Whither Democratic-Secular India?

70th anniversary of India's Independence Special: It is true that Indian democratic-secular polity has faced many issues and incidents of discrimination since Independence against Dalits, minorities, women, workers and marginalized sections of the country.
However, those who ruled kept declaring faith in a democratic-secular-egalitarian polity. But with a government ruled by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)/ Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coming to power under prime minister, Modi a fundamental change was quite visible. Now those ruling, openly declare their hostility to democracy, secularism and egalitarianism. The prime minister calls himself 'Hindu nationalist', the term which killers of Gandhiji also used for themselves. They do not hide their plan of imposing Manusmriti (Caste Order) as the new constitution of India. India seems to be embarking on the path Pakistan took 70 years back that devastated itself.
Is the present ruling clique on a path to undo a democratic-secular India?

We as Indians must be proud that our country remains the ONLY country to survive with its democratic-secular constitution out of the 30 counties which got freedom after the World War II. Of course, the 'only survivor' had to face immensely critical situations like the 1975-77 Emergency, sporadic yet consistent violence against minorities-Dalits and terror attacks.

One unfortunate aspect of our post-Independence governance has been that whenever country witnesses the large scale violence against minorities and Dalits, the search for perpetrators continues endlessly and criminals rarely punished. Major incidents of violence against minorities like Nellie massacre (1983), Sikh massacre (1984), Hashimpura custodial massacre of Muslim youth (1987), pre/post-Ayodhya mosque demolition violence against Muslims (1990-92), and Kandhmal cleansing of Christians (2008) are testimony to this reality. Gujarat carnage (2002) had a slightly different narrative.

The status of anti-Dalit violence is no different. The major incidents of persecution and massacre of Dalits; 1968 Kilvenmani massacre, 1997 Melavalavu massacre,2013 Marakkanam anti-Dalit violence, 2012 Dharmapuri anti-Dalit violence(all in Tamil Nadu), 1985 Karamchedu massacre,  1991 Tsundur massacre (all in AP), 1996 Bathani Tola Massacre, 1997 Laxmanpur Bathe massacre (all in Bihar), 1997 Ramabai killings, Mumbai, 2006 Khairlanji massacre, 2014 Javkheda Hatyakand, (all in Maharashtra),1999 Bant Singh killing, Punjab, 2000 Caste persecution in (Karnataka),  5 Dalits beaten/burnt to death for skinning a dead cow 2006, 2011 killings of Dalits in Mirchpur (all in Haryana),  2015 anti-Dalit violence in Dangawas (Rajasthan)are among the scores, or thousands of incidents of Dalit persecution. In almost all these cases perpetrators are yet to be identified, or prosecuted. Even if identified the prosecution rate has never exceeded 20%.

On the other hand, Dalit and minority perpetrators of violence are efficiently put on trial by constituting special investigation teams and punished by fast track courts. But when the victims are Dalits or minorities no such urgency is shown. In such cases the Indian State is fond of playing the game of ‘commission-commission’. Commissions after commissions would be constituted to see that the heinous crimes disappear from the public memory. The 1992-93 Bombay violence is interesting case study in this regard.

According to the Justice BN Shrikrishna Commission enquiry report for December 1992 violence against Muslims important leaders of Hindutva organizations were found responsible.They were not even called for questioning what to talk of penalizing. On the contrary for January 1993 violence many Muslim perpetrators of bomb blasts in Bombay were hanged. This is also true of 'Khalistani' violence. The 'Khalistanis' were hanged or killed, often in public on the roads; but for the 1984 massacre of Sikhs, the Indian State is yet to conclude its process of finding the real culprits. Hashimpura massacre where 42 Muslim youth in police custody were shot dead on the banks of a river by a PAC team all the culprits who were on bail were finally acquitted by the court in 2015. In almost all the anti-Dalit violence cases the culprits have been acquitted or released on bail despite murder charges against them.

It is interesting to note here that the first two convicts to be hanged after Independence were two peasant activists, G. Krishta Goud & J. Bhoomaiah. Moreover, 80% of those who are on the death row presently belong to the Dalit, minority and poorer sections of society.

All this has been happening when the ruling elite were normatively at least, committed to a democratic-secular polity and a Constitution based on the principles of egalitarianism. Despite this commitment we have been practising two systems of justice delivery, one for the religious majority/haves and another for Dalits/Minorities/poor. Any violence by the former was regarded as  a 'riot' and any by the latter as acts of 'terrorism'. However, this commitment in principle to a democratic-secular polity though often superficial and unstable did not let the sufferer lose heart in the system as judiciary and civil society often stood with the victims.

With the present RSS/BJP government in power, however, even this normative commitment to democracy & secularism seems to have dissipated. PM Modi when he was CM of Gujarat while talking to a journalist from Reuters on July 12, 2013 identified himself as a 'Hindu nationalist'. He also declared himself to be a RSS swayamsevak nurtured by Guru Golwalkar. It was first time in the history of Independent India that a constitutional functionary identified himself as a 'Hindu nationalist'. Shockingly, the term ‘Hindu Nationalist’ 'Muslim Nationalist' originated in a specific historical context both being committed to a two-nation theory (religion-based nationhood) and opposed to freedom struggle. Moreover, those who killed Gandhiji described themselves too as 'Hindu Nationalists'. Moreover, if Modi is 'Hindu Nationalist' then naturally there will also be Muslim/Sikh/Christian nationalist(s) also.
It is not only prime minister Modi who is a swayamsevak of the RSS most of his ministers, BJP chief ministers and Governors also fall in the same category. They are by training and ideological commitment, sworn to convert India into a Hindu rashtra (Hindu Nation) as the RSS’ English organ, the Organiser wrote, on the eve of Independence (August 14, 1947) when it rejected the whole concept of a composite nation (under the editorial title ‘Whither’): "In Hindusthan only the Hindus form the nation…the nation itself must be built up of Hindus, on Hindu traditions, culture, ideas and aspirations.”

When the Constituent Assembly of India finalised the Constitution of India, the RSS was far from happy. Four days after the Constitution was submitted to the Constituent Assembly (November 30, 1949), the Organiser, in an editorial complained and demanded the promulgation of Manusmriti as constitution as laws: "Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutionalpundits that means nothing”.

It is this mindset (based on discriminatory citizenship) that has today led India to a situation which we are witnessing aggressive mobilisation programmes like 'ghar wapsi', nationalism tests ('Bharat Mata ki Jai' sloganeering is being thrust down people’s throats regardless of the fact that RSS cadres never raised such a slogan when the British ruled) and ‘Gau Raksha’ ('cow protection politics' have today left both the religious minorities and Dalits at the mercy of vigilante gangs who run a parallel state and have been provided with police escorts.Attacks on Muslims who are mostly Dalits did not create ripples (Dadri, September 2014, Latehar, February 2016) but Dalits of India have shown that they are not Muslims and will not submit to their fate.

Today India is at the cross roads; whether to stick to a democratic-secular polity or embark on a journey to undo it.



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