Thursday, December 30, 2010
Growing Intolerance to Freedom of Expression and civil liberties
Need judicial reforms and a debate on the issues of sedition and governance
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
As year 2010 is approaching to an end, the outrageous verdict pronounced by a Raipur court to Dr Binayak Sen is a reminder of how judicial system is working in India particularly the lower judiciary. It has not only shocked the nation but also proved that in this country any talk of senses would be dealt by the government and its authorities in the similar way. It is more shameful when we find the same charges being leveled against Arundhati Roy for alleged ‘anti-national’ remarks on Kashmir. It is sadly a poor reflection on how things are manipulated in India by authorities.. Definitely, it shocked the middle class upper caste Hindus also who think how such charge can be leveled against him. So far treason and sedition charges are always domain of the ‘Muslims’ but now we are turning more ‘secular’ for the same.
But my issue is not with what Binayak Sen and Arundhati Roy write or who they meet which actually is part of the life of all of us who claim to work for people. As human rights activist we are supposed to meet and visit people who feel they are threatened and wrongly abused by the state and its authorities. All this is part of democratic process as the aim is to bring people to negotiating table and force the state to be more responsible. State has all the power and that power need to be used with utmost care and more responsibility and accountability. State can not act in a streetfight acting on tit for tat slogan.
We all know that in the past 20 years, India has further degenerated in to the core values of state’s responsibility. The directive principles of our constitution guided us to make a responsible state towards the Dalits and Adivasis. As the assertion of Dalits and Adviasis grew, the state started abdicating its responsibility in a very shrewd way. The two important issues that are part and parcel of our struggle are Land Redistribution and participation in power structure through reservation in the government jobs. Since 1990s, they became target of the ruling elite. Hence on the one hand, the subsequent government in post 1990s opted for opening up of Indian market and thus killing our farmers on the one hand and allowing privatization of more and more companies thus reducing the job quota to a virtual nil in the government sector. This was the silent poison introduce by the government. The ruling elite were not satisfied with this only. The marginalization and isolation of Muslims was complete. Though this country has a history of communal disturbances yet Babari demolition shook the very basic foundation of our nationhood yet nothing happened to those who were behind the killings of people and incited hatred against the ‘second largest community’ in India Contrary to what we felt that these communalist forces would be thrashed and sent to jail, we saw Lal Krishna Advani became deputy prime minister of the country for his Ayodhya Kand. Narendra Modi became chief minister after massacring thousands of Muslims in Gujarat and Kalyan Singh who took oath to defend the Babari Mosque was sentenced to one day imprisonment for a clear act of sedition which actually created an unprecedented divide in the country. We did not a find single sentence for those who allegedly were responsible for massacring thousands of Sikhs in Delhi’s 1984 riots. After 1993 riots Bal Thackrey’s Shiv Sena came to power in Maharastra. Why not a fast track court for our politicians? Can there be any case against Lal Krishna Advani, Narendra Modi, Uma Bharati and Kalyan Singh under sedition. No, they have raised the consciousness of this country for Ram Mandir, the ‘most important’ issue the country, hence they got awarded with power in the country. Actually, questioning the mainstream politics has become very much like a blasphemy law in India and that could send you to jail. This has to be challenged at all level.
If these things were not enough to break the bone of the people of India, the power brokers forced the government to grab the fertile land of the country. Millions of hectares of land was handed over in a throw away prices to the industrialists who suck our blood from morning till evening. The authorities were hell bent to grab all these for the ‘development’ of our country. In each spheres of our life we find rampant corruption which is killing us. Our politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, along with corporate have looted our resources and displaced people from their own places without providing an alternatives. No debate is taking place in parliament on the issues of national concern. If one party opposes certain initiative, they are doing the same in their state. The Hindutva people knew it very well that a cocktail of ‘capital’ and ‘brahmanism’ is best suited to protect their interests in India and hence they have Brahmanised the Indian polity resulting almost no opposition for government policies on corporate. That is why any mention of ‘Hindu terrorist evoke such sharp reactions in Indian media. They do not have same when we refer to Islamic terrorists or Muslim terrorists. The media already become part of the power gangs and judiciary out of domain for the poor, there is no way out for the poorest of the poor. The issues of tribal are in direct conflict with the issue of development. It is not that they do not want it but then the question is whether any one of us ever thought what they want. The democratic deficit in tribal land turned their anger against the state. Hundreds of them have been arrested and put into the jails for no faults of them. Their voices rarely got representation in the mainstream for the sake of ‘community representation’. It is difficult to understand that even the political parties claiming to work for them rarely raised those issues in Parliament and state assemblies.
Land grabbing helped all those contractors come in close contacts of the power elite. Each event in this country has relation with land grabbing and corruption. It is therefore important why right from Common Wealth Games to building of dams, parks, hotels, resorts, SEZs, High ways are the out come of a big disease called brahmanical capitalism at the moment being developed under the supervision of power elites. There is no debate for it as most of them have their hand strained in the blood of the people. That the issue of corruption will never become an issue as it does not influence people who have grown up in worshipping our political class. The only thing is that it has decentralized. Earlier it has brahmanical hegemony but now slowly the Dalit-Bahujans are also having their take in it though their percentage seems to be very low. But at the end of the day, the impact of this is on the poorest of the poor whether it is taken by any one. You can only be good if you dance to the tone of corporate. Hence a Nitish Kumar will turn sour if he does not allot land to some Tatas or Ambanis on throw away prices like Naveen Patnayak.
When the voices of opposition are nowhere then who has to play the role of it. Hundreds of local struggles have emerged up against the state policies which are uprooting people from their land. Whether it is Chhattishgarh state which is currently being ruled by a non tribal and that is the biggest irony of the state,. Similarly, other states have been governed by those who did not remain behind to keep the Dalits and tribal out of their developmental plans. States such as Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Tamilnadu, Gujarat, Maharastra and Uttarakhand, have provided their fertile land and water resources are at the cost of their people to these greedy corporations, many of whom are being run by our ‘esteemed’ politicians, are facing the protest of the people who are resisting every bit of this illegal take over of their land cultivated and nurtured by their ancestors. For ‘national’ media these are ‘regional’ news but the unrest is high though not formidable as people have to look for their next day meal too. It is not my contention that people do not need development but as a human rights defender, I must add that if State has failed to improve the condition of the people then its sovereignty has no right to take the lives of the people. Where is the state when tribal are dying of hunger or their women are being raped by our police and forces? Will they not turn the people against its might? Why is Kashmir boiling? Why is the North East still unable to reconcile to us? It is not that they do not want to be with us but how have we treated them. Can a Kashmiri Muslim get a room on rent in our cities? What do the girls of the North East face truants in Delhi and other parts of the country? What are we as a state? A State of racist nature, which look down upon those who it feel different than us. Yes, as a nation we still worship the white skin and look down upon the black.
Therefore, it is logical for humanists, human rights activists, and social action groups to play the role of the opposition. The issues of Human Rights of the Dalits were taken to international agenda not by the political parties but by the Dalit rights activists who spoke there and presented despite the powerful opposition from the shameless government of India which denied existence of caste based prejudices in India citing the laws and acts in Indian constitution. It is important for the health of democracy that political parties raise the issues concerning the masses but over the last 20 years politics has just become the game of non political actors and that is a dangerous phenomenon. Political parties might have empowered some of them but it is the social movements which have changed the lives of the people. And since many of the writers, activists, struggles for people’s right over resources are challenging government’s action particularly on the issue of sovereignty they are easily targeted as ‘being anti national’ or supporting secessionists or in more popular discourse, supporting the Maoists. For a nation to survive as a healthy democracy, it is important that we have an open debate on issues concerning our people. A debate on Kashmir can not be judged on Barkha Dutt’s upper caste show on NDTV. It needs to be organized in Kashmir and let those champions of Hindutva be there and speak among the masses. The issue of Advasis, need to be discussed with their people and not with one or two members showcased in the TV studios of Delhi to justify that ‘we have space for ‘their’ voices. Let the journalist report going to nook and corners of the country and not become part and parcel of our ‘intelligence’ network. The greatest danger to our democracy is the growing disappearance of demarcation line between a reporter and an intelligence person, between a PR person and an editor. They all have merged together so much that it is important to know who is the person and what is he writing.
The self styled mainstream media has rarely spoken for people who are rotting in our jails. They speak for Dr Binayak Sen as they feel he was one among them. It is a class-caste consciousness which has shocked them that if such a thing could happen to him, it might happen to them. But the fact is media has completely lost interest in people’s issues. Binayak Sen is not important. Important is the issue of charges against him and the way police framed him. Important is to question our sedition laws and the issue of my right to criticize the state. He was critical of Salawa Judum which the state felt was providing justice to the tribal who were not Naxalites. Even the Supreme Court had held that state can not give private citizens right to kill each other and Salwa Judum was that. Hence, questioning state polices today is being considered as challenge to our sovereignty. Therefore, I am also happy that this verdict will expose the Indian judicial system, its courts, its trial methods and how they function. It is indeed a case for judicial reforms in India.
Therefore, it is not necessary for me to dwell on the argument of Dr Binayak Sen or Arundhati Roy which may suffer from flaws and we all have those flaws as we become too sensitive to the issues close to our heart and that is what true about those who fight for people’s right. We may differ on our perceptions but as writers, authors, human rights activists always believe in their perceptions and beliefs and that makes them different than others. We are not political leaders who speak for the ‘people’. We speak our voices and our feeling. As a human rights defender, I write many things which many may not like, of course, many others like them too yet, it is important that this freedom remain unchallenged. For, because of such people, the forces of state and its sponsored campaigns and laws are challenged.
Is not it a hypocrisy that when a Chinese dissenter got Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year, Indian government send its representative to attend the ceremony despite China’s effort to dissuade India from doing so. It was a great gesture in support of a human rights defender for democracy in that country who has been allegedly framed for treason in that country. Its shameful that Binayak Sen’s case is becoming a very similar one where the state is hell bent to prove that he worked against the state.. Binayak Sen might not have done so many things but in their dirty tricks the government officials will only make him bigger and larger than life. The world will only cry foul on conviction of the local court which looks like a kangaroo trial. For long there have been demands for a National judicial Commission and implementation of quota for SC-ST-OBCs, in the judiciary so that the judges themselves understand their issues with utmost care before passing a judgment. The courts have actually become biggest obstacles in progressive laws. Most of the judges have biases against Dalit-Adivasis and their issues related to them. The issue of quota is being made redundant through judicial interventions. Similarly, land reforms failed in India as in most of the cases the high and mighty went to court against land ceiling laws. The brahmanical minds created various side ways to destroy all the reforms and acts.
Binayak Sen has a formidable background as a doctor as well as a civil rights activist and hence his case became internationalized otherwise ordinary mortals like us would never ever think of civil libertarians and news papers supporting this freedom. Hence, we must support his release and ask for a thorough scrutiny of the conditions in Indian jails and reform in the judiciary. Binayak Sen is definitely bound to get justice but in the din of hello being created around, we must not forget thousands of innocents being put in the jail for being Jehadis, Naxalites and what not. Any one raise the issue for his right is charged with challenging the state and this mindset has to be challenged. It is time to start a complete debate on these issues which have emerged out of Binayak Sen’s conviction.