June 9, 2014
by subhash gatade
People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (P.A.D.S.) Statement on the murder of three young persons in Badaun and Pune
While introducing the Draft Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, Dr B. R. Ambedkar had observed, “Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.” The same continues to hold true sixty four years later. A few weeks ago the people of India participated in the largest-ever election of their representatives in a largely free and fair process. However, other events since then have revealed the shallowness of this democratic top-dressing along with the tyrannical side of our society and polity.
On 27 May two girls aged 12 and 14 from an oppressed caste family of Katra Sadatganj in Badaun district of UP were sexually assaulted and killed when out to answer nature’s call. The rapists, belonging to the local dominant caste, hung their bodies from a tree in a public display of their power.
On 2 June in Pune, twenty-eight year old Mohsin Shaikh, an information technology professional was beaten to death by a group of men belonging to an outfit called Hindu Rashtra Sena. The killers even celebrated their cruelty in messages declaring that the ‘the first wicket is down’.
From the rural hinterland to our industrial cities, from poverty-stricken villagers to trained professionals, from minor girls to men in the prime of their youth, Indian citizens belonging to certain castes and religious groups in India do not enjoy even a secure right to life. They are killed not by an authoritarian state power, but by groups that appear to be growing naturally in a society Dr Ambedkar characterized as ‘essentially undemocratic’.
There have been many occasions when the provincial or central governments have set aside their duty to uphold the right to life (Article 21) that is a pillar of the constitutional order. Even when governments have not been directly implicated in such crimes, their indulgence (or that of various leaders of ‘mainstream’ parties) towards criminals is no secret. In Pune, the chief of the Hindu Rashtra Sena has 23 cases pending against him related to illegal firearms, extortion and rioting. Yet he and his organization have flourished. Extremist and violent outfits have spread widely in Maharshtra in the recent past. One of these is suspected of murdering the reputed rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar in Pune on 20 August 2013. Yet the Congress-NCP led administration appears indifferent or powerless. The criminal justice system in the country is quick to arrest Muslim youth on trumped up charges of terrorism; many of whom are acquitted by courts after languishing in jails for years. But it is lenient towards organizations that terrorise people in the name of Hindu Rashtra.
In the Badaun rape and murder case the accused include two police men. The police station in charge refused to file an FIR when informed about the missing girls by the father of one of them, a casual wage-labourer. The accused belong to the core caste base of the ruling party in UP. In Pune too, the political context of the murder cannot be discounted. The state assembly elections in Maharashtra are a few months away, and the hyper activity of extremist groups is an attempt to polarize voters on religious grounds. Hatred of religious minorities has always been the ideological core of the BJP’s politics. The current prime minister shot to fame during the Gujarat riots in 2002, when thousands of Muslim women, men and children were butchered on the roads and in their homes. We may hope that the new government will moderate its extremist ideology and that of its mentor, the RSS. However, the hateful utterances made during and after the elections by MP’s, ministers and affiliates of their organizational family are not reassuring.
There are yet more disturbing patterns of official behaviour that citizens should take note of. As the Sixteenth Lok Sabha was being inaugurated, Delhi police performed a barbaric act. Since April 16, four minor Dalit girls – survivors of sexual assault on March 23, in Bhagana village of Haryana – had been camping at Jantar Mantar in protest, along with 80 families. Since they had been thrown out of their village, the women had decided to live on the street there and refused to vacate what they see as their last shelter. On June 4, 2014, at 6 am, more than 800 policemen barged into the area, uprooted tents and seized belongings of the protestors. Some of the women were molested by constables who were not wearing their name-badges. Now the protesters are sitting in the scorching sun, sleeping on the pavements and are facing continuous threats. Their requests to the local MLA and the Union Home Minister go unheard. This is nothing less than an onslaught on the democratic right of protest. The failure of the mass media to report the police attack is an example of the new anti-democratic ideological environment.
The P.A.D.S. condemns these crimes and demands immediate legal action against the culprits. Full social and legal protection should be provided to the families of victims, and to witnesses. States in India routinely indulge in humiliating exercise of giving financial ‘compensation’ to survivors of social crimes, while doing little to prevent them. P.A.D.S. demands strict action against police and officials who failed to prevent these crimes.
These crimes are of course law and order problems, but they also exemplify the anti-democratic nature of Indian society. Indian society has not yet left behind its caste mentality, which remains one of the most brutal systems ever invented to control and dehumanize humans. Despite the talk of tolerance and non-violence, the socially powerful sectors of our society are vicious and intolerant of difference and dissent. Their influence makes nonsense of criminal justice. As Ambedkar reminded us, a constitution can provide only the institutional framework of a polity – the working of which depends upon the people, their parties, and their politics.
The policy of unrestrained capitalist growth adopted by recent Indian governments has strengthened the deep-rooted authoritarian practices of Indian society. The inter-linkages of state policy, electoral politics, regressive aspects of popular culture and neo-liberal economics indicate that the jargon of ‘development’ will function as a mask for undermining Indian democracy. Only popular movements that struggle against caste, misogyny, communalism and socio-economic inequality can lead to democracy. Hence a clear democratic agenda needs to be argued for and established in every site of struggle.
India’s leading democrats always linked their struggles on specific issues to a vision of a democratic society. We need to fashion such a vision for our times and make it a part of popular aspirations. While the rulers and dominant sections of India are content with and celebrate the thin democratic top dressing, the Indian people will be free of brutalities like those of Badaun and Pune only in a truly democratic society.