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Democracy Besieged

By Ram Puniyani

22 November, 2006

There may be various parameters to judge the prevalence of democratic spirit in a country. One of them may be how well the minorities are doing, how safe they feel, how aligned they feel, how much at home they feel. Whatever was the answer to these questions couple of decades earlier, today it seems the answer to these questions is becoming more and more negative and the quantitative worsening of these parameters is leading to the qualitative transformation of social scene towards abysmal social scenario.

One has been hearing the aggressive propaganda that minorities are being appeased in this country for the vote bank politics. This was being 'successfully' injected to the societal consciousness despite Gopal Singh Commission, which portrayed the grim picture of the socio economic condition of the Muslim minority. Close to two decades later Rajinder Sachar Committee, on the basis of thorough inquiry has not only confirmed what Gopal Singh Commission found but also that trends are in the direction of further worsening of the socio-political indices of Muslim minorities. The data shows that Muslim community is at the bottom of economic indices, being worse than even the SCs, STs. They are worse off in education, and are far behind OBCs in employment. Their representation in judiciary, bureaucracy is very poor compared to their percentage in population, and more so in class I and II jobs, they are very low down in landholdings, and much worse in employment in private sector. The number of MLAs and MPs coming from this community has also been declining over a period of time. Of course there is one place where they are over-over represented and that's in prisons. One may add there is other data which tells us that their representation amongst the riot victims is also very heavy, more than 80% riot victims being Muslims and not to be left behind most of the POTA detainees also happen to be Muslims!

The biases against them abound in all spheres; the police machinery in particular is the biggest victim of these biases and prejudices. This becomes apparent in their role during the riots and after the riots. The latest in the series is of course the pattern of investigations followed by them. By now most of those in the police machinery have come to firmly believe, and this is the basis of their 'professional conduct', that Muslims are criminals. The propaganda emerging from some rumor manufacturing factory that 'all Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims' is not only becoming part of social common sense but also the core guiding principle of investigation authorities. This makes their complex job also very easy. Recently the investigation of Mumbai bomb blasts and later Malegaon blast investigation has seen the targeting of Muslims through and through. Right on day next of Mumbai blasts Muslim youth were detained in hordes, to be released only when a section of the community went on protest. But the pattern remains the same.

While someone from top leadership of police issued a formal appeal that they want to play a fair game and are open to listen to the innocents if approached. Some social workers of repute were also taken in by these formal appeals and narrated through newspaper columns as to how approaching police authorities is 'working' in getting the innocents released. What levels of democracy we have reached that police will nab the innocents for the crime not committed by them, than they will ring up the top police officials or the reputed social worker/s to get themselves released. What if the immediate havladar decides that you cannot use the mobile now, what if you are intimidated beyond your wits to be able to contact these worthies? The question remains how many from the community can have access to these socials workers, whatever be the levels of their accessibility. How many from community can contact the top leadership of the police which makes these claims? In the face of such massive goofs, which have been committed in such cases, mostly due to biased and prejudiced approach of authorities is there not a need for training the police in the lessons of pluralism removing their biases and prejudices if that be possible. Does a help line exist for an average person? Does not a need exist for creating an effective help line?

There are media reports telling us how innocents are being trapped in different ways during interrogation, what do we do for that? Do the people know their rights in the face of being apprehended by the Khaki uniforms? Is it not the responsibility of the state to let the people know their rights also when they are being booted and tortured to extract 'confessions from
them? Do we not need to have provisions that without the legal help to the one arrested the arresting authorities will not proceed with their various 'degree' methods of increasing levels of torture to force the accused speak what Khaki uniformed one's want to hear to make their job easy. Incidentally that also fits in to the scheme of their line of preformed opinions?

The system is so insular, and by now becoming so self righteous that the appeal from Prime Minister, not to target the particular community fell on deaf years of the hardened stiff collared khaki machinery. In Malegaon the limits of police bias are openly apparent. And being disgusted with that the local Muslim community had to resort to day long peaceful bandh to vent out their frustration and anguish. The partisanship of the investigation is crystal clear to those who have been following the incidents in Maharashtra. The Bajrang Dal, whose activists died while making bomb in Nanded, is totally protected by the other type of bias, 'affirmative bias' to be applied to some sections and political streams of society. The bomb shells and RDX which were found in Shanker Shelke shop in Ahmadnagar seems to be of no relevance and it does not give any clues to our professionals in uniforms. The sketch of the person who bought the cycle on which bombs were kept has been relegated to the background and the thesis that SIMI activists have done this to kill exclusive Muslim crowd near Bada Kabristan seems to be the central point of investigation as far as our agencies are concerned.

Is it that the sectarian ideology has already completed its task of ensuring that the half truths, half lies spread by it are the core operating principles of the large section of bureaucracy and police? The insecurity of other minority, the Christians, especially in Adivasi areas knows no bounds and through organizations like Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram the divisive and intimidating role is being carried to the full extent in remote places. The news of attacks on Christian nuns ad missionaries have become a matter of routine and no more has any 'news value' as per the parameters of our media. At social and cultural level the Freedom of Religion Bills in
various BJP ruled states are an open threat to the Christian missionaries working in the area of education and health in deep interiors. Madhya Pradesh government like other BJP governments has been manipulating the things at cultural level. It has been naming most of the social schemes in Hindu imageries, like water irrigation projects as Jalabhishek, marriage support to the poor as Kanyadan and so on. Gujarat as a Hindu Rashtra has already relegated the Muslims out into refugee camps away from the main areas. Is it a return of old untouchable ghettoes?

It seems the democratic ethos is under severe threat and the state of alienation of minorities is a pointer to that. It seems that even without being in power, the BJP-RSS agenda of Hindu Nation is already unfolding itself in a threatening manner in BJP ruled states and in a subtle and overt fashion in other states where BJP is not in power. In those states due to the communal attitude of some of those in power and the communalization of state apparatus, police and bureaucracy, the restrictions on liberal democratic spaces are mounting. Is it time for celebration in RSS headquarters or is there time still for it to be taken as a warning signal by those who wish to preserve and strengthen democracy. A lip service to minority welfare and security will not do. Those in leadership who are committed to the values of Liberty, Equality and Community (national) need to wake up and take stock of the all round intimidation and alienation of minorities. If Rajinder Sachar Committee report and Malegaon bandh does not wake them up, what will?


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