The infamous night of June 25/ 26 1975 will forever remain etched in the memory of most Indians, as the moment the country was robbed of her freedom, once again, through the introduction of an internal ‘Emergency Rule’. This unconstitutional rule continued for full twenty-one months (until 21 March 1977) making it easily the darkest chapter of post-independent India. Thankfully, a popular people’s movement who vowed never again through the triumph of the ballot box overthrew a totalitarian regime and restored dignity and pride to Indian democracy.
After forty-three years, one would have thought, that India and we the people, would have learnt from the lessons of history. Sadly, we seem to condemn ourselves to repeating the mistakes of the past. Going by the realities, which have gripped the country today-, we now live in a time, which outdoes the emergency days on every possible front and several times over.
On 26 June, the Thomas Reuters Foundation released its findings on the status of women in 193 countries across the globe ( http://news.trust.org/item/20180612134519-cxz54/). The findings stated that ‘India most dangerous country for women with sexual violence rife’. The release goes on to state that “ experts said India moving to the top of poll showed not enough was being done to tackle the danger women faced, more than five years after the rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi made violence against women a national priority. India has shown utter disregard and disrespect for women ... rape, marital rapes, sexual assault and harassment, female infanticide has gone unabated. The (world's) fastest growing economy and leader in space and technology is shamed for violence committed against women." Every India, particularly the men folk should hang our heads down in shame!
A few days earlier on 19 June, five women activists in Jharkhand were abducted, gang-raped and were further brutally assaulted in the most horrendous manner. The women were in the remote villages as part of a troupe performing street plays to make people aware of the ills of migration and human trafficking. What will come of this dastardly deed is anyone’s guess. However, the way women in India are generally treated by the men is an act of shame and in several cases a crime against humanity. Everyone is aware that the patriarchal mindset runs deep in India. However, what is happening in the recent past be it in Unnao, Kathua, Assam, Surat and elsewhere, the atrocities on women apparently have the blessings of the rural political dispensation given the fact that some of their key functionaries are involved in these heinous acts and no one can touch them on this score.
The situation of women in is not the only front on which the country has reached abysmal depths. Be it the situation of the dalits and the adivasis, the minorities and the other marginalized groups, the farmers and the unorganized labour the final report is pathetically the same. All are at the receiving end of a ruling class that lacks sensitivity to the genuine needs of the common people whilst simultaneously throwing all Constitutional propriety to the wind.
The greatest casualty is the freedom of speech and expression. Media is throttled, coopted, bought up- journalists like Gauri Lankesh and others who have stood fearlessly for justice and truth are killed; others are intimidated and harassed. Most mainstream media the situation is far more serious than the ‘emergency days’. Most mainstream media has become so selective and partisan that they would hardly highlight any ills of the BJP and the Central Government.
A few months when the global watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) released its 2018 World Press Freedom Index, it showed that the report blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “troll army” for sharing and amplifying hate speeches targeting journalists on social networks. It stated, “ In India hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pay, With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals,. Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists who are overly critical of the government, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which ‘sedition’ is punishable by life imprisonment,”
Another pillar of democracy, the judiciary, is being seriously tampered with. This does not augur well for the nation. Last January, four Senior most Justices of the Supreme Court held an unprecedented press conference stating that, “ 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.” It is no state secret that the rulers of the day are doing their best to destroy everything that is sacrosanct in the Constitution of India.
Minority bashing continues to be on the rise in India and their rights to freely profess, practice and propagate their faith is seriously violated. This apparently with the full connivance of the Government. Last year the well-known Pew Research Center analysis of 198 countries ranked India as the fourth worse for religious intolerance. Almost every day we hear of Muslims and Christians being beaten up and even killed; places of worship are destroyed, people are lynched for apparently eating or carrying beef; discrimination against the minorities is subtle and often blatantly direct. In 2003, Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat introduced one of the most draconian laws of the country and innocuously called the ‘Freedom of Religion’ law. This law, in fact curtails the freedom of the citizen on matters of religion and faith as guaranteed in Article 25 of the Constitution and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Corruption has been mainstreamed as never before. The BJP and their crony capitalists have milked and looted the country to the hilt. One does not need much intelligence to see who accompanies the Prime Minister on his foreign junkets at the expense of the common man- and which corporates strike lucrative and profitable deals. India fell to an all-time low to the 81st rank (out of 180 countries) in the global corruption perception index released last February.
A few days ago former Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha called prevalent atmosphere in the country "far worse" than the period of Emergency, imposed by the then Congress government between 1975 and 1977. Speaking to a news channel, he said,
" Emergency as imposed and then lifted in this country some 43 years ago, the modern generation does not have any recollection of emergency. It is history for them; what prevails now in the country is far worse. While nobody has been put behind bars as in 1975, there is still an all-pervasive atmosphere of fear, people are scared, and people are scared to talk. Even cabinet ministers are not spared. The situation is far worse than it was in the declared Emergency of Indira Gandhi," he said. Even media, Sinha said, is in "direct line of fire" under the current government because of which "many senior honest journalists have lost their jobs. Today the situation is very bad. Media is giving a very misleading picture... (It's) completely subdued and made to toe the line”
Nayantara Sahgal, well-known intellectual and a fierce critic of her cousin Indira Gandhi and the then emergency rule , says in a recent interview , “ well, we have an undeclared Emergency, there is no doubt about that. We have seen a huge, massive attack on the freedom of expression. We have seen innocent, helpless Indians killed because they did not fit into the RSS’s view of India. We have seen known and unknown Indians murdered. Writers like Gauri Lankesh have been killed. And there has been no justice for the families of the wage earners who have lost their lives in this fashion. In fact they are now being called the accused. So we have a horrendous situation, a nightmare which is worse than the Emergency. During the Emergency we knew what the situation was. The Opposition was in jail, there was no freedom of speech, etc. Now we are living in a battered, bleeding democracy. And though no Emergency has been declared, people are being killed, people are being jailed; people are being hauled up for sedition and for being anti-national. It is an absolutely nightmarish situation which has no equal. This government is pretending to be democratic but we see what is happening all around. And nothing has come out of the government’s mouth to condemn all these goings on. So I rate it as a situation which has no equal in India”.
There is no doubt that country is going through its darkest phase on every possible front. The moot question then is, will the people of India now rise once again and like in 1977, after the emergency, use the ballot box to overthrow those who are throttling the nation today?
*(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights activist. Contact: email@example.com)(Published on 02nd July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 27)