Guns Versus Ideas
It is often claimed that dissent is an inherent part of any system if it truly democratic. This respect for dissent was the famous note of philosopher and one of the architects of French revolution Voltaire who said, “I may disagree with you but I will defend your right to disagree with me”.
The point was that political arguments must be countered with arguments and that there is no scope for violence in a truly democratic society. All issues are settled amicably with negotiations and those in the power structures gives opportunity to dissenters and try to reduce the differences with political viewpoints. In such a system, it means that in spite of differences then there will be a political decorum and we will not doubt the integrity of the people.
A political democracy would virtually fail if the societies are not democratized and will meet the same problems as the countries in South Asia including India. We embarked on political democracy on August 15th, 1947 and had our republican constitution on January 26th, 1950. Our Parliament was sovereign and constitution came into being only after a heavy discussion on each topic included in it.
Despite all their short comings, a majority of parliamentarians that time were by and large secular (not in a true humanist sense, but in typical Indian sense, that is secular while following their own religious values strictly). While the Constitution was new and every aspect of it was thoroughly debated in Parliament, the country inherited many laws developed by the colonial government and these laws still govern us.
The Forest Act, the Companies and Societies Act, Criminal Procedure Code, and many other codes were developed during the British Raj and now it is felt that these laws must be changed and tuned to Indian situations.
Many of these laws have been changed but one such law which needs a complete change is the Sedition law in India and it is being used to harass activists, writers, protesting groups. The most celebrated victim of this law is Dr Binayak Sen, who is vice president of People’s Union for Civil Liberties and based in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. He was charged with connection with Maoists.
Another PUCL activist in Uttar-Pradesh, Seema Azad, who is a journalist, too, was, along with her husband Vishwavijay, charged with sedition. The charges again are links with Maoists and keeping the Maoist literature.
Now, it is quite strange as to why we are afraid of a literature which is already available on the internet. Why does our government harass people of being ideological? Is democracy losing war ideologically and using laws to harass people according to their class and caste? Actually, India is a clear example of how our political class has used laws to suppress growing assertions and demands of the marginalized and minority communities.
I have not come across any writings of Binayak Sen or PUCL which are more threatening or hate-mongering than those of Bal Thackeray or Sadhwi Ritambhara. Thousands of people have been killed in violence and open instigation of violence by various offshoots of Sangh Parivar. In fact, most of the inquiry commission reports have openly charged them with various activities spreading hatred against particular communities but hardly do we see any action being taken against them.
The recent bomb blasts cases reveal role of the Hindutva outfits in terror and yet they are not treated as terrorists. The initial reaction of Maharashtra police to Pune’s recent blasts was that it was not a ‘terror’ attack. It seems the police had suspected the right wing Hindu element in it at the initial phase and hence did not want to name them.
Activists like us feel that we have a right to question the very authority of the state in deciding about the rights of the people; after all, there have been communities and people staying at various places for years and much before the current Indian state and constitution came into being.
It is not that we delegitimize the state because we all believe that it is our country and when we criticize the action of the state, it comes from the inner feeling that the state’s actions should be better and accountable. Our hearts cry for our people and that is why reactions come against state brutalities.
Interestingly, the biggest votaries of these terror laws are the rightwing Hindutva forces whose own track record related to violence and instigating hatred is well-known and documented. Unfortunately, our TV channels and newspapers have legitimized their actions and placed their crafty questions to Indian psyche. Therefore, in India, an upper-caste Hindu cannot be anti-national. It will be rare because he or she will get so much of sympathy and support.
The selectivity of Indian state is visible at every place. You can see that the victims of 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi are roaming free. The champions of Babri Mosque demolition have enjoyed power and in fact the biggest culprit presided over the Home Ministry and is still looking forward to become the prime minister of the country (the same guy who thought Jinnah was secular). Another culprit of violence against three thousand Muslims in Gujarat is getting certificate of the ‘best’ chief minister of India and he is also making desperate efforts for Delhi 2014.
The Muslims were killed in Gujarat. They were killed in the aftermath of Babri Mosque demolition and surprisingly they fill the jails under POTA and TADA laws. The media was trapped in its own definitions and hence used the framework which is suitable to the dominant class networks of India; now wonder most of the time these debates look farcical.
We know we cannot change the law as we will only change the level. TADA was dropped and we brought a more dangerous law, called POTA. And whether it is TADA or POTA, a huge majority of those arrested and humiliated were Muslims. This was a case when the so-called Sikh terrorism was on rise; back then, every Sikh was a terrorist.
Our laws easily get into that simplification and today all Adivasis who are asking questions and seeking recourse are termed as Maoists. The question is why our government is really afraid of Maoists? What can a handful of Maoists do? And if the government thinks that Maoist propaganda is more powerful than its own propaganda, then what is it doing to curb that? Is government machinery failed in these regions and, if yes, then why?
Anyone sympathizing with tribals is branded a Maoist and the media tends to pass judgment on a person’s right to speak and question the state. We never question any one whether he is a Hindutva-party member or not. You cannot kill ideologies through such brutality and defamation where media becomes a strong arm of the state’s propaganda machinery or right wing forces that pretend to provide opposition in parliament and assemblies, but sing similar notes on major issues related to minorities and marginalized.
Ironically, the government is ready to speak to those, who are with arms, as Mani Shankar Iyer says but feels more threatened from a writer or author who writes sympathetically on the Adivasi issue. In the entire debate on sedition, we actually ignore the vital issues of discrimination against minorities and marginalized. And that it is they who are the victims of these laws.
Sita Ram is a Dalit who was charged with Sedition for burning the effigy of Haryana Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda. What’s new in that? Why don’t we debate the entire issue of Bhagana and how the Jats have thrown away the villagers from that place? Don’t we know how the Haryana state has succumbed to the Jat fancies and Jats can do no wrong in Haryana?
The Indian state is notorious in such selectivity. Anna Hazare and his friends have been using the filthy language against all the institutions of Indian state. They condemned the political class, charged the Prime Minister of corruption, defaced the wall of prime minister’s house and even questioned the legitimacy of the parliament, but there was no action.
I believe in their right to do so because I sincerely feel that Indian people know more than Hazare and his group about India and they can decide about their future in a much better way. What one feels is why this kind of freedom is not available to those opposing the atrocities of communities like the Jats? I cannot move in Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh or even in zones of Uttarakhand with a Che Gueavara T-shirt.
My point is simple. Is Indian state that weak that it could be threatened with people who challenge its authority? Do the people in Kudankulam have a right to protest against Nuclear Power Plant or not? We all know it is important for the nation building but then why can’t these plants be placed in some other locations?
Why the people are not taken into confidence; maybe because the state of India does believe in threatening people and feels it can dislocate all the people at its own wish. Yes, it is these situations which are like “Karo Ya Maro” (Do or Die) for those who suffer. It may have no impact on us and we can shout slogans with Vande Mataram and Inquilab Zindabad but for those who have to be slaughtered at the altar of grand Indian ego of ‘powerful nation’ will always protest and ask for their legitimate rights.
Often it’s said that our army is fighting battle for us and hence we cannot belittle their efforts. Why can’t the Kashmiris say that our army is fighting battle for them? Why the people in Delhi have to say that?
There is no country without people. And if India is united, it is not because of its army but because of its people and their common will to live together. Therefore, the issues in Kashmir and elsewhere cannot be settled with heavy-handedness of the army and according to the prism of nationalism based in Delhi.
We will have to see nationalism in these small units too and whenever the two nationalisms contradict each other, there is crisis. The Hindu nationalism wants to dictate the terms and conditions to Aadivasi nationalism or Kashmiri nationalism, and hence the crises; of course, meaningful can be achieved through dialogues. You cannot bulldoze them with your army and power. At the end of the day, we have to go through the democratic process.
Sedition laws are like blasphemy laws which are being used to silent opponents in a selective way. We all know how blasphemy law is used against minorities in Pakistan and other Islamic countries. All the Indian laws in the name of ‘terrorism’ or Seditions have similar stories to narrate. Those who have blood of innocent people at their hands enjoy power, while the governments fail to provide justice to oppressed, and very unfortunately, it is the victims who are being victimized further in the name of national integration.
A society full of discrimination cannot be saved through such drastic laws. Indian state will have to make way for negotiations and bring the tribal people into mainstream. By branding each Adivasi as Maoist the government is serving its own purpose to intervene and hand over those natural resources to the big power corporations.
All such laws which humiliate people must go. The government has to improve its functioning and reach out to the people. The answer to internal insurgency is more democracy. The government must admit that our political democracy has betrayed to the most marginalized, and they feel isolated and alienated in it and unless they are part of it and are represented fairly in it, there will always be disconnect with the so-called mainstream India.
It is equally important to revisit the planning process of those areas where tribals live and how far have we been able to integrate them in our mainstream. Unless, we discuss these issues threadbare and comprehensively, no debate on Sedition laws or anti-terror laws would be completed. Just targeting people based on meeting someone or reading some book or magazine reeks of an absolutely jingoistic state that wants to control your ideas and dictate what you want to read.
Democracy is successful when there is a dissent and political opposition. Not every dissent is meant to weaken the democracy and the fact is that most human rights activists, those fighting for the rights of tribals and marginlised are doing so to strengthen the democracy and not to convert it into an oligarchy of caste-based elite of a few metropolitan cities of the country.
The country should be thankful to dissenters who despite being lesser in number dare to do so taking great risk of their lives and liberty. The state should respect that and in the greater interest of democratic polity, such draconian laws and their interpretation must immediately be withdrawn and a process of negotiations should start with all the stakeholders so that a just and permanent peace could be established in the region.
Let the multiple ideas flourish to strengthen the democracy so that there is no need for seditions and antidemocratic laws, which violate individual freedom and the right to freedom of expression.
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