December 11, 2019
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Uttarakhand Revisited

A year after Muzaffarnagar, the movement has lost its way.

Uttarakhand Revisited
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IN a once sleepy hamlet in Garhwal's Chamoli district exactly a year after Uttarakhand activists were raped and killed by Uttar Pradesh police personnel on October 2, 1994, Kailash Devi resolutely ignores repeated messages from Gopeshwar, the district headquarters, asking her to participate in an event marking the anniversary of that black day.

For her it is a time to look back in anger at the brutal assault and rape by the guardians of the law. "I feel humiliated and, of course, I am bitter," she says. "But my anger is directed as so-called colleagues in the Uttarakhand movement as the perpetrators of the crime."

And so while Kailash Devi fervently hopes that her 'sacrifice', and that of the others who were raped and killed sugarcane fields of Rampur-ka-Tiraha near Muzaffarnagar has not been in vain, she has made a conscious decision to keep away from the agitation. "it is not the assault that has instilled fear in me, it is the attitude of those around me that has left me disillusioned," she admits.

Meanwhile, in Gopeshwar, Usha Bhatt, a primary school principal and a prominent Uttarakhand activist in the district, is spending time with her children who have come home for the Dussehra holidays. She says she will try to attend the commemoration ceremony being held a stone's throw away from her house "sometime in the evening". A surprising reaction from the feisty organiser who a year ago had personally led busloads of women from Chamoli to the proposed Uttarakhand rally in Delhi and was lathicharged by the police at Muzaffarnagar, where the rallyists were stopped en route to the capital.

Bhatt recalls that last year activists belonging to various political parties traditionally dominant in the hills had jettisoned party loyalties to become one with the people in the popular upsurge. "'Today, the same discredited political parties are trying to make a comeback. The BJP, for one, has managed to get four or five of the most prominent women Uttarakhand activists of the Chamoli region elected as officebearers to its various district committees. You can draw your own conclusions from this trend."

It is obvious that the favour for a separate state that galvanised the Uttar I'radesh hills a year ago is now a thing of the past. And as the emotions subside, the latent contradictions of hill society have begun to resurface. Says Mussoorie-based Ganesh Saili, professor of English literature at Garhwal University: "The Uttarakhand agitation is slowly, but definitely, being hijacked by the fixers. Gone are the days of slogans such as 'chheen ke lenge Uttarakhand'. Now the political parties, for so long kept at an arm's length, are making inroads again. And it is not even as though the people at large have any illusions about them, it is just a manifestation of the realisation that 15 months into the agitation, a cohesive non-party Uttarakhand leadership remains a pipe dream."

The evidence is certainly damning. The Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, the 'original' pro-Uttarakhand party, has split down the middle, with Kashi Singh Aeri and 'Field-Marshal' Diwaker Bhatt leading the two factions. Satpal Maharaj, a relatively new entrant, is believed to be affiliated to the Congress(T) and has his own agenda, while the Uttarakhand Samyukta Sangharsh Samiti (or the Joint Action Committee) has belied hopes as every district seems to have its own variants and off-shoots.

Most importantly perhaps, students, ex-servicemen and government employees' groupings, which form the core of the Uttarakhand agitation, have also started aligning with different, at times district specific, parent organisations. ""The icing on the cake of this disaster, however, is the disheartening spectacle of these parties holding individual commemorative meetings at the scene of the massacre in Muzaffarnagar on October 2," say Babita Sati, a fiery college student from Srinagar (Garhwal) who remains committed to the movement despite a sense of disappointment in the leadership.

The perceived apathy of the powers that-be has only added to the disenchantment. State Chief Minister Mayawati, who reportedly termed the Uttarakhand agitation 'anti-national', did not have a word of sympathy for the Muzaffarnagar victims and the CBI has yet to register cases against the policemen and civil officials indicted in its report on the Rampur-ka-Tiraha incident.

So, while the dream for a separate hill state is still alive and the anger continues to simmer, a movement to translate it into reality remains more elusive than ever.

(The rape victim's name has been changed.)

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