Will India Take the Road Less Travelled – and Make All the Difference?

modi protest london

The social ferment presently being witnessed all over India and abroad, where the Indian diaspora has spread out, is the background in which Modi has set out on his latest whistle-stop tours abroad.The month of April has been very restive, with country-wide Bandh call on 2nd April by the Dalits who constitute about 17% of India’s population.

This was followed by the protests against gender violence against girls in India which were triggered by the details of one of the goriest crimes ever to have been reported even in India. The Nirbhaya crime shocked the entire nation but this was several times worse in its barbarity. The details don’t bear repetition, give that the victim was a child of 8 and belonged to a very backward nomad community, and the perpetrators were a number of men including several policemen who held the child, sedated, for 8 days in a privately owned temple in Kathua, Jammu, where the main conspirator, a 60-year-old retired government official, instigated his son and a juvenile relative to commit the crime.  The crime was committed and discovered in January but only gained traction as an issue after the details emerged and spread via social media and a country-wide outcry began.

The public pressure caused the matter to be investigated and as the chilling details of the chargesheet emerged, a group calling itself the Hindu Ekta Manch, and a group of lawyers in Jammu began to raise a clamour in support of the accused, marching with the national tricolour and claiming that the were being framed. There was clear evidence that policemen had colluded with the crime and the accused, and had also attempted to destroy evidence.

In Unnao, UP there was another crime where police refused to register a rape, committed in June 2017 of a minor by a politician from the BJP, the ruling party on 11th. When there was no action taken by the police the girl protested and was subjected to sexual violence, and was again “sold” to a person in Agra. She was told that her father would be killed if she did not cooperate. She was subjected to repeated gang rape by a number of people on the 20th June to silence her.  There was no action following the registration of a complaint by the police in June and instead, the father was arrested and beaten up and tortured by the police. In protest, the girl attempted suicide in front of the residence of UP Chief minister Yogi Adityanath on 8th April. The father who was already very critically injured and died the next day of internal injuries caused by the beatings.

The family has alleged that the MLA had targeted them for taking him on and an uncle of the girl was slapped with five cases for crimes alleged to have been committed by him on one day, 21at October 2017.

In both these cases, the victims are minor girls of marginalised groups. The parents and civil society had to work for months to get the authorities to act. In the Kathua case, however, once the investigation started the team quickly solved the case and filed a watertight chargesheet with full evidence. In the Unnao case, the government has dragged its feet and it was after the Allahabad High court intervened that the case against the killing and torture of the girl’s father was registered,  days after he had died. The original complaints were never acted upon for months even though three cases had been registered. There is clear evidence of lack of political will, abuse of police and political power, and caste discrimination, criminal intimidation and atrocity in the Unnao case.

The blatant miscarriage of justice, the misogyny, casteism and abuse of power by the political forces and police in these contexts is shocking and disturbing.

In another very disturbing development the Supreme Court dismissed a petition to investigate the circumstances of the death of Judge Loya, 48, who was the special judge who was hearing the case the killing of Tulsiram Prajapati, in which case the President of the BJP, Amit Shah was the main accused. He had no history of any cardiac problems, was in good health, and had said that he had been offered 100 crore (over 15 million USD) plus a flat in Mumbai to give a favourable judgement. He had travelled to Nagpur in the company of two of his judge colleagues. However, two senior advocates who had been his friends and to whom Loya had confided that he was under tremendous pressure, and who had spoken about this after his death, also died under mysterious circumstances within months of each other.

The family members of the  judge had revealed that they suspected foul play as there had been signs of bleeding, a scuffle, etc when his body was delivered to them with only the ambulance driver and no official or his colleagues accompanying the boy. His phone disappeared and was returned later with all its contents erased, by a person who was in no way connected to institution or person involved, and had only been a slight acquaintance of the family.  

The case in MP of the VYAPAM scam, in which the needle of suspicion appears to point to the CM’s close relative, and in which no less than 49 persons connected with the scam have died in the last couple of years, is another case in point.

Do we need any more evidence that the institutions of the country are under very serious threat? That constitutional offices, the Judiciary, the Election Commission, the independent audit bodies such as the CAG, the RBI – all these have proven to be vulnerable to the  despotic and nihilistic machinations of people in power who in turn are being cynically manipulated by extra-constitutional forces that have no accountability to any democratic institution.

We the people are not deceived. The media may capitulate, politicians may turn coats, business people may buy their way into a lot of money, but the truth cannot be hidden. And in a democracy, the people are the rulers, and should make the choice.

India, once called a grand experiment, and a beacon of high ideals led by men and women of vision and enterprise, now stands on the cusp of destiny.   

Will we stay true to our roots of being a liberal democracy, a people’s republic, where democratic ideals and plural identities have a happy coexistence, or will we regress into a backward-looking, misogynistic, casteist, plutocracy where human rights are subordinated to the whims and fancies of the powerful? Soon, every voting Indian will have to make this choice. Choose well, and choose wisely.

  Cynthia Stephen is a social activist


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