Adolescent at 60 by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (JANUARY 25, 2010)

Our republic has covered a long way in its 60-year march of progress. Today, it is a strong, vibrant adolescent of 60 looking forward to a remarkable adulthood in the new decade, writes Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam.

At 60 human individuals start getting old, staring at retirement and slowdown in physical, mental and economic activity. Soon, they are pushed to the margins of life as “senior citizens”, who no longer have anything meaningful to contribute and have to make room for the next generation to take over. Happily, a republic’s life is longer, its lifecycle different. Our republic is 60 today, a strong, powerful pre-adult entity set to bloom into a global player within the decade. That is the good part, requiring celebration.

In fact, there are a whole lot of achievements to celebrate. For instance, a longer life expectancy (about 67 years), which is an addition of nearly two decades of life, largely due to better nutrition and health care.

Another major victory is sustained democracy in a world which still has a substantial number of countries where people’s participation in decision-making is negligible. Like in the United States or other mature Western democracies, the military is confined to barracks, away from levers of power and political authority. The military here knows its rightful position as paid government servant assigned to the defence of national borders, and some occasional work among civilians in emergencies. It never tries to become the people’s master by nudging away the elected authority.

Peaceful transfer of power and the right to dissent make India one of the most remarkable democracies. Respect for the right to dissent is not only a marker of democracy but also a marker of a mature civilization and a great society. Thank God, over the last 60 years, barring 18 months of the infamous Emergency, we have always enjoyed the right to say no to the most powerful in the land, including the Prime Minister. That is real democracy.

Democracy has matured in more ways: Now it is getting increasingly difficult for powerful classes in the villages to force Dalits and Muslims inside their homes and capture booths; there is greater transparency in bureaucratic transaction mainly because of the accountability enforced by the Right to Information (RTI) Act; greater vigilance and organised activism of NGOs makes it more difficult for bureaucrats and police officers to break law as easily as they did only a few years ago; politicians know today that they have to respect law as much as they can. That also is real democracy.

However, it remains a fact that so far not all corrupt politicians, bureaucrats are inside jails, although quite a few are there. Over the last decade the incidence atrocities against Dalits has remained quite high, even in Uttar Pradesh, where a Dalit CM has been in power professing allegiance to the Dalit cause.

Even at 60, the republic has been helpless in enforcing its will in crucial areas where national integrity and public good is at stake. For instance, we have the mobocracy of Maharashtra. In the 60s, the newly cartoonist-turned politician Bal Thackeray made life hell for Tamilians and Keralites. Non-Tamilian and non-Keralite Indians never bothered to check the violence and hooliganism of Shiv Sainiks against helpless fellow Indians.

In the mid-80s Thackeray had another avatar. He forget about South Indians and began tongue-lashing Muslims. By the time the watershed events of December 6, 1992 happened Thackeray had started badmouthing Muslim Indians on a daily basis and his Shiv Sainiks had participated in the widespread anti-Muslim killings that preceded December 6 events.

In any other country where democracy had matured and rule of law was firmly established Thackeray would have been in jail long enough not to be able to start the round of anti-Muslim hooliganism leading to December 6. He was so contemptuous of rule of law and the authority of the state that he openly declared before the media that his Shiv Sainiks had demolished the undefended mosque. This was certainly not the way the Indian state should have allowed itself to be humiliated by a gang of law-breakers. Meanwhile, the non-Muslim segment, which is 85 percent of the population, largely kept itself aloof allowing the crime to happen and than go unpunished.

That the culprits of December 6 are free to do as they will is not a matter of satisfaction for the Republic of India, or for any other republic caught in a similar situation. Just because the culprits were never penalised for their evil acts they went from one carnage to another. Mayhem against Muslims and Christians is still a frequently recurring phenomenon, tied neatly to electoral politics. Also, just because the mass murder of Muslims was condoned by the Indian state for decades, the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 was easy to be carried out. Out of hundreds of identified and unidentified killers those brought to book can be counted on the fingers of a single hand. Meanwhile, the criminals roam free enjoying power and prosperity. All this has not covered the republic with glory.

There could be a whole lot of judicial, legislative and administrative measures to establish rule of law in the country, but nothing worthwhile was done. For a more just and law-abiding future we have been pleading for judicial reforms, police reforms, legislation to establish an Equal Opportunity Commission, actionable laws against hate speech and hate crimes.

As Muslims we are also concerned about the falling representation of Muslims in Central and state legislatures, meagre presence in other bodies of decision-making and governance, hubs of power and influence.

Democracy would be meaningless until neglected sections of society are empowered through targeted education, economic aid, job quotas and other interventions. We had vainly been asking for better representation of Muslims in government commissions, committees, sub-committees and other niches of power through nomination and co-option. We have been asking for meaningful policing to prevent anti-Muslim violence by Hindutva hooligans and gangs like Shiv Sena, MNS, Sanathan Sanstha and Abhinav Bharat. Every plea has gone unheard, apparently.

Fair play and better participation of all classes of Indians are essential for a just and durable order. Hopefully, our republic will mature within the current decade to eliminate hunger, illiteracy and injustice. Let us all work towards that goal.

 

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