The End of Tomorrow




Tomorrow someone will arrest you. And will say the evidence is that there was some problematic book in your house.
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. And your friends will see, on TV, the media calling you terrorist because the police do.
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. They’ll scare all lawyers. The one who takes up your case will be arrested next week
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. Your friends will find you active on Facebook a day later. Police logged in as you.
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. Your friends will find that it’ll take 4 days to find 1000 people to sign a petition.
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. Your little child will learn what UAPA stands for. Your friends will learn of Sec.13.
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. You’ll be a “leftist” to people. You will be ultra-left for the leftists. No one will speak.
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. The day after that, you will be considered a “terrorist” for life.
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. The police will prepare a list of names. Anyone who’d protest will be named.
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. You’ll be warned. You’ll be a warning to everyone putting their hand into the corporate web.
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. Your home will be searched tonight. You will be taken for questioning now. Stop speaking.
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. The court, in a rare gesture, will give you the benefit of bail. The police will rearrest you in another case.
Tomorrow someone will arrest your children. You will be underground. Some measures are essential to keep a democracy alive.

Long Live Silence.

— Meena Kandasamy, “Tomorrow Someone Will Arrest You”

MEENA KANDASAMY is an Indian poet, novelist, and political activist who has battled the country’s monstrous caste system and culture of gender discrimination since she was a teenager. But with her 2015 dystopic poem “Tomorrow Someone Will Arrest You,” suddenly — and curiously given her usual defiant attitude — she finds herself facing a force perhaps too overwhelming to challenge. This monster’s name is the acronym for an Indian law: UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, or Sua Act). As she explains:

“Tomorrow Someone Will Arrest You” grew out of a series of Twitter/Facebook posts following the arrests of two human rights activists, Thushar Sarathy and Jaison Cooper, in Kerala on 29 January 2015. The incriminating “evidence” against them was the possession of a pamphlet and books that criticized the development juggernaut. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) was clamped on the two activists — it is an act that robs a citizen of his/her fundamental right to freedom of expression, and allows the state to penalize people for their political orientation.

Kandasamy finds nothing concrete against which to raise the usual battle cry, only fear:

Tomorrow someone will arrest you. Your little child will learn what UAPA stands for. Your friends will learn of Sec.13.
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. You’ll be a “leftist” to people. You will be ultra-left for the leftists. No one will speak.

The dark and totalizing nature of UAPA seems to baffle Kandasamy as much as it scares her. After all, Sarathy and Cooper were well within their democratic rights to protest the Kerala government’s involvement in land acquisition, forced eviction, and the violation of labor rights of migrant workers in the state. They also voiced strong opinions against polluting industries through their blog posts.

There is of course extreme irony when she advises people to keep silent and fear the law. Since her first collection, Kandasamy has written extensively and candidly on caste and sexuality, including details of her legal battle against her abusive ex-husband. She also added her voice to those of women nationwide in the aftermath of a gang rape in Delhi that received international attention in 2012. At that time, a cacophony of populist, middle-class demands for stricter laws (including capital punishment) overshadowed the movement to protect women’s unrestricted movement in urban spaces. In a country reeling from extreme abuses of colonial laws, more laws were bad news. Kandasamy has also stood against laws that put restrictions on free speech and beef-eating in some parts of the country. Again and again, Kandasamy has defended her position with a trademark fiery disposition.

Kandasamy’s father was a landless laborer from a lower caste, nomadic community from Thanjavur, in Tamil Nadu, who moved to Chennai to escape poverty. One of the earliest political questions Kandasamy raised about her own life was: what forced her father to leave his birthplace? This question, which connects poverty and displacement, goes straight to the heart of 21st-century class conditions, and the limitations that class thrusts upon human lives. Her father’s uprooted destiny leads to the heart of Kandasamy’s writing.

At the age of 17, Kandasamy began to translate vernacular writings by Dalits — the most marginalized community in India — into English. Translating these writers gave her a larger perspective on violence, dispossession, and human rights. And by translating Dalit authors, Kandasamy’s literary and political identity was, in a sense, translated into the Dalit caste. Despite coming from a marginalized community himself, Kandasamy’s father acted like a Hindu patriarch at home, making Kandasamy also acutely aware of her separate struggle as a woman. These combined marginalized identities find their way into her first two poetry collections, where she furiously asserts her rebellion against political violence and socio-religious/sexual mores. Her language is marked by a blunt, lyrical sensuality reminiscent of the Malayalam poet, Kamala Das. Critical debate around her work has focused on her poetry’s raw style, which dissatisfied many readers looking for more nuance and complexity. Now, in “Tomorrow Someone Will Arrest You,” irony gives Kandasamy’s language poise and sparseness as she allows the law to speak through her.

The UAPA was passed in 1967. Initially intended to solve issues of communalization and caste violence, the law’s enactment saw issues of “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity” take prominence. In the 2000s, in response to the Mumbai blasts of 2008, the UAPA was remade into an overarching law that would help the state control anti-state activities. Both substantive and procedural provisions from other draconian anti-terrorist laws, like The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), were included within the UAPA. The amendment defined terrorism in an imprecise manner, in terms of damage to property and disruption of essential supplies, while it impinged upon the basic rights of citizens to protest and peacefully demonstrate against the state. The UAPA was authorized to detain suspects for almost 200 days without a proper charge, and to declare organizations unlawful for two years, without evidence. And now the law appears to allow police to arbitrarily blur the lines between proof and suspicion: Sarathy and Cooper were arrested in January of this year because “pro-Maoist” materials were allegedly found in their homes. They were eventually released on bail in March, after petitions and protests were made by human rights activists and others. But citizens involved in watchdog and legal protest activities are in constant fear of similar harassment — especially in the regions of Manipur and Kashmir, where yet another extraordinary, colonial law, the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act, promulgated by the British in 1942) allows the army extra-constitutional powers.

In this context, Kandasamy’s poetic Facebook posts are written in a language reduced to an economy of fear, marked by repetition and minimalism, with a precision that hesitates to move forward or say more than what is necessary. The posts, joining together to form a sequence of chilling aphorisms, also draw our attention to political structures creating psychological traumas:

Tomorrow someone will arrest you. And your friends will see, on TV, the media calling you terrorist because the police do.
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. They’ll scare all lawyers. The one who takes up your case will be arrested next week
Tomorrow someone will arrest you. Your friends will find you active on Facebook a day later. Police logged in as you.

The “you” under discussion here suffers not only a neurotic, Freudian condition of alienation, but also radical abandonment, where the very idea of belonging to the world comes into a crisis. “You” end up not only suspicious of the world but even yourself, as if no one can better betray you but yourself. “You” don’t identify as your own self any longer; you become a shadow-self.

Falling into the interrogative apparatus of the state is terrifying. The state, unlike a priest, doesn’t work on the principle of redeeming you from sins, but on the principle of endlessly suspended suspicion. The state is not interested in “you,” but only in what you confess — and how that confession may work on its favor. The moral ties (and its constrictions) between “you” and the priest are replaced by (extra) legality, where you become a mere confessing subject of law, being suspected of a crime you may not have committed. When the moral subject turns into a legal one, speech no longer remains a measure of truth but falsehood. You become the lying subject of a law that controls and transforms your language into that of someone you don’t identify as your own any longer: you find yourself speaking as your own shadow.

And who is the “someone” of Kandasamy’s posts, who will “arrest you”? The “someone” is a no one, the figure of invisible, faceless power, another shadow. The indefinite “arrest” of a “you” by a “someone” is precisely the Kafkaesque. It creates a dangerous interaction between two shadow-identities, where one plays an invisible game of control with the other. This situation recalls philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s warnings in his famous essay “Postscript on the Societies of Control.” Deleuze writes,

In the societies of control […] what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password […] The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it […] the man of control is undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network.

The essay argues that we are moving away from Michel Foucault’s idea of the “disciplinary society” (that aims at reforming deviant behavior), to a more frightening network of a “society of control,” where spaces of individual freedom would increase along with means to control and regulate them whenever necessary. Deleuze envisioned a society of multiple surveillances, where you will have to live by the rules of a consensus, and where a mass-produced paranoia will be regulated by control. In addition to creating a schism within the lives of individuals accused of crimes, it will also seek out to regulate and coerce modes of resistance and protest against fabricated intimidations.

Deleuze’s dystopian vision may be taking shape in India in response to the blanket term “terror,” under which the securitization of the state has become all-encompassing. Having declared this “war on terror,” democracy has turned against itself, against principles it held sacrosanct at least in rhetoric if not in practice. One of the most scandalous casualties has been the much avowed “freedom of speech” itself, and the “right to privacy.”

Jolly Chirayath, a human rights activist and a convener for a women’s organization, suddenly came under police surveillance in March this year because of her alleged links with Maoists. In an interview she reiterated that belonging to a left ideology and reading books on Marxism doesn’t make someone a Maoist. The repeated knocks at home by the police disturbed her. With succinct clarity, Jolly noted, “The police are polite, but this is what I call civil violence. It is terrorizing those who question the supremacy of the State and its violence.” We have witnessed the famous case of Perumal Murugan, which saw the writer forced to announce giving up writing after he came under attack for blasphemy from caste outfits for his Tamil novel, Madhurobhagan. The lawyer who accompanied Perumal Murugan alleged that the writer was let down by officials and his exile was “engineered by the police.” In 2012, two young women from the Thane district of Maharashtra, Shaheen Dada and Renu Srinivasan, were arrested and put under house arrest. Shaheen’s crime was a post on Facebook that read “Mumbai shuts down due to fear, not due to respect” a day after Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray died. Renu’s crime was “liking” the post. They were charged under all kinds of laws, for allegedly insulting and outraging religious feelings and creating hatred and ill-will. When democratic states usurp fundamental liberal rights in a belligerent and paranoid assault against terror, they expose the limits of democracy in our time.

Kandasamy’s posts end with an ironic mimicking of passivity when faced with a real fear of coercion:

Tomorrow someone will arrest you. Your home will be searched tonight. You will be taken for questioning now. Stop speaking.
Tomorrow someone will arrest your children. You will be underground. Some measures are essential to keep a democracy alive.

Long Live Silence.

This self-censorship is ironic, but conveys a fear of words that will be turned against “you.” What “you” speak may take an unintended life of its own, no longer in your control, but in the control of others who control you. Yet “Tomorrow Someone Will Arrest You” offers a faint glimmer of hope, if only because Kandasamy manages to articulate and share her fear with the world.

The compulsion to repeat a trauma in anticipation of future traumas becomes a resistance in advance: the stubborn, persistent impulse of our irrational faculties to resist norms. Her posts mourn an evaporating freedom, while writing itself becomes an act of catharsis in the Freudian sense. Even the most helplessly stubborn of writings, exemplified in the last century by poets like Anna Akhmatova, Paul Celan, Yannis Ritsos, and Nazim Hikmet, are also writings of immense grit and the refusal to submit. Kandasamy’s writing against self-censorship, and the poem that results from it, is an irrational impulse against rationalist mechanisms of power.

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[Thanks to Rajarshi Dasgupta, friend and assistant professor at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, for later suggestions.]

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Manash Bhattacharjee is a poet and political science scholar. He is an adjunct professor in the School of Culture and Creative Expressions at Ambedkar University, New Delhi.



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