Human Rights

Time to halt descent to a majoritarian democracy

With the development of different norms of peace and justice internationally, there are many global NGOs and official organisations set up by some countries which monitor the state of delivery of justice to its citizens. India has been in the focus of many such organizations, not for very good reasons. The issues being observed regarding India are communal peace and religious freedoms. In both these areas, India’s record is not very flattering for the country.

India’s rank currently stands at 135 out of 153 nations (2011) assessed on the scale called “Global Peace”. This index ranks countries according to how peaceful they are internally. India currently falls amongst the 20 least peaceful nations. Similarly, for the third successive year, USCIRF, the American official watchdog on religious freedoms worldwide, has underlined the need to pursue investigations against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for his role in Gujarat 2002 carnage. It has put India on the Watch List. This body also points out another reason, apart from lack of action against Modi, for putting India on the watch list is that dispensing of justice to the victims of communal violence continues to be slow and ineffective.

Both these observations put together highlight the rise of divisive sectarian politics, after the demolition of Babri Mosque in particular. The present state of affairs is also due to the nature of response of the State and the political leadership to the phenomenon of religious violence and the process taking place in the aftermath of the well-orchestrated violence. The process of violence is generally initiated on the pretext of some incident. Already in the society, ‘Social Common Sense’ has been manufactured. Due to this social common sense, large sections of society look at religious minorities as a threat to the majority religion. This social common sense has been manufactured over a period of time through the work of communal organizations (Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS Combine). It later intensified through education and propaganda unleashed by sections of the media. This ‘Hate Other’ propaganda creates the ground on which ethno-preuners (political leaders using religious divide to come to power) take an initiative to unleash violence against minorities. In the last decade, massive violence against Muslims in Gujarat and against Christians in Orissa have been particularly disturbing.

This violence in turn displaces sections of minority community from their houses and localities, forcing them to stay in refugee camps in wretched conditions. The apathy of the state and political leadership creates a situation where the displaced persons-families are denied proper rehabilitation and justice. This not only polarises the communities on religious lines but goes on to ghettoize the minorities in particular. The process of social exclusion of minorities is going on at very rapid pace in our country.

This leads us to the question of assessing the changing nature of Indian state and polity. Are we able to nurture and promote the values of equality enshrined in our Constitution or are we going downhill towards a Hindu majoritarian state? Though the major ruling party will swear by secularism on paper, when it comes to halting communalism in its tracks, it shows no will power to protect the secular fabric of our heritage. The other major electoral party, BJP, which is part of the RSS Combine which does want to convert India into a Hindu nation, is aiming at Hindu majoritarian state. So when in power in different states BJP does push its agenda of Hindu Rashtra, while its affiliates, progeny of RSS like Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and Bajrang Dal etc, go on intensifying the hatred against minorities and creating a situation where minorities cannot lead a life of dignity and equal rights.

In this scenario the question of justice in Gujarat, Kandhamal and role of people like Narendra Modi becomes very frightening. Surprisingly, things have come to such a sorry pass where those guilty of violence are moving around with bloated chests protected by security guards provided by the State while human rights activists are being hounded on purpose. As an example, the case of Teesta Setalvad is a major example as to how the Gujarat state under Modi is trying to target her through different legal means.

It is time to introspect as to where our democracy is going. The deeper infiltration of divisive political ideology and its impact on the nature of our polity needs to be negated in order to ensure that the deviation from the values of our political pluralism and the right of minorities to live with dignity, peace and justice, like every other citizen, is restored. The state of the health of a democracy is reflected in the equity and security enjoyed by its minorities and weaker sections. The rot seems to be all around in different aspects of life, though the state of affairs is not the same all over the country. There are states where this process of sectarianism is partial while in states like Gujarat post-2002 carnage, minorities, barring a small section, have been pushed away to live in ghettoes where they lead a life of second class citizens. In other states, this process prevails in different degrees.

The politics resulting in the aftermath of violence is supplemented by lack of the will of the State to ensure the proper implementation of recommendations of official panels like Sachar Committee and Rangnath Mishra committee. The grassroots level life of the minorities has been allowed to rot. The affirmative action has been projected as “Minority appeasement” through the intense propaganda which the communal forces have unleashed relentlessly.

It is time that all social movements, dedicated political leadership and sections of State wake up from their slumber and try to do course-correction related to the basic aspects of the nature of democratic ethos. Can we let our democracy slip into a sort of “Majoritarian Democracy” where sections of people of only one religion enjoy equality, while the rights of minorities are trampled upon recklessly? It is long overdue that those committed to the goal of India as plural democracy shed their complacency and come forward to bring in the substantive equality for all, irrespective of their religion.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 June 2011 on page no. 11

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