India: Promise of a republic yet to be realised

| by Bijo Francis

( January 26, 2013, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) Before the world, along with Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said as chief guest, and presided over by the President of India, Honourable Pranab Mukherjee, India will celebrate its Republic Day tomorrow.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) congratulates India and the people of this great nation on the 64th year of constituting a sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic republic that guarantees to all its citizen, justice, liberty, equality, dignity as individuals, and integrity as a nation. If not at any other occasion during the year, perhaps it is 26 January a most opportune moment, that the country's collective conscience could consider introspecting, as to how far the solemn promise made 64 years ago is realised in India today.

The concepts of res publica, rests on the actual realisation of justice, liberty, equality and dignity to the people, irrespective of their race, colour, religion, caste and region. They are critical to the integrity of the nation. The realities in India today are such, that the state has filed to guarantee these fundamentals to Indians.

Perhaps one of the most visible and recent iteration of the disagreement Indians entertain against their state, was the public protests after the gruesome rape case in Delhi. The responses about the incident, other than the public anger, were shocking illumination of the adverse gender bias within a remarkable section of the Indian society. Calls for gruesome punishments like capital punishment or summary trials in cases involving violence against women also showed the retarded sense of justice in the society. Worse still was the call by a considerable section of jurists at the national capital, refusing to defend the accused, and demanding that the accused summarily punished without trial. The rape itself and the failure of the police to properly intervene even after they arrived at the crime scene, showcases how unfit are the country's law enforcement agencies to respond to the call for duty.

While the Delhi rape case became the most recent visible reflection of the true self of the country, it is not a rare incident in India. Rapes happen throughout the country, and criminals go unpunished. It will continue. It might be true that on each such occasion there would not be a victim publically taken around in the national capital in an omnibus having no permit and sexually violated and her boy friend brutally assaulted when he tried to prevent the assault upon his girl friend. Sexual assault upon women, in irrespective of the fashion and circumstances it happen is violence of the crudest form nonetheless.

Brute violence committed by a citizen against another, cannot be considered an exception in the country, given the fact that state agencies carryout such violence across the country with impunity. Draconian legislations like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958; violence committed against the indigenous communities by state and non-state actors in what is otherwise known as heartland India; and the very fact that police stations across the country continue to be dungeons created by statute and maintained at the expense of taxpayers' money; are compelling reasons why it could be argued that violence in India is no exception. In so far as violence committed by the state and its respective agencies are left unpunished and enjoys near to absolute impunity is reason why private citizens often think no further before perpetuating similar violence against others, whom they think are weak. Use of brute violence against the weak by the powerful is a common trait that the state shares with criminals in the country. The opposition by the government to review the Armed Forces (Special powers) Act, 1958 even after state sponsored commissions recommending for such a review is an example to this.

Additionally the overarching failure of the country's justice apparatus for reasons way beyond their control like lack of adequate resources, facilities and training poses serious threats to the 64-year-old promise that nation has made to its people. In that, the Indian state has failed to be a res publica. It behaves like the feudal who thinks only of his welfare and that of his estate and thrashes anything that stands in way and uses dependencies at his sheer pleasure.

On the 64th year of constituting the Republic of India, the AHRC hopes that the people of India will pressure their government to deliver what the constitution has promised to them. The AHRC wishes to extend unconditional support to the people of India and to their government in making this inevitable change a reality, realised in material and spirit, as it is warranted in the sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic they have embraced 64 years ago on 26 January.

( The writer can be reached at )
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