On Tuesday morning, the police from the Indian city of Pune (in the state of Maharashtra) raided the homes of lawyers and social activists across India and arrested five of them. Many of them are not household names around the world, since they are people who work silently on behalf of the poor and oppressed in a country where half the population does not eat sufficiently. Their names are Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira and Varavara Rao. What unites these people is their commitment to the working class and peasantry, to those who are treated as marginal to India’s state. They are also united by their opposition, which they share with millions of Indians, to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Gautam Navlakha, a writer, was brought before the Delhi High Court. One of the two High Court judges—S. Muralidhar—was puzzled by the documents produced by the Pune Police. Some were in Marathi, which the judge could not read, while others seemed indecipherable. “It is not possible to make out a case from the documents placed before us,” he said. “What is the specific allegation against him?” the judge asked. The police remained silent. The others are to be moved to Pune. Their fate is uncertain.
I heard the news in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I was—coincidentally—reading carefully the 1977 letter written by the writer and militant Rodolfo Walsh. Walsh’s Operation Massacre (1957) inaugurates a genre of writing now called “narrative non-fiction.” He went to Cuba in the early years of the revolution and cracked the CIA code that warned the revolutionary Cuban government about the Bay of Pigs invasion. Returning to Argentina, Walsh became part of an organization—Montoneros—that fought against the drift of his country into the arms of the ruthless military dictatorship that began in 1976. On the first anniversary of the dictatorship, Walsh mailed several copies of his letter—an open letter—that detailed the “raw numbers of this terror,” the arrests and detentions, the vanished militants of the trade union and student movement, the gasping for air of his society. “You have arrived at a form of absolute, metaphysical torture, unbounded by time,” wrote Walsh in the letter that sealed his fate. He was arrested and vanished—his body burned and thrown into a river in Buenos Aires.