Published On:Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian
| by Bijo Francis
Cartoon by Satish Acharya
( August 21, 2012, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) Over the past week, thousands of people hurriedly returned to their homes in the northeastern states, fearing for their safety in the rest of the country. The numbers of those fleeing was so high that Indian Railways had to run special trains to meet the sudden upsurge in passenger traffic. To a certain degree, the mass departure continues even today. That the numbers fleeing has gone down is only because most have left already. The administration was slow in responding to the event, but soon caught up with the reality of the flight in fright. Political leaders and the administration tried to assure fleeing persons with statements declaiming the rumours. However, the fact is, none were willing to believe these assurances.
The government has now blamed Pakistan for spreading rumours that caused the panic. It has banned a list of websites and domains alleged to have posted false propaganda, which fuelled the exodus. Indeed, given the state of affairs in Pakistan, where the Pakistani government has minimal control over its military apparatus and is over-run by extremist elements it is possible that the allegations about the origin of the messages are true.
However, blaming Pakistan for the exodus would not absolve India from the realities that the people in India have learned to live with. By comparison, if past experiences are of any meaning, returning home was an option to the people from the northeast. This was not so for so many victims of violence in the past that perished in the very homes where they were born.
There is not a single political party in the country that has not capitalised upon sectarian and religious divisions for immediate political gains. All of them, including those in the northeastern states, without exception, have, in the past, fuelled sectarian violence in some of the most abominable forms. And, there is no guarantee they will not do the same in the future. None of the political instigators have ever been punished for such deeds. In fact, many have risen to power through planning, fuelling, and executing communal violence, in villages, districts and states. Even the national capital was not spared. The 1984 riots against the Sikhs, engineered by politicians and henchmen of the party presently in power at the centre, was a brutal pogrom.
What is illustrated in the past week's event is the alarming reality of clear-cut sectarian and ethnic fault lines from which India has yet to recover. The event is iteration of the fact that the people trust neither their government, nor the law enforcement agencies. Past incidents of violence committed against Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Hindus; in Gujarat, New Delhi, Orissa and Kashmir only underlines this fact. In all these incidents, the law enforcement agencies, and subsequently the justice and political apparatus in the country, have connived with criminals, reminding those who survived the violence that justice is impossible and that there will be no remorse. Thus far demanding or offering resignation from office is accountability at its best in India.
The government that has blamed and now banned selected internet services, accusing them for precipitating fear will have a moral and legal dilemma for not acting against similar elements in India. Bal Keshav Thackeray and his clan, having a stronghold in the financial capital of India, is not an isolated gang of provocateurs in pursuit of sectarian violence and hatred in India. If legal standards and responsibilities are the same in each case, and if the country's justice apparatus is equipped, and is allowed to apply these standards in each occasion, most politicians who pretend to be national leaders in the country, would be in prison today. That it has not happened so far, and perhaps will never happen, is the root cause of the exodus that the country is witnessing now. It will happen again. All that is required is a similar catalyst.
Any community left with the only option of identifying first a Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, or a Meitei, Naga, Malayalee, Tamilian or Kashmiri, lives a life of insecurity. The plurality that India claims exists within its fabric is in fact a fiction. No government has tried addressing this. Each has only tried deepening it. To address this divide, what is required is a strong national policy on justice reforms, since justice speaks only one language, that of equality. Unfortunately this has been the last priority for all governments in India so far. Instead attempt is to legislate new laws like the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparation) Bill, 2011 that lacked clarity in objectivity, purpose and public consultation.
As a substitute of addressing the root problem, prohibiting access to web content and blaming the neighbour for ones own misfortune only reiterates the reality of retardation in Indian political thinking. That the media has refused to look into this factor, and are regurgitating the government's blame game, in fact, speaks about its intellectual wilt.
Exodus in essence is fleeing for survival. Irrespective of the cause, the country witnesses it each year during the change of seasons. Legally there is no difference between the conditions, that force internal migration of an estimated one million people each year who leave their villages to work and perish in the cities and brick kilns, feeding the rampaging hunger of construction companies that define the skylines of India's new urban landscapes, and that of those who flee work places fearing communal violence. Government policies that result in the destruction of livelihood options in thousands of villages, corporate entities that connive with governments in the process, and the absolute lack of consultation with the people on policies and implementation when livelihoods are destroyed, are crimes of equal gravity.
Central to the issue is the unwillingness of the government and a large section of citizens to recognise that, at its core, the concept of a nation-state is that of an entity based on cooperation, i.e. an agreement between the state and its people to form a nation, on the guarantee that the state will spare no resources to protect basic freedoms of the people, irrespective of their race, region, religion, language and class. This guarantee is the best assurance, which nurtures unity, speaking the universal language of justice based on equality. It is this guarantee that the Indian state is yet to fulfil for its people, who have forgotten or failed to realise the initial act of cooperation that gave birth to their nation-state, and who don’t truly understand the price of their daily submission amidst petty squabbling, which legitimises inefficient and corrupt misrule.
Bijo Francis, is a human rights lawyer with the Asian Human Rights Commission, where this piece originally appeared. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org