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Crossroads @70

Crossroads @70

The recent elections to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, is a glaring example of how corruption has been blatantly mainstreamed by the current political dispensation; the son of the BJP chief of Haryana, literally thinks that he can get away for stalking a girl, due to his political clout; Medha Patkar arrested in the midst of her hunger strike on behalf of the oustees of the Narmada Dam; India’s new President and Vice-President steeped in the ideology of the RSS. These are but a few examples in recent weeks, which illustrate, as India celebrates its 70th anniversary of independence, there are definite efforts being made today to plunge the country into abysmal depths.

There is indeed much to be grateful for (thanks to the efforts of millions of Indians these past years). Over the years, India and her people have attained many heights! The 75th anniversary of the ‘Quit India Movement’ on August 9 brought to mind the selfless sacrifices of Mahatma Gandhi and the other freedom fighters who ultimately ensured that India won her freedom in 1947; however, the likes of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS refused to take part in the freedom struggle; very ironically, today they control the destinies of the country, wax eloquent and even take credit for the freedom struggle, which in actuality, they deeply resented!

A few years after independence, the members of the Constituent Assembly, gave to the country a path-breaking and sacrosanct Constitution. Enshrined in the Preamble are the core values of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity whilst simultaneously guaranteeing the sovereignty, the secular and socialist nature of the country. Thanks to the visionary leadership of Dr. B. Ambedkar, this was ‘the idea of India’: which like a beautiful tapestry would preserve, protect and promote pluralism and respect the rights and freedom of every citizen. However, if one goes by what is happening all over the country today, one could safely conclude that   on several counts India is in the doldrums.  

The situation of India's minorities for one, is going from bad to worse daily; in the last few months a Christian Pastor was shot dead in Punjab, a Muslim family was brutally attacked in a train in UP, sacred Christian objects and cemeteries were vandalized in Goa, young Muslims were lynched for allegedly carrying or eating beef, the list is endless indeed! The minorities in India have never had it as bad as it is now.

In keeping with the Hindutva agenda, Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation is now venerated as a hero and a patriot; Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS Chief calls for the establishment of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (nation); a Union Minister, Niranjan Jyoti turns abusive saying that in India, one is either ‘ramzadon’ (those born of Ram) or ‘haramzadon’ (illegitimately born); the HRD Minister through a circular states that Christmas Day (December 25th) should be a working day for schools (and then denies it); the Government however continues to insist that it is not a holiday for Government employees.

No one can deny that Narendra Modi is very adept with ‘ hunting with the hound and running with the hare’. There is a consistent negation of Article 25 of the Constitution, which guarantees to every Indian the “ freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.” One needs to revisit Modi’s election campaign in the run-up to the 2002 election in Gujarat and particularly his promise to bring in an anti-conversion law once they assumed power. True to his word, on March 26, 2003 (and without any opposition) they passed the ‘Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2003’ and five years later in 2008, they introduced the rules that are necessary to govern the implementation of the law. It is one of the most draconian laws of the country which necessitate that anyone seeking to change his or her religion must first seek the permission of the District Magistrate. The Constitutional validity of this law was challenged in 2009 in the High Court of Gujarat and a judgement is still awaited.

The ideology of the RSS has never been in sync with the Constitution of India. There have been threats to repeal Article 370, a promise in the BJP manifesto and even a pronouncement from the PMO. On July 24th 2014, speaking on the floor of the Assembly in Goa former Minister Deepak Dhavlikar stated “ I am confident that under the leadership of Modiji, India will develop into a Hindu nation. Prime Minister will work in this regard is what I feel”. When the BJP have the required numbers in both Houses of Parliament, they will certainly tamper with the Constitution of India or even perhaps change it drastically. May that day never dawn!

Education is bound to be a major casualty. Already in some BJP-ruled states, Sikhs, Christians and other minorities are  denigrated in school text books published by the Government; the attempts to introduce text books by Hindutva hardliners; to make yoga compulsory in schools and ‘sanskritise’ the curriculum are just some indicators in this direction. The Government interference in prestigious institutions of higher learning like the JNU, Jamia and Nalanda lend weightage to the talk that the Government would ultimately want to nationalise education.

Freedom of speech and expression has all but disappeared in the country. Most media houses are corporatized and have to toe the line of the establishment. Anybody who thinks, speaks and acts differently is bound to be hounded, harassed and victimised. False cases are foisted on them and raids by Government agencies make life difficult for those who have the courage to stand up and speak out!

On August 10th, the last day of his decade-long tenure as the  Vice-President  of India and the  Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Dr. Hamid Ansari (a distinguished statesman)in his farewell speech stressed that the Rajya Sabha was the creation of the Constitution that portrays Indian diversity; quoting  former Vice-President  S. Radhakrishnan he said,   “a democracy is likely to degenerate into a tyranny if it does not allow the opposition groups to criticise fairly, freely and frankly the policies of the government."

Significant words today! India at seventy is indeed at the crossroads; we all need to act fast  to ensure that country gets back on the right tracks and also pray in the words of our Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, “ Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high :into that heaven of freedom my Father, let my country awake!”

(Cedric Prakash   is a human rights activist and is currently based in Lebanon and engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and   communications. He can be contacted on cedricprakash@gmail.com)

(Published on 14th August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 33)