Exactly seventy years ago, it was freedom at midnight for millions of Indians, as the country made her tryst with destiny and awoke to a new dawn! India has certainly made rapid strides in several fields these past years(thanks to our freedom fighters, the members of the Constituent Assembly and many others); however , if one looks back at various happenings in the country, one cannot help but conclude that as a nation, even at the ‘mature’ age of seventy, we still have to awake!
In recent weeks, we have witnessed several glaring examples of how corruption, communalism, casteism and criminalization of politics have seized the nation with a stranglehold .The elections to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, was a blatant act of corruption by the current political dispensation, to buy up MLAs from the opposition, at mind-boggling amounts; the son of the BJP chief of Haryana, literally thought that he could get away for stalking a girl, due to his political clout; Medha Patkar was arrested in the midst of her hunger strike on behalf of the oustees of the Narmada Dam; India’s new President and Vice-President are steeped in the ideology of the RSS; over sixty children in Uttar Pradesh, died due to lack of oxygen in a hospital. All this and more, as efforts are made to plunge the country into abysmal depths.
On August 9th, the 75th anniversary of the ‘Quit India Movement’ brought to mind the selfless sacrifices of Mahatma Gandhi and the other freedom fighters who ultimately ensured that India won her freedom in 1947. It is a historical fact, that the Hindu Mahasabha ,the RSS and their ilk refused to take part in the freedom struggle; very ironically, it is they who today control the destinies of the country, they wax eloquent about the freedom struggle and since untruth is their forte ,they even take “credit” for it, which in actuality, they deeply resented!
The Constituent Assembly, in November 1949, gave to the country a path-breaking and sacrosanct Constitution. Enshrined in the Preamble are the core values of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity whilst simultaneously guaranteeing the sovereignty, the secular and socialist nature of the country. Thanks to the visionary leadership of Dr. B. Ambedkar, this was ‘the idea of India’: which like a beautiful tapestry would preserve, protect and promote pluralism and respect the rights and freedom of every citizen
The country today is a far cry from what is envisaged in the Constitution. The rulers today seem to have no qualms of conscience in destroying democratic values. The situation of India’s minorities for one, is going from bad to worse daily; in the last few months a Christian Pastor was shot dead in Punjab, a Muslim family was brutally attacked in a train in UP, sacred Christian objects and cemeteries were vandalized in Goa, young Muslims were lynched for allegedly carrying or eating beef; just last week, the Government of Jharkhand issued a full-page advertisement (with public money) in some of the national dailies denigrating the Christians. The list is endless; the minorities in India have never had it so bad!
Since May 2014, there has been a consistent negation of Article 25 of the Constitution, which guarantees to every Indian the “freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.” One needs to revisit Narendra Modi’s election campaign in the run-up to the 2002 election in Gujarat and particularly his promise to bring in an anti-conversion law once they assumed power. True to his word, on March 26, 2003 (and without any opposition) under his mantle, the ‘Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2003’ was passed and five years later in 2008, the rules necessary to govern the implementation of the law, were introduced. It is one of the most draconian laws of the country, which necessitate that anyone seeking to change his or her religion must first seek the permission of the District Magistrate. The Constitutional validity of this law was challenged in 2009 in the High Court of Gujarat and a judgement is still awaited.
The country is aware that the ideology of the RSS has never been in sync with the Constitution of India. There have been threats to repeal Article 370, a promise in the BJP manifesto and even a pronouncement from the PMO. On July 24th 2014, speaking on the floor of the Assembly in Goa former Minister Deepak Dhavlikar stated “I am confident that under the leadership of Modiji, India will develop into a Hindu nation. Prime Minister will work in this regard is what I feel”. When the BJP have the required numbers in both Houses of Parliament, they will certainly tamper with the Constitution of India or even perhaps change it drastically.
Education is gradually becoming a major casualty. There are several indicators, which point to this. These include: in some BJP-ruled states, Sikhs, Christians and other minorities are denigrated in school text books published by the Government; there are attempts to introduce text books by Hindutva hardliners; to make yoga and the singing of ‘vande mataram’compulsory in schools; to ‘sanskritise’ the curriculum The Government interference in prestigious institutions of higher learning like the JNU, Jamia and Nalanda lend weightage to the talk that the Government would ultimately want to nationalise education.
Freedom of speech and expression has all but disappeared in the country. Most media houses are corporatized and have to toe the line of the establishment. Any real issue in a BJP- ruled state like official corruption, scams, scandals are easily swept under the carpet; whereas relatively minor issues in non-BJP ruled states hog the headlines! Anybody who thinks, speaks and acts differently is bound to be hounded, harassed and victimised. False cases are foisted on them; raids by vindictive Government agencies make life difficult for those who have the courage to stand up and speak out!
On August 10th, the last day of his decade-long tenure as the Vice-President of India and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Dr. Hamid Ansari (a distinguished statesman and scholar)in his farewell speech, stressed that the Rajya Sabha was the creation of the Constitution that portrays Indian diversity; quoting former Vice-President S. Radhakrishnan he said, “a democracy is likely to degenerate into a tyranny if it does not allow the opposition groups to criticise fairly, freely and frankly the policies of the government.”
Significant words today! India at seventy is like a sleeping giant, which needs to awake NOW! We, the people of India, need to act fast to ensure that country gets back on the right tracks and also pray in the words of our Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore from his ‘Gitanjali’:
“Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by Thee
into ever-widening thought and action —
Into that heaven of freedom,
my Father, let my country awake”.
August 14th 2017
(Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist and is currently based in Lebanon and engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service(JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. Contact: email@example.com