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After A Terrible 2018 For India

After A Terrible 2018 For India

By all counts and on all fronts- 2018 has been a terrible year for the people of India – very particularly for the common man and woman – the ordinary citizens of the country!

In an unprecedented move, on 12 January 2018, the four senior most judges of the Supreme Court (after the Chief Justice), Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph held a press conference to highlight some major concerns about the judiciary. It was the first-ever public media conference held by sitting judges of the highest court of the land. They did so they said, with great reluctance because "the four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country ,” asserted Justice  Chelameswar (the second most-senior judge of the Supreme Court)on behalf of the group. Many things that are less than desirable happened in the last few months. Unless this institution [Supreme Court] is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country, or any country. The survival of a democracy, it is said, the hallmark of a good democracy, is an independent and impartial judge,” he continued.

The fact that the judges decided to speak out besides being historic literally shook the Constitutional foundations of the country. Many across the board (including legal luminaires) are convinced that the independence of the judiciary has been compromised in the recent past.

The concerns expressed by the Justices were in fact just the tip of the iceberg. As the year unfolded, it became amply clear that there was plenty “rotten in the State”. Just on the judicial front there were several major issues which warranted urgent, impartial and sagacious judgements; these included the premature death of Justice Loya, the Gujarat encounter killings with the alleged connivance of Amit Shah (strangely enough and ‘on cue’on 21 December a special CBI Court in Bombay acquitted all the 22 accused citing “lack of evidence”), the corruption cases again the Amit Shah’s son. There are several others including the allegations of corruption against some current and former judges, the final call on the Gujarat carnage of 2002, the false cases foisted on some independent media and human rights defenders besides, a huge backlog of cases, which need to be brought to a closure. In frightening regularity, every single survey/analysis by very objective and highly-rated agencies (national and global) saw India drop several notches on every possible indicator: social, economic, rights and freedom, human index, environment etc.

On 26 December,  ‘Hate Crime Watch’, a multi-organisation effort steered by  FactChecker.in, in collaboration with ‘Aman Biradari’, a people’s campaign for secularism, justice and compassion based in New Delhi, and  NewsClick.in, a public-interest journalism non-profit, released a sensational report. It stated that, “the year 2018 saw the most hate crimes motivated by religious bias in India in a decade and in 75% of these incidents, minorities were victims”. In 2018, 30 people were killed – the most since 2009 – and at least 305 injured in such attacks. The Report went on to add that , “Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh had the highest number of such attacks (27), followed by Bihar (10), which has a coalition government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal (United). Rajasthan and Gujarat – under BJP governments at the time – and Karnataka which has a coalition government of the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), (since about half a year) followed with seven incidents each”.

At the beginning of the year, internationally-acclaimed ‘Human Rights  Watch’ in its Annual Report 2018 stated, Vigilante violence aimed at religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government—often carried out by groups claiming to support the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—became an increasing threat in India in 2017. The government failed to promptly or credibly investigate the attacks, while many senior BJP leaders publicly promoted Hindu supremacy and ultra-nationalism, which encouraged further violence. Dissent was labeled anti-national, and activists, journalists, and academics were targeted for their views, chilling free expression. Foreign funding regulations were used to target nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) critical of government actions or policies. Lack of accountability for past abuses committed by security forces persisted even as there were new allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings, including in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, and Jammu and Kashmir”. The same trend continued right through 2018.

For most part of the year, ‘lynching’ was the new normal in the country. On 15 August, in his address to the nation, from the Red Fort, the Prime Minister referred to these ‘lynchings’; but no one was being fooled. The murderers, the assaulters belong to his ilk. There is apparently no political will to deal with them; on the contrary, the Government seems to be supporting them both implicitly and explicitly: with a Union Minister garlanding and felicitating one of these criminals. On 17 July, in a landmark judgment Supreme Court of India condemned the lynching incidents across the country. The Bench headed by the then Chief Justice Dipak said the horrendous acts of mobocracy could not be allowed to become a new norm in the country. The horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land. Earnest action and concrete steps have to be taken to protect the citizens from the recurrent pattern of violence which cannot be allowed to become “the new normal”...The State cannot turn a deaf ear to the growing rumblings of its People, since its concern, to quote Woodrow Wilson, ‘must ring with the voices of the people.’ The exigencies of the situation require us to sound a clarion call for earnest action to strengthen our inclusive and all-embracing social order, which would, in turn, reaffirm the constitutional faith. We expect nothing more and nothing less”

The poor and marginalized sections of the country were at the receiving end from a callous and insensitive Government who seemed more focused on enriching their crony capitalist friends, constructing massive statues with a criminal waste of money and using the tax-payers money to finance the Prime Ministers many foreign junkets! All through the year it was revealed, how the ‘demonetization’ scam on the country in November 2016- destroyed the ordinary people of the country and only helped the ruling class and their friends to garner windfall profits. In a recently released book the former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramaniam referred to demonetization as “a massive, draconian monetary shock” and of the negative impact it has had on the poor. Today, millions of people find it impossible to make both ends meet due to the escalation of prices on essential commodities. The constant protests by farmers and the suicides by many of them are key pointers. Economic indicators highlight this downward spiral. Early in the year, an Oxfam Report ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’ released during the World Economic Forum held in Davos stated, “The richest 1% in India cornered 73% of the wealth generated in the country last year, presenting a worrying picture of rising income inequality”. Government policies are pro-rich, a group which will certainly be helpful to the ruling political dispensation, when they have to come out more aggressively in the implementation of their agenda. The scandalous wedding celebrations of some rich Indians in 2018- is certainly a blot on the nation where millions survive eating the remains they find after scrounging garbage!

In April 2018, the World Press Freedom Index was released, with India falling again- now to 138 out of 180 countries. Freedom of speech and expression has surely taken its toll. Media has been compromised, bought up, made to toe the line! On the night of 8th/9th December, a young journalist Amit Topno from Jharkhand was brutally murdered for exposing some of the local mafia. The chapter have not been closed in the brutal murders of eminent journalist Gauri Lankesh and intellectuals like Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and others; everybody knows who is responsible for these dastardly deeds.

It has also been a bad year for human rights activism in the country. We hear about threats, intimidation, arrests, foisting of false cases and even death for all those who take a stand for human rights, justice and peace. Some months ago, five well known human rights activists Sudha Bharadwaj (Faridabad), Arun Ferreira  (Thane), Vernon Gonsalves (Mumbai), Gautam Navlakha (Delhi) and writer P Varavara Rao (Hyderabad) were arrested on absolutely fictitious charges; eighty - year old Jesuit Stan Swamy was searched.  There are several others who have to bear the brunt of a very repressive political system. The Government has now decided to snoop into computers; bad enough they have begun also controlling social media. All this is totally unacceptable in a democracy; a blatant fascist act!

India still stood a measly 130 out of 189 countries in the Human Development Index. Corruption is rampant; obviously mainstreamed by those in power. All concern for the environment is thrown to the winds- with ecological devastation taking place in complete connivance with the Government. The Government has conveniently side-tracked the Right to Information, the Right to Food and the Right to Education. The situation of the children and women in India has deteriorated in the past year.

The year 2018 has surely been bad for the country. But towards the end of the year there have been some rays of hope, some positive happenings which indicate that 2019, may be a turning point. For one in three key states in the heartland of the country: Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh – the BJP lost in the Assembly elections; opposition parties – both national and regional – seem to be getting their act together and hopefully will be able to stitch some constructive alliances to fight the next National elections. Thanks to the negativity generated by the RSS and their ilk and their systematic assault on the Constitution- there is a new awakening in the country with a groundswell of  civil society : academics, intellectuals, activists coming together to do all they can to prevent the further destruction of the country. Above all, in the past the ballot box has also spoken- the people of India taught the powerful Indira Gandhi a severe lesson at the hustings. Doing the same to the anti-national forces that govern the country – would be far easier!

The people of India – surely look for a new dawn – a new beginning to preserve, protect and to live all that is precious and cherished in our beautiful country: justice, liberty, equality and fraternity for all! 2019 will hopefully provide the answers and be a turning point in the history of the country!

*( Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights activist. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com)

(Published on 31th December 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 01)