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Solidarity With Amrit Wilson

In a sign of Modi’s growing authoritarianism, the veteran journalist Amrit Wilson has been banned from India and labelled a threat to the state. Her crime? Writing in support of India’s farmers’ protests for Tribune.

A veteran Indian political organiser has been banned from entering India and labelled a threat to the state for writing an article for Tribune, it can be revealed.

Amrit Wilson, the Indian-born journalist who wrote the groundbreaking Finding A Voice: Asian Women in Britain (1978) and was prominent in the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) and other anti-racist struggles in the 1970s, has been banned from entering India and accused of ‘multiple anti-India activities’ and ‘detrimental propaganda against the Indian government… inimical to the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India’.

The first Wilson heard about this was during the Christmas period of 2022, when she received a letter declaring that she should ‘show cause’ as to why her Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card should not be withdrawn.

Despite her shock, and the incredibly short space of time allotted for her response, Wilson managed to reply that she couldn’t verify the state’s allegations against her without being given proof or any details of what she had supposedly done.

Soon securing legal representation, Wilson pursued the case to demand serious answers from the Indian courts. While this was happening, she decided to visit India with her daughter and granddaughter in February, receiving no problems upon arrival.

Upon her return, however, Wilson received another letter saying that her OCI card had been withdrawn because her response was ‘bereft of plausible explanation’ and hence ‘unsatisfactory’ – all this without any knowledge of the apparent ‘crimes’ she had committed.

In August 2023, Wilson’s case was eventually heard. During the proceedings, the government said that the allegations against her were ‘partly based on inputs of …security agencies/field agencies which are classified as secret’ and would be passed to the judge in a sealed envelope.

Eventually, she learnt that the two main pieces of evidence against her were her promotion on X (formerly Twitter) of an online meeting to discuss the situation in Kashmir. The other was a 2021 article she had authored for Tribune on the Modi government’s brutal repression against the Indian farmers’ protests of that year.

Wilson hopes the full case will be heard in July, though this has yet to be confirmed. Until then, she is not able to travel to India.

She is not the only one suffering this petty persecution; desperate to retain a stronghold, the Indian state has been using OCI cases to silence dissent from outside India  One of the most public examples being the cancellation of Swedish-based Indian academic Ashok Swain’s OCI due to allegedly engaging in ‘illegal activities’ deemed ‘inimical’ to India.

Modi’s authoritarianism towards his diaspora dissidents is matched in his drive against opponents, both real and imagined, in the domestic sphere. Across India, peaceful protestors are being threatened and locked up under draconian laws. Workers are being jailed for participating in demonstrations while journalists have been locked up – sometimes for years – on fake charges.

The conditions are being developed for the ascendancy of a fascist state – a culture that the BJP easily understands as the Nazi-inspired RSS’s political wing (an organisation of which Modi himself is a proud member).

Additionally, BJP politicians are seriously discussing replacing India’s secular, democratic constitution – crafted by the Dalit political icon B.R. Ambedkar – with the Manusmriti, a second-century text which would reinforce women’s oppression and the caste system.

Instances of lynchings and rapes are growing in number, discrimination against Muslims is taking an increasingly sinister turn, and on the first day of the election, violence has marred the polls in Manipur region.

Debt amongst farmers has skyrocketed, as have suicides, with India’s own National Crime Records Bureau showing that around 54,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide between 2018-22.

Unemployment has shot up, the Global Hunger Index has ranked India 111 out of 125 countries that endure serious problems of hunger, and economists estimate that today’s India is more economically unequal than under British colonialism.

No social order as unsuccessful as Modi’s could be a stable one. That Wilson’s explanation of the farmers’ protests has been deemed such a serious threat is telling, particularly since the farmers have come back onto the streets against Modi’s failure to honour his promise to realise the core demand of the strikers – a legally guaranteed basic minimum price for their goods.

For Modi, the return of the farmers in an election year has been an unwelcome reminder of the tension between his stated aims of pacifying these mass demonstrations and his need to help his close associates that dominate Indian agriculture – namely the Ambani and Adani companies (the latter name Tribune readers may recognise as the providers of drones to Israel). Ultimately, it is these connections which sustain the BJP and Modi’s political project.

In solidarity with Amrit Wilson and all progressive-democratic forces contesting the Indian elections, Tribune urges readers to return to her 2021 piece, and to express any outrage or opposition they possibly can to the punitive, authoritarian persecution she and others are facing in India and across the globe.

This includes the South Asia Solidarity Group’s Vigil for Democracy in India, which is taking place on Sunday 5 May in Parliament Square at 3pm.