It is unnerving to even think about the culture of impunity that is taking deep roots all around us. It has not happened overnight but has slowly strengthened itself, step by step, one incident after the next, and has gained enough in size to threaten the very essence of a nation priding itself on its distinct cultural identity. What are these incidents that I am referring to here? I will try to list some here, the list of course not being exhaustive.
The first set of incidents that I would like to talk about here is the exponential rise in casual and stray religiously intolerant remarks by sitting MPs and MLAs of the ruling dispensation themselves. The tacit encouragement to such unworthy and unacceptable behavior by the senior leadership, especially the Prime Minister of the nation, by an avowed silence on the matter, did-not help matters much. The mob lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq for allegedly storing and consuming beef was a result of this culture of impunity, carefully promoted bit by bit. To rub salt on the wounds of the Akhlaq family, the irreversible secular credentials of the nation and the ‘rule of law’ in place (at least on paper), one of the murderers of Mohammad Akhlaq was given a martyr’s treatment after his death, his family being duly compensated.
The mockery made out of the whole incident of Rohith Vemula’s tragic and untimely death, and the treatment being meted out to his surviving mother even today, is out in the open for everyone to see. Again, the Prime Minister of the nation publicly honoured the Vice-Chancellor of the University involved in the entire incident, making the present dispensation’s motives and priorities amply clear.
As if religion and caste were not basis enough for oppression, the excesses committed and being committed on the tribals of Chhatisgarh, especially Bastar, are so unimaginable that it is difficult to even mention them. The sordid tales of rapes, murders, abductions and so on and so forth of these people have become so routine that they have even lost the power to horrify us. Another practice has become routine in Bastar, of late, the illegal threats, arrests and detentions of any and every human right activist who has the courage to stand up for these innocents. It is the State versus the human rights crusaders. When the State itself starts committing excesses, breaking all rules and laws blatantly and openly, then ‘Rule of Law’ turns into a sham, an English phrase of three words that means nothing but all the same is used very often to mean something that is an irrevocable principle for the existence of the State. Numerous rules and laws can also be invented and created by the State to defend all its actions resulting in undue excesses and unmatched suffering for the ordinary, and equally, even the existing rules and laws cease to exist when ordinary men and women dare to question peacefully and legitimately the illegal actions of the State.
The intellectual fraternity, digressing from the dominant perspective and standing up to the bullying of the State has again and again been snubbed in no unclear terms. FTII students protesting peacefully against the dilution of their alma-mater’s legacy of excellence, by the appointment of a mediocre (to say the least) individual to head the institution were worn down by an undue and disgraceful use by the State, of its power. The JNU fraternity, students, faculty, ex-faculty, their sympathizers, all were and are continuously targeted. A JNU student remains missing, vanished into thin air to date, and no one seems to be bothered in the least.
Talking of protests, Kashmir has been witness to the worst form of State repression since decades. The impunity with which the civilian population was dealt with in recent times though, blinding many civilians through the use of pellets, and feeling righteous about the same, forces one to shrink with a sense of horror, a deep horror at one’s vulnerability at the hands of a powerful State, adamant on wearing that power as a badge of honour. The multitude of atrocities committed by the State under the complete and unquestioned protection of AFSPA and such absolute laws, do-not even surface that frequently in discussions even, so routinized have they become. Unable to make the deaf State hear her plea for sixteen long years, Irom Sharmila finally decided to break her hunger strike, fully well understanding the futility of her struggle.
The redefinition of ‘patriotism’ is a stated agenda that the present dispensation has embarked on. So patriotism now means standing in attention position whenever you hear your national anthem being played, standing in long queues for withdrawing your own hard-earned money, to the limits that have been fixed for you (through an illegal Executive Order, because fixing of any limits on withdrawal of money from one’s own account does not have any backing in law), indecently celebrating acts of destruction (surgical strikes) as if these were festive, rather than extremely sad and unfortunate occasions, trolling celebrities for voicing their anxieties, or for naming their kids as they wish, demonstrating outrage against those very Pakistani artistes whom one adored and worshipped till the previous day and declaring everyone not agreeing with the status-quo as an anti-national, not fit to be called an Indian national.
The most disruptive action of the State was carried out with the most impunity, with blatant disregard to any established rules, laws or procedures, in a totally autocratic manner, the best part being that it was disguised and projected as the most virtuous act possible. Millions and billions were taken in by the false narrative, many not for long, when the charade started unravelling. However, the State continues to co-opt the 125 crore population of the nation in its most disruptive and autocratic act, and continues to project the demonetization exercise as an act for the people, with complete support of the people. The culture of impunity is so strong that even a cursory need to maintain at least a semblance of democracy is not felt.
Why is it that this culture of impunity has become so entrenched? Why are we the people allowing ourselves to be led down a path where a conscious attempt is being made to fabricate a false fear of the ‘other’? Why suddenly a culture that prided itself on being like a sponge, absorbing the best of all, co-existing peacefully with all, feels the need of creating binaries out of every situation? So Mughals, all of a sudden, become the hateful outsiders who ruined our civilization, Pakistani artistes become the nationals of an ‘enemy’ country, fit only to be condemned, all the tribal population of Bastar and their sympathizers become Maoist supporters, out to destroy the country from within, the Kashmiris, the eternal outsiders, become even more responsible for their own fate, by wanting to have normal lives for themselves and all of us who do-not agree with the status quo, become the anti-nationals, unworthy of being called Indians, fit to be abused, who should be eternally grateful for not being shorn off their citizenship and being allowed to continue to exist as equal (really?) citizens of this nation, as a proof of its utmost tolerant spirit. What is it that we are insecure of? Have we lost all faith in the values of humanity? Do we really believe all the world to be a horrifying place, so that we need to protect ourselves by delegitimizing and derecognizing the ‘other’, whosoever that ‘other’ might be? I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, but the culture of impunity must stop before it takes the form of a Frankenstein’s monster and engulfs all humanity in its throes.
Nivedita Dwivedi is pursuing my MA in Elementary Education from Tata Institute of Social Sciences