India: Whither Liberty!

By Ram Puniyani

With the development of different norms of peace and justice all over there are many a global organizations and organizations set up by some countries, which monitor the state of delivery of justice to its citizens. India has been in the focus of many such organizations, not for very good reasons. The issues being observed regarding India are peace and religious freedom. In both these the records of India are not very flattering for the country.

India’s rank currently stands at 135 out of 153 nations (2011) assessed on this scale called Global Peace This global Peace Index ranks the countries according to how peaceful they are. India currently falls amongst the 20 least peaceful nations. Similarly for the third successive year US Watch dog on religious freedom (USCIRF) has underlined the need to pursue investigation against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for his role in Gujarat 2002 carnage, and has put India on the Watch List. This body also points out that another reason, apart from lack of action against Modi, for putting India on the watch list is that the justice for the communal violence victims continues to be slow and ineffective.

Both these observations put together highlight the rise of divisive sectarian politics, after the demolition of Babri Mosque in particular. The present state of affairs is also due to nature of response of state and the political leadership to the phenomenon of religious violence and the process taking place in the aftermath of the well orchestrated violence. The process of violence is generally initiated on the pretext of some event. Already in the society the ‘Social Common Sense’ has been manufactured. Due to this social common sense large sections of society look at religious minorities as a threat to the majority religion. This social common sense has been manufactured over a period of time through the work of communal organizations, (Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS Combine) later intensified by the education and section of media. This ‘Hate Other’ propaganda creates the ground on which ethno-preuners (political leaders using religious divides to come to power) take up their initiative to get the violence initiated against minorities. In the last decade the massive violence against Muslims in Gujarat and the one against Christians in Orissa have been particularly disturbing.

This violence in turn displaces the sections of minority community from their houses-localities, forcing them to stay in refugee camps in wretched conditions. The apathy of state and political leadership deliberately creates a situation where the displaced persons-families are denied proper rehabilitation and justice. This not only polarizes the communities on religious lines but goes on to ghettoize the minorities in particular. The process of social exclusion of minorities is going on at very rapid pace.

This leads us to question of assessing the changing nature of Indian state and polity. Are we able to nurture and promote the values of equality enshrined in our Constitution or we are going downhill towards a Hindu majoritarian state? Though the major ruling party will swear by secularism on paper, when it comes to halt communalism in its tracks it shows no will power to protect the secular fabric of our heritage from freedom movement. The other major electoral party, BJP, is part of the Combine which does want to convert India in to a Hindu nation, is aiming at Hindu majoritarian state. So when in power indifferent states BJP does push its agenda of Hindu nation, while its affiliates, progeny of RSS, Vishwa Hindu parishad, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and Bajrang Dal etc go on intensifying the hatred against minorities and creating a situation where minorities can not live a life of dignity and equal rights.

In this scenario the question of justice in Gujarat, Kandhamal and role of people like Narendra Modi become more frightening. Surprisingly things have come to such a sorry pass where the guilty of violence are moving with their bloated chests and the human rights activists are being hounded on purpose. As an example of this the case of Teesta Setalvad is a major example, as to how the Gujarat State under Modi is trying to target her through different legal means.

It is time to introspect as to where our democracy is going. The deeper infiltration of divisive political ideology and its impact on the nature of our polity needs to be negated to ensure that the deviation from the values of our political pluralism and the right of minorities to live with dignity and justice, like every other citizen, is restored. The state of health of a democracy is reflected by the equity and security of minorities. The rot seems to be all around in different aspects of life; still the state of affairs is not same all over the country. There are states where this process of sectarianism is partial while in states like Gujarat, post carnage 2002 the minorities, barring a small section, has been pushed away to live in ghettoes, the live the life of second class citizen. In other states this process prevails in different degrees.

The politics resulting form the aftermath of violence is supplemented by the lack of will of the state to ensure the proper implementation of recommendations of the committees like Sachar Committee and Rangnath Mishra committee. The grass root level life of the minorities has been allowed to rot. The affirmative action has been projected as ‘Minority appeasement’ by the intense propaganda which the communal forces are unleashed relentlessly.

It is time that all the social movements, the dedicated political leadership and section of state have to wake up from their slumber and try to do the course correction related to the basic aspects of the nature of democratic ethos. Can we let our democracy slip in to a sort of ‘ Majoritarian Democracy’ where section of people of only one religion enjoy part of the equality, while the rights of minorities are trampled recklessly? It is overdue that those committed to the goal of India as Plural-Democratic India shed their complacency and come forward to bring in the substantive equality for all, irrespective of their religion.

( Ram Puniyani can be contacted on )


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