politics
The year began on a sad note, with the suicide of Rohit Vemula, a young dalit PhD scholar at the Hyderabad Central University. A bright and affable student deeply committed to social change, Vemula came from a poor background but not only excelled academically but was also active in Student’s Federation of India and later the Amedkar Students’ Association. Following his suspension from university, for allegedly attacking an ABVP activist, Vemula was found hanging in his friend’s hostel room in January. The suicide sent shockwaves through out campuses in the country. In his deeply moving suicide letter, Vemula called his birth a fatal accident–
The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.
Clearly referring to the casteism on campus and his victimisation by the university, Vemula’s death led to protests in the HCU campus and was met with violent attacks.
The very next month, in Jawaharlal Nehru University, student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar and two others, Umar Khalid and Anirban, were arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly raising anti-national slogans in. Videos that were later found to be doctored, showed Kumar and others shouting anti India slogans at an event marking the third anniversary of the execution of Afzal Guru. Kumar spent almost three weeks in jail. The government and the police came under severe criticism for allowing violence to be perpetrated against Kumar himself as well as journalists assembled outside the courts were the hearing took place. He was later released and gave an impassioned speech on campus demanding freedom in India and not freedom from India.
A murder that shocked the nation
In June, Swathi, a young IT employee was hacked to death in the Nungambakkam Railway station in the heart of Chennai city. The visuals of the young girl bleeding profusely on the platform as passengers continued to board the train were yet another chilling reminder of violence against women that continues unabated. CCTV footage of a man in a blue shirt, carrying a backpack, walking away from the scene of the crime led the police to Ramkumar, a native of Meenakshipuram in Thirunelveli, who was allegedly stalking Swathi.
What followed was a dramatic arrest of Ramkumar in his native village, even as the police alleged that he attempted suicide by slitting his own throat. By then local media and social media was abuzz with several conspiracy theories. And in a final shocker, in September, Ram Kumar was found dead in Puzhal jail. The police say he electrocuted himself with a wire. Dalit groups, including the Viduthalai Ciruthaigal Katchi (VCK) protested the police handling of the matter. As the body of Ramkumar was brought to hospital in Chennai for post mortem, protests continued claiming foul play and it became increasingly there are several questions relating to the murder and the arrest for which answers may never emerge.
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu sparring over sharing Cauvery water is certainly not new. This year too, the issue escalated into violence and even deaths with violent protests by pro-Kannadiga groups against Tamils in Karnataka and vice versa here in Tamil Nadu. These protests come in after the Tamil Nadu government went to Supreme Court, seeking a direction to the Karnataka government to release water in compliance with the order of the Cauvery river authority. As is usually the case, actors from both film industries conducted high profile demonstrations in support of their respective states. The violence that followed resulted in two deaths, several injuries and extensive damage to vehicles and property. Despite the Supreme Court ruling release of water to Tamil Nadu, the Karnataka legislature passed a resolution saying that there was insufficient water and that the state was not in a position to carry out the order.
Irom Sharmila ends her hunger fast after 16 years
One of the most iconic figures of resistance against state violence in the north-east, Irom Sharmila of Manipur, ended her hunger fast demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Sharmila, who began her hunger fast in 2000, was arrested by the government several times and remained in judicial custody. In August, she ended her fast declaring that she would contest in local elections as an independent and continue to fight for her cause.
In October, she launched the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance ( PRJA), a political party, which will contest in the 2017 Assembly elections in Manipur.
For more than 5 months now, the Kashmir Valley has been effectively shut down by the government of India. The killing of Burhan Wani, Hizbul Mujahideen militant and a popular figure among youth in the state, led to widespread protests which were met with violent attacks by the army and police forces. Gory images of pellet injuries in the media have revealed the truly horrific nature in which often unarmed youth, including minors are being attacked. According to the Indian Express -
of 8904 civilians seen by doctors in the district, sub-district and tertiary hospitals, 6270 people were hurt during the protests that have taken place at district headquarters and in villages of south, central and north Kashmir.
Dalit protests in Una
The BJP’s support to the ban on cow slaughter has led to a spate of mob violence against dalits and muslims by self appointed gau rakshas. According to this article in The Hindu, almost 200 such groups exist in the Prime Minister’s home state of Gujarat alone. The disturbing video of a group of dalit men being publically assaulted in Una, Gujarat for slaughtering a cow surfaced in the media in July. The men were actually called to dispose off the carcass of an already dead animal. In response, dalit people mobilised in large numbers to protest. Led by the Jignesh Mevani, the protesters marched to Una where a large meeting was held and a pledge was taken to stop handling animal carcasses.
Demise of Jayalalithaa and rise of Chinamma
December has been a fascinating time for politics in Tamil Nadu following the death of Chief Minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supremo J.Jayalalithaa. After a three month hospitalisation, just when her followers were led to believe that she was getting better, things took a turn for the worse on 4th December when it was announced that she had suffered a cardiac arrest and was once again in critical condition. The lack of communication from the party and the government fuelled rumours and conspiracy theories about her death which was announced on 5th December.
While the funeral witnessed large crowds and visits by several leaders cutting across party lines, the mourning has now given way to politicking as AIADMK has elected Jayalalithaa’s long time aide Sasikala as the party’s General Secretary. Despite O.Paneerselvam taking charge as the Chief Minister on the night of Jayalalithaa’s death, calls for “Chinamma” to take over are rife.
No list for this year can be complete without the government’s demonetisation announcement. On 8th November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes would no longer be valid legal tenders. In his speech, Modi said that this move was intended to crack down on counterfeiting, terrorist funding and black money.
On the one hand, the government was lauded for this brave and unprecedented move, but on the other, was severely criticised for the long queues at banks and ATMs where people rushed to deposit old notes and withdraw money. Within 10 days of the announcement, The Huffington Post reported that almost 55 deaths took place as a direct result of demonetisation. Most of them were elderly people who died waiting in queues.
Almost 50 days since the announcement, the crash crunch is very much a reality for ordinary Indians and although the government is attempting to justify the move as move towards a cashless economy, it is unclear what impact there has been on bringing in black money. With the Prime Minister scheduled to address the nation today, there is tremendous anticipation of what the next announcement is likely to be.
2016 has been an eventful year indeed. With the BJP government completing 2 years, one can begin to see the beginnings of the radical changes in store for the country in the years to come. From the ban on cow slaughter, to the crack down on freedom of speech in college campuses to the push for the GST and demonetisation, at the national level there were several issues that made the news. In Tamil Nadu too, the demise of Jayalalithaa has created a huge vacuum in the politics in the state. Here is a look back at some of the major events that made the news in 2016.
Read more from the author:The fall of Rama Mohan Rao