We seem to think that our fight for freedom is over…In any real sense of the word, this fight for freedom is not over, though we may be politically free.—Jawaharlal Nehru
We are celebrating the 70th Independence Day today and let’s have a look at the condition of the poor in our country. “We are a country of poor people but not for poor people,” the Delhi High Court bench of Justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Ashutosh Kumar said on August 3, 2016 while hearing the PIL on rehabilitation of manual scavengers in Delhi. “A statement was made by the authorities concerned that there were no manual scavengers in Delhi. But the report of Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) shows that there were 233 manual scavengers in the city,” the bench said.
“What are we doing in this country? Smart cities?” asked the Bench, completely shocked by the photographs and the report presented to it by the DSLSA.
We have made a law preventing manual scavenging only after 65 years of independence— Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act of 2013 and the government agencies like the Delhi Jal Board and municipal corporations stated on oath before the High Court bench that there were no manual scavengers. The bench asked the DSLSA in May 2016 to check the veracity of the claim and the DSLSA report says that thousands of people were working as scavengers for DJB, municipal corporations, Railways or for contractors hired by these agencies and according to the report there is even a post-graduation degree holder among those engaged in cleaning human faeces with bare hands from unsanitary places.
What are we doing in this country? Smart cities?
Even after 25 years of liberalisation and 69 years of independence India is home to the largest number of illiterate people in the world. And the record of having the largest number of undernourished people in the world also is in India’s credit.
And since 1991 Indian farmers have been killing themselves as the corporate servile policies of the Indian State make them a hapless lot.
What are we doing in this country? Smart cities?
And we see the murder of people like Kaburgi for being progressive, the lynching of Muhammad Akhlaq for eating beef, the flogging of hapless individuals for the ‘crime’ of skinning a dead cow. What is happening to our democracy? More than 60 years ago the radical humanist M. N. Roy said: “In so far as democracy is not government of the people and by the people, it is not democracy. With the rise of the party system, the idea of popular sovereignty became a constitutional fiction and politics became a scramble for power.” As far as Indian democracy is concerned Roy’s observation stands vindicated fully.
Together with the Una incident of the heinous flogging, another incident in which too Dalits were at the receiving end comes to my mind. Immediately after the LDF government came to power in Kerala, two Dalit ladies in Kannur were arrested and remanded. They were accused of forcefully entering into the CPI(M) party office which is adjacent to their home and (wo)manhandling two party cadres! Both the incidents were/are treated as atrocities against Dalits. I think that such incidents are not atrocities against Dalits but human-right violations under a democracy which is not democratic in spirit and generously abets human-right violations.
As Stanley Maron says in his essay “The Political Philosophy of M. N. Roy” published in The Radical Humanist (January 25, 1966): “Political parties are the chief evil in modern democracy, for they are the main cause of the concentration of power… The primary interest of political leaders once in office is that of remaining in office, for that is the only way in which they can have the power which is their objective… Their primary interest becomes that of protecting their power against those who have given it to them, and only secondarily of using that power on behalf of those who have given it to them.”
The Una incident would have happened exactly like how it had happened even if those who skinned the dead cow had not belonged to Dalits; and the Kannur incident too. The basic problem is the concentration of power and its misuse. Electoral democracy helped the BJP to have the concentration of power in its grip and the Una incident took place because the culprits are those who enjoy the benefit of the concentration of power. The Kannur incident took place because those who enjoy the concentration of power after May 19, 2016 have had some grudge against the family and the moment the power equations changed, the party which is in possession of the concentration of power ‘taught’ them a lesson.
If the gau rakshaks committed/commit atrocities on the hapless, standing firmly on the collective ego of the nation, the Marxists and Maoists do it standing firmly on the collective ego of the party.
That is why the radical humanist M. N. Roy said that ‘society must be based on the individual and not on abstractions. Communism, by losing itself in the abstraction of the collective ego of the proletariat, had gone the way of Fascism which builds on the collective ego of the nation. Communism is no longer the road to freedom and revolution must take place under another flag.”
Under which flag that revolution will take place? We are in dire need of that revolution which enables us to rise above caste and religious and gender discriminations, the revolution that abolishes vested interests and privileges, that destroys violence, wars, fanaticism, poverty, illiteracy, nepotism and every kind of inequalities.
Let’s hope, as M. N. Roy hoped 60 years ago, that ‘the time will come when the voters of a locality will tell candidates of all parties to leave them alone; amongst themselves they will find candidates in whom they can have confidence and who will remain responsible to them between two elections. Once that happens, the end of the party system will begin, and with the parties, the main cause for concentration of power will disappear.’
You may think that this is pure utopia. Of course I too think it is, but we must strive to realise such utopias to escape from the present world in which, as W. B. Yeats says in his poem The Second Coming:
“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.”
Sukumaran C. V. is a frequent contributor to Countercurrents.org