Democracy endangered

Published on: February 1, 2005
If you are a Muslim and Bengali is the language you speak, the Delhi police needs no further proof that you are an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant to be summarily deported

The rising tide of fundamentalist forces all over the world has contributed significantly to the erosion of democratic traditions in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘security’. Fear and paranoia are being instigated and manipulated to subdue societies into obedience and conformity. Cherished ideals of liberty and social and political equality are being undermined. We believe it to be the responsibility of citizens to resist the onslaught of reactionary and anti-democratic forces and to contribute what they can to preserve, protect, and strengthen democracy. The Citizen’s Campaign for Preserving Democracy is, hopefully, one of the many emergent initiatives in this direction within the Indian polity.

We have been working in different areas of concern: with political prisoners, for victims of communal atrocities, and against the oppression of minorities, women, and the so-called lower castes. Recently, we have tried to bring to public attention the propensity of the State to declare certain sections of society as outside the pale of citizenship. Our investigations over the last few months in Delhi, into the issue of the purported "Bangladeshi" have revealed that there has been extensive violation of the rule of law in this matter. Right from round-up and arrest, to the supposed ‘hearing’ and deportation, no lawful procedure is being followed by the authorities. The entire process contributes to and manifests the criminalisation and communalisation of the state and the corruption of its legal and judicial institutions.

It is not only the human rights of "illegal migrants" that is under threat at present. All marginalised groups, as well as large sections of the informal working class, are being pushed to the edges of society. Much of this is being done in the name of ‘protecting the environment’ or ‘beautifying the landscape’ or ‘preserving our heritage’. There is at work a systematic process to disenfranchise the poor so that they have no voice in democratic governance or decision making or constitute a part of the ‘political’ landscape any more. The Citizen’s Campaign for Preserving Democracy pledges itself to the struggle to preserve, protect, and strengthen India’s democratic traditions.

The political economy of migration

Human history is, in some senses, about the movement of people in search of making their own history. For centuries, people have moved from one place to the other. Driven by want, needs, aspirations, and dreams, they have overcome enormous odds posed by geography and climate to reach and inhabit the furthest comers of the planet. The world as we know it today owes a great deal to the creative energy unleashed by experiential learning, assimilation, and invention during the course of this movement. The last few centuries of modern and transnational development have witnessed how people have, either voluntarily or through coercion, broken old ties and relationships and tried to put down new roots. This has also been interpreted as a search for "freedom": freedom to move, to seek opportunity, to make one’s fortune.

On one hand, modem (or capitalist) development has given birth to the modem nation state, with its attendant ideologies of democracy and development, whose basic thrust is to homogenise markets and reproduce conditions for the free accumulation and expansion of capital. On the other hand, it has simultaneously moved to restrict the free movement of labour across the political boundaries of nation states. Thus, an entire edifice of legal and constitutional frameworks has been created, aimed at regulation, surveillance and disciplining of the movement of people across borders. This has created two separate, but closely linked, registers of legal and illegal mobility – both located within the fabric of democracy.

Over the past few decades, this process has intensified. As disparities of incomes and opportunities increase, many more people leave their traditional boundaries to seek better livelihoods. Whether it is IT professionals from South Asia seeking to enter the USA, or Turkish peasants searching for menial jobs in Europe, people are leaving their "homes" in ever-increasing numbers for whatever opportunities that exist elsewhere. However, this free movement of people is treated differentially by governments – some are welcomed; others are dealt with