Friday, 6 March 2015

Elusive State, Restless Society

Elusive State, Restless Society

        Nirbhaya Rape, Dimapur Lynching and class contradiction in Indian society

Two events of this week- controversy over documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ based on Nirbhaya’s gang rape case, and the lynching of a rape accused in Nagaland by a mob of more than thousand people, has brought the issue of relation between the Indian state (here only I am concerned about the justice system) and a restless society (the restlessness was most visible in the crushing defeat of the Congress Party in 2014 Lok Sabha election) in public discourse. In Indian context it has something to do with the entrenched class bias in which we Indians have lived from time immemorial.

Societies have existed from centuries. However there are certain functions that must be performed if a society has to survive, and one of these functions is the ‘maintenance of law and order’. Earlier, before the arrival of modern state, societies had built certain institutions to maintain order, and it was the threat of feud, leading to extinction of the entire society that played the most important role in maintaining order. The modern state having ‘monopoly over the use of force’, whereas ‘non-state actors cannot take law into their hand’, is recent phenomenon in the history of mankind. In modern state-centric societies the state took up the role of punishing the accused, and providing justice to the victim. The reason this switch over from society-centric to state-centric justice system was, that many times the force used against the accused was disproportionate to the crime committed, and sometimes innocents were the victims of vigilantism.

This gave birth to the modern justice system and court. There are certain principles on which the modern justice system functions. Firstly, justice would be swift, since ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. Secondly, the victim would get justice and the culprit would be brought to book. Thirdly, an accused is innocent till he/she is proven guilty. In modern state-centric societies vigilantism is considered illegal and hallmark of a backward society.

First, I would discuss the way the justice system vis-à-vis rape has functioned in India. It won’t be totally incorrect to say that the justice system has not lived up to the ‘expectation’, of victim’s families, as well as for a section of people. This dissatisfaction from justice system has been growing in recent times, whereas people think that the justice system has been lenient towards the accused and cruel to the victim. The Nirbhaya case, which drew world-wide attention and outrage can be used to understand this process. Three years have passed since the heinous crime took place, but no one knows when the victim would get justice. The case is with the highest court of the land, but from the past one year nothing has happened. The rape accused are on the death row and living under acute ‘mental torture’.

What is the people’s perception about this particular case now? People suspect that after a year or two the death penalty would be confirmed by the highest court. But the confirmation will come only when a particular ‘time gap’ between the award of death penalty by the lower court, and its execution schedule has taken place. After that ‘someone’ would approach the court and the court would pronounce another verdict which would commute the death sentence to life-imprisonment. The logic would be that the culprit has been on death row from long time, and has already lived a life worse than death. The ‘enlightened people’ would cite European cases (very smartly not American case where death penalty is not only legal but is very much active in practice) to defend commutation of death penalty into life- imprisonment on the ground that the state has no right to kill anyone. Thereafter the death sentence would be commuted to life-imprisonment, and ultimately, sometimes in future, the accused would be on the basis of having ‘good behaviour’ during the prison years. Just see what happened to Surinder Koli, the perpetrator of Nithari rape cum murder of more than a dozen children from lower class. After he was awarded death penalty and had exhausted all options to save himself, suddenly Allahabad High Court commuted his death penalty into life imprisonment.

The second issue relates to the class bias in Indian society. Hierarchy is inbuilt principle of our social order and that is very much manifested in rape cases. Almost every victim of rape comes from the lower and lower middle classes. But the state and the judicial system is controlled by the upper classes (through Supreme Court) - judges, advocates, human right activists, academicians. This class has been totally insensitive to the culture, value and needs of the lower classes. For this upper class, publically championing the interests of the lower class is just a means to legitimise their higher position in society. To cite an example to make the issue clear. When it came to Teesta Setalvad, the top advocates ensured that she was saved from the custodial interrogation. The same law that has been invoked to ‘extract’ information from lower classes became blasphemous in Teesta case. The upper class considers the lower class not only totally different from them, but also less human who are born to be humiliated, killed and raped. This leads to travesty of justice. The Fundamental Right as enshrined in the Constitution (Article 14) about not only ‘equality before the law, but equal protection of the laws within the territory of India’ has remained sham.

This complex relation between a state controlled by the upper class and denial of the justice to the lower class has brought restlessness among the people, particularly those who have been the victim of this duel administration of law. For the lower classes how the judicial system functions is becoming mysterious, though we are supposed to be living in an era of right to information and transparency. Once people know that it is almost impossible to get justice, they are forced to take law into their hands. Only recently the women MPs, while raising concerns about the documentary India’s Daughter, demanded that if the judiciary is incapable in punishing the culprits, the culprits should be handed over to them. The killing of a rape under- trial by the mob in Nagaland is sad commentary on the way the upper class managed justice system and the state has functioned. History shows that men have rebelled only when a perception grows that the institutional arrangements that has been created to provide justice to them has failed. The sooner the upper class controlled state and judiciary take note of this fact the better it would be for the state as well as society. 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Aam Aadmi Party 2015: The Death of an ‘Idea’; The Birth of a Party

Aam Aadmi Party 2015: The death of an ‘idea’; the birth of a party
The AAP did not come into existence as part of any design, but was product of the time. More than a political party, the AAP was an ‘idea ‘whose main goal was to inject a new political culture in Indian political system, particularly in electoral democracy. The AAP was a platform for all those who wanted to work for a ‘clean’ politics. Those who believed in political morality, total revolution and saintly politics started associating with the party. Means received priority over the end (power). The main goal of the party was not to capture power, but to clean the political system. Even while remaining part of the mainstream electoral democracy; still doing things differently was the very basis of its existence. The founders wanted the AAP to be an ‘experiment’ which would have demonstration effects on other political parties. The India against Corruption (IAC) members who founded the AAP just wanted to prove that they not only preach (as was the case with the Anna movement and was criticized by the mainstream political parties), but can also practice a ‘clean’ politics. The strategy was to bring the ‘public’ into public policy and the method of AAP’s work was built upon a basic principle- ‘medium is message’, that is ‘what we preach, we practice’.

In 2013 when the AAP became a political reality, two types of issues were agitating the minds of people in Delhi- political corruption and price rise. The people of Delhi were looking for some political alternative to the existing Congress regime, but the BJP, the main opposition party to the Congress in Delhi was so weak that voters had no faith in the ability of the BJP to dethrone the Congress. Kejriwal went on to brinkmanship and many of his ‘unlawful’ acts were applauded by the people. The result of Delhi assembly election was astonishing and defied all political logic. There was worldwide acclaim of the AAP model of politics. A dozens of AAP’s copycats sprouted in the country. However the AAP remained in the movement mode even after it headed the government. Its forty-nine days tenure was known more for the controversy it generated than the works it did. One day Kejriwal declared that since his government was not able to get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed (that he claimed was the very ‘soul’ of the party’s existence) he was resigning.

AAP probably got carried away by the type of mandate it had received in Delhi. Kejriwal’s strategy to position himself as the main rival of Modi sent him to Varanasi to contest election against Modi. However looking Delhi election result as the microcosm of national politics did not pay off. The absolute majority the BJP and total rout of the Congress Party left no scope for any post-poll maneuverings in the Lok Sabha. Now AAP strategy was to anyhow remain relevant in Delhi. Before Delhi election the AAP was acting, whereas it was in control of its vision, agenda and mode of action. However after 2013 Delhi assembly election, the AAP was not acting but reacting to the emerging situation. As the end (to capture power) acquired precedence over the means, it led to manifold complications for the party. It even could not fight Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections, since with limited resources it was necessary for the party to ‘reclaim’ Delhi. Of course the party has got unprecedented mandate in Delhi, but it has also fielded 23 candidates with criminal background and an equal number of crorepatis. The idealism with which it had started is the thing of the past. Today, like other political parties, the winability of candidate has acquired priority, and the sole aim of the party is to capture power. A party formed to inject transparency in political system today remains highly non-transparent in its working. It criticized the high command culture of other political parties, but today the party revolves around whims and fancies of one person. Just to come to power it has promised all sorts of things to different segments of the society. Aam aadmi is just a voter and not a participant in the way the party is conducting itself. The classical Marxist doctrine that people are not capable of deciding about their destiny and must be guided by the enlightened agents has become the hallmark of the AAP. One more party has been added into the Indian political system. The party of ‘aam aadmi’ is dead.

‘Long live that Idea.’

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Riddles of Religious Conversion in India

The Riddles of Religious Conversion in India

The Article 25 of the Constitution of India guarantees the ‘freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion’, ‘subject to public order, morality and health and all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion’. While freedom of conscience and free profession and practice’ of one’s religion has remained non-controversial; it is the ‘freedom to propagate’ one’s religion, that has been a subject of controversy, because the line separating conversion through conscience and conversion through ‘force, allurement or fraud’ gets easily blurred. The question is why the issue of conversion has suddenly become tricky whereas not only domestic but even a foreign dignitary (the US President) was forced to speak out about it.

I try to understand the complexities inherent in this phenomena and why it won’t be easy to resolve it.
The conversion from Hindus/ tribes/ scheduled castes (while Hindu groups say that these groups are Hindus; others say that tribes and scheduled castes cannot be categorised as Hindus) to non-Hindus is going on, as Christianity and Islam allows people from other faith to become part of their religion. However in post-Independence India there is difference between conversion to Islam and Christianity. While conversion to Islam has been local phenomena whereas certain low caste Hindus convert to Islam due to ‘bad’ treatment, marriage or just due to sheer belief; the Christianity has a well-organised institutional structure to convert people into their fold. In the process the economic aid, service to humanity and conversion to Christianity get mixed up.

The Hinduism has a different story altogether, since one can become Hindu only by birth. Though ‘the Hindu method of absorption’, whereas indigenous and tribal groups have become part of the Hindu fold, has been going on from centuries; it is not organized one and the process is so slow that  it takes three to four generation to be accepted into the Hindu fold.

What is the implications of this dichotomy between a legal (constitutional) order that allows people to propagate their religion, and a social order, whereas while the Hindus cannot convert others to their religion, but Christian and Muslims can do the same?

While there are many reasons why the Hindu groups find themselves in disadvantageous position due to this dichotomous relation between the legal and social order; one of the immediate reasons seems to be the place of population in democracy. The minority community still does not support the BJP which is the preferred party of a section of fundamentalist Hindus. These Hindu groups believe that the rising population of Christian and Muslim will be detrimental to their idea of India. So in order to increase their number, now certain Hindu organizations have started advocating that one can also become Hindu, like one becomes Christian or Muslim, through conversion. Though this is against the long tradition of Hinduism, it has found takers among the Hindus religious heads and other organizations. The dilemma has been resolved by stating  that Hindu groups are not bringing anyone to Hindu fold, but just facilitating these people (Muslims and Christians) once again revert back to Hinduism. Their claim is that these people were Hindu and converted to other religion either due to fear (Islam) or favour (Christianity). The process of bringing these people into Hindu fold has become easier due to detachment of occupation from caste and floating urban population. Just imagine that if someone takes up a Hindu name after conversion he will get married among Hindus somewhere and no one is going to question him. The economic benefits that the Hindu SCs gets from the protective discrimination of the state policy has acted like an incentive to non-Hindus to adopt Hindu religion.

And here lies the predicament of the Christian missionaries and secular parties. The Muslims are not much affected by this process since they don’t have an organized institution to convert people (even if it exist it is not as strong as the Christianity) into their fold, and most of the conversion to Islam has taken place in distant past so Islamic ideology has become part of their conscience. Thus there is little chance for Muslims to convert to Hinduism. However the conversion to Christianity has been very recent one and there is very high level of probability that these groups would revert back to the Hindu fold. These newly converted Christians still have not been able to totally detach themselves from the previous faith.

The irony is that it is the Hindus groups that demand enactment of an anti-conversion law, and it is the Christians, who are at the receiving end, are vehemently opposed to any anti-conversion law. The reason is that the Christian organisations know that any anti-conversion law would stop the conversion of Hindus and other indigenous groups to Christianity. But the irony is that they don’t want the Hindu groups to indulge in the process of ‘re-conversion’ or ‘Ghar Wapsi. Earlier the dichotomy of legal and social order worked in the favour of Christians, but as the dichotomy is getting erased the Christians find themselves in disadvantageous position. 

And that’s why the issue would remain very tricky for some time.