| by A. K. Verma
( October 25, 2013, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) Questions are being raised about the validity of democracy in the Indian Republic. There is a widespread view that democracy in India is no longer by the people, of the people, for the people.
The leaders who brought democracy to India in 1947 were giants in conviction, commitment, ethics and morality. There were many of them. Their tribe lingered for many years after independence but their numbers kept on diminishing. Today that tribe has vanished completely. Search as one might, not a single individual can be found qualifying for the citizen’s unquestioning acceptance as the leader of the nation.
Responsible for this sad state is the continuous growth of unscrupulous politics, degeneration of instruments of democracy and emergence of new elite, reliant on power of money, muscle and mafia, to monopolize the rewards of democracy. Today, no sense of shame is felt in claiming that compulsions of coalition politics require principles of probity to be jettisoned.
Practice of democracy fundamentally requires that democratic norms will be upheld and observed in all interactions at the citizen’s level. But it is ironic that while the Constitution has been amended to introduce democracy at the Panchayat level with multilateral political support, real inner party democracy eludes many political entities and very little support has emerged to secure this end.
The result is that politics in the country is becoming more and more dynastic. In the present Lok Sabha all the elected members in the age bracket 25 to 30 years are closely related to serving politicians. 50% of those in the age bracket of 31 to 50 years are similarly blessed. The fear is that if the trend continues, the Lok Sabha will become the monopoly of a few families in the years ahead. This will be a reversal of history of India getting rid of its Zamindars, Taluqdars, Rajas and Maharajas.
How representative are our parliamentarians of the citizens in whose name they enter the Lok Sabha and participate in the governing process? Most get elected if they can secure 20 to 30% votes of the electorate. Some manage to get into Lok Sabha with 10% or lesser votes in their favour. Electorate indifference has in the past been responsible for the phenomenon. The Election Commission has been doing an admirable job in educating citizens why they must exercise their rights of voting. But such education cannot disband the vote banks which flourish on caste and other extraneous considerations and which remains prize catches at election times.
All this has had a baneful effect on the quality of people who manage to enter the Lok Sabha. It has not been possible to prevent entry of a large number of persons facing criminal charges. Electoral reforms which would remedy the situation are not seeing the light of the day because no one can be expected to approve legislation which will disqualify him or her from getting elected to the legislature.
The fundamental function of the legislature is to legislate, debate foreign and domestic policies and ensure transparent governance for the benefit of the citizen. Unfortunately the jury is out whether such functions are indeed being performed. One sees a paralysis in action in the legislatures on key issues and a slide towards a greater collapse. The TV is conveying to one and all the images of daily disorder in the august chambers. The citizen is left to wonder whether this is the way to promote his interests and safeguard his security. He fears that the country is being pushed towards a grim future.
As far as the citizen is concerned, he sees a can of worms, in the recent past, opening almost every day. His long term welfare is entwined with issues of education, growth of infrastructure, research and development and a proper evolution of regulatory systems. In each one of these fields the failure has been monumental. Poverty levels have not abated. Inflation is out of check. Right to education remains a promise unfulfilled. Inequalities are soaring. Corruption has moved on from the tactical level to strategic heights. According to information floating on the internet, there is almost no one at the ethereal heights untouched by the tar of corruption. Cynicism has grown to such extent that few seriously believe that there is a genuine will to fight the demon of corruption. At the same time one notes a popular desire to punish corruption. According to some psephologists, the change in the fortunes of some leading lights in the State Assembly elections was brought about by the changing perceptions of the electorate on the issues of corruption.
Appropriate laws and mechanisms are the crying need of the hour for controlling corruption. The mobilization under Anna Hazare was a measure of the popular disenchantment in the public mind. It will be a mistake to think that that mobilization has petered out. Anger in the people’s awareness on this issue is like a volcano which can burst out at some time or other, perhaps sooner than later. Public esteem for those presiding over the destiny of the nation has touched an all time low.
The thinking classes in the country are cognizant of these trends and in their think tanks, seminars and intellectual discussions have been shouting for reforms. There have been a plethora of events on Administrative, Electoral, Judicial, Intelligence and Police reforms but no meaningful action has been consummated in any of these sectors. The case of Police reforms is reflective of the mindset of the governing classes who are refusing to allow the mechanisms of police to be established on the principles of autonomy despite mandatory orders of the Supreme Court to do so. In plain words this is an illustration of how the political executive is ready to flout the dictum of the highest judiciary in the country in order to protect its own interests. Concomitant with this reality is the question: is the Supreme Court so helpless that it cannot ensure its deadlines? The Supreme Court may be keen to avoid a direct confrontation with the executive, and perhaps for good reasons. Right in our neighbourhood, a drama was enacted where a Prime Minister publicly refused to carry out the injunctions of his Supreme Court and announcing his readiness to face contempt proceedings.
The issues highlighted above have very wide amplitude. It will be no exaggeration to state that the problems of poor governance and corruption are part of a common mosaic which includes black money, stagnant or declining economy, and the nation’s security. Such an amalgam constitutes a threat not only to the individual citizen but also to the integrity, cohesiveness and unity of the entire nation. Under these circumstances the sovereignty of the citizen from whom is derived all the powers of the Constitution, just becomes a concept on paper. Now, according to some, the consequent denial of freedom of thought, expression and action to citizens, guaranteed under the Constitution, on account of the degeneration of the systems, legislative, executive and judicial, has been of an order that no cure can be expected from them. When the whole body has been affected by cancer, an attempt at remedying part by part will bring no solution.
One has again to go back to 1947 to understand that the seeds for such a harvest were planted then, though the intentions were honourable. The systems that were inherited from the British Raj in 1947 continue substantially in the same format and form. Those systems belonged to a different age and era, when the sovereign resided in Britain and the subject people in India. A new era dawned in 1947 when sovereignty was transferred to the subject people. The quality of governance was expected to change dramatically but this did not happen as the governing machinery remained colonial in temper and practice and the new governing classes allowed their idealism to be subverted by pursuit of power for self enrichment. The consequential effects were soon seen in all the three organs of governance, legislature, judiciary and executive. The legislatures have also become the playground for the rich as the wealth returns of candidates seeking elections to the legislatures in the recent past indicate. It is not, thus, surprising that the quest for economic justice remains a distant dream and the rich become richer but the poor poorer.
Today’s India requires basic reforms, not just structural reforms as well as a vision. Vested and greedy elements have to be eliminated. The whole society needs to be transformed, not just a small nucleus of people. Any roadmap, drawn to reach an envisaged destination, will remain unattainable, unless new paradigmatic norms are brought in existence.
A vision of India involves the setting of a goal, what India should be at the end of a specified period, say 20 years, and crafting a roadway for it. The starting point for developing a vision would be our present potential, not in an abstract sense, but how far we are actually matching it. Our vision can be built up only on the basis of the development of the marginalized sections of our people. At the heart of such development will be elements such as law and order, corruption free administration, social and economic justice, and fair treatment of weaker classes and so on. Such a vision requires expansion of fundamental rights of the citizen. He should have the right to recall his elected representatives and to demand referendum at the national, state, district and village levels. This is a vision of direct democracy. Such ideas should be an indivisible part of the democracy we should cherish for our country. Unfortunately, the present state of national politics, divisive, fractured and mutually distrustful, absolutely rules out acceptance of a comprehensive programme of reforms. National parties do not seek same answers.
So, what is the way to challenge these multiple problems of failure in the country and to create a new vision? Perhaps, time has come for India to think of a Second Republic. A holistic exercise seems called for because piecemeal remedies have not been found to be effective. The Constitution has been amended more than a hundred times but structural fault lines continue .The example of France may be kept in mind where Charles DeGaulle led France into the Fifth Republic to tackle problems which were defying solutions.
Methodology will have to be thought out also since altering the basic structures of the Constitution is presently forbidden. But the country appears to be in a mood for changes. Those who fall within the spectrum of demographic dividend i.e. the young, are likely to be the most favourably inclined as without substantives reforms their future can remain stuck in the dark doldrums of uncertainty and despair.
Who should take a lead in this exercise? Before that is answered the parameters need to be determined. One is that it should be entirely apolitical and non-communal. The second is that it should be all inclusive. The third is that it should be single pointed: individual agendas must fall within its rubric.
Success will depend on whether a national consensus can be achieved and a critical mass created through a coalition of urban and rural elites and populations. The urban elites will have to carry the burden of leading through seminars, lectures, talk shows, articles and books to raise the level of awareness. Organised action can generate mobilization from which an overall leader can emerge. Media and social networks like internet, face book and twitter can add depth and dimension. Opposition will come from those who desire status quo and no change. But perhaps, reforms cannot be stopped as their time has come.
The case of Police Administration:
In this context the issues involving the police administration can be further visited. The police constitute the fundamental edifice on which the power structure of the state is erected. If there is no police, anarchy will prevail.
Yet, why do people in India love to despise the police? The seeds of the mystery are buried in the deep history of the British Raj, so deep that the modern narrative on the subject hardly ever brings it under scrutiny.
The original culprit is the Police Act of 1861 which laid the foundations of the current police systems in the country. The Act was a creation to safeguard the Raj and its officialdom and not the interests of the people. The Act, among other measures, established the rural police to control crime and law and order in the villages of the country. The rural police who were expected to patrol the villages were not provided funds for transportation or food while on tour. They were expected to live off the ground. The practice grew into the ‘hafta’ habit, overlooked by the administration on one hand but treated as unwarranted imposition by the people at large.
1947 when India emerged as an independent nation saw no change in the Act or the practices it had spawned. The new executive infrastructure continued to exercise the same absolute control over the police through the mechanism of superintendence enshrined in the law. The systems were not altered to bring them in line with those in other democracies of the world that all preferred to give their police an autonomous status for it to function in an independent accountable fashion. Only autocratic or despotic dispensations like to keep their police structures under their thumb. For the Indian Police passage of India from colonialism to independence only amounted to change of masters. Instead of the earlier Raj agenda, the police were now constrained to support party and personal briefs. Whims and fancies of the ruling classes now defined what needed to be done or avoided. The interests of the Aam Admi were never the prime consideration of the powers that be. The Aam Admi in independent India also started believing that police was no friend of his.
The Indian Evidence Act added to the miseries of the police and enhanced the distrust which the society had for the police. This law stipulated that no confession made before a police official would on its own constitute valid evidence in a court of law irrespective of his rank. In other flourishing democracies of the world the word of a policeman has the same value in a law court as that of any other government functionary.
The constitution of the country also handicaps the operational objectives of the police. When it makes police a subject within the exclusive jurisdiction of the States, it automatically denies the Centre any rights to constructive deliberation on police issues. This has resulted in numerous problems since the police remain at the mercy of the state executive. The magnitude of the resultant harm is glaringly evident in the way terrorism and Maoism, arguably the most sinister threats to national security, are being handled in the country. No national policy to tackle them can be evolved. There is no national coordination. No effective single national instrument to deal with them holistically can be created. The menace is forever enlarging and advancing into new regions but the central or state rulers remain helpless to find effective remedies.
This results in a cognitive blackout in the minds of the people. They remain unaware that the resulting law and order problems or their sense of insecurity are not all because of police failures but because of a structure of laws and the vested interests of its beneficiaries that make such failures inevitable. Disgust against the police naturally soars
Such an unfortunate predicament of the police is well recognized since long by the well wishers of the police. Numerous commissions at the central and state levels after deep scrutiny of all the factors have suggested a slew of reforms to convert police into a people friendly effective, accountable and transparent institution. A committee under the eminent lawyer, Soli Sorabjee, drafted a new Police Act to replace the Act of 1861 but the state or central administrations have shown almost total indifference to the recommendations. Their attitude proclaims that let the people suffer or the police have a damaging image but they cannot let go of their powers of superintendence over the police as otherwise their freedom to use police any way they want will get curtailed.
Seeing no other way out some activists finally took the matter to the Supreme Court in 2006 through a PIL. In 2008 the Supreme Court gave mandatory directions which would make police autonomous in investigations, guarantee them at various levels a minimum tenure of posting and free the appointments of Director Generals of Police from the benumbing control of the executive heads of the governments. A mechanism was also provided to look exhaustively into complaints against the police. Sad to say the mandatory orders of the Supreme Court have not been implemented by any one and none has been held accountable. One wonders if the reluctance of the Supreme Court to move speedily into the matter reflects a cultural bias of the judiciary against actions against the political class where issues could be seen as infringing on the personal privileges of this class. Be that it may, this much remains certain, the infirmities of the police and its consequential impact on the sensitivities of the people will stay as they are, for long years to come if such a mindset continues.
The conflicts between political assertiveness over the police and simple needs of people for security and stability lead to many legal, moral and philosophical conundrums. The police under no circumstances should cross the red lines of law and human rights but the state fails to provide them with alternatives to operate effectively and decisively in Maoist affected environments without causing alienation among people.
The criminal justice systems of the country and societal fault lines worsen the police image, making policing a democratic society a thankless job. Rampant corruption among bureaucrats, politicians and judiciary has made crime a low risk and high profile business. The judicial system gives no joy to the people because of its bullock cart speed. Under trials constitute the majority population in jails. The police public ratio in India is about 113 per lakh of population when it should be around 232 -245 according to international standards. The police are simply unable to cope with its various burdens and its image plummets. In Delhi, three policemen are deployed to guard every VIP. For the rest of the citizens there is one for over 700.
The nature of the Indian society throws up constantly big challenges for the police. Its linguistic, ethnic and religious divisions often create confusing scenarios for the police. Local loyalties and prejudices make short work of the larger commitments which a citizen must be presumed to hold for his country. In the cross fire between narrow interests and abiding values the police turn out to be the ultimate losers.
A society gets the police it deserves. If the society will not rise to higher values, neither will the police. In UK the police are now a well loved institution. Police in India should be given the same pedestal that the judiciary enjoys. This can only happen if all the stake holders here do their bit. It is wrong to say that the police are failing the Govt. and the society. On the contrary it is the Govt. and the society that are failing the police.
Crimes Against Women:
Now let us look at a specific crime situation in the country one which has recently obsessed the minds of the people no end, rape. Governance here entails not only preventing rape through the mechanisms of the state but also educating people at large that the responsibility has to be shared. Is that happening holistically?
Among the crimes against women in India rape is the most heinous but rape is not necessarily an act of a deviant mind. More often it is a crime of opportunity, instigated by instinct. The intent behind the crime can be an amalgam of several thought streams.
Principally it is not about sex. The main motivation could be a drive to seek domination and power with ingredients of intimidation and violence interlaced. Instinct has a big role. It is important to understand this to determine how rapists should be punished.
Human beings, like members of other animal species, are born with four instincts, hunger, fear, aggression and libido. This is nature’s prescription of survival for the species. Instincts add up to a crime when social or legal norms and codes are violated. Seeking release of libido becomes rape when the boundaries are transgressed.
Among the four natural instincts mentioned above, libido is the strongest, believed to be a thousand times as strong as the other three. Thoughts about it are said to be constantly swirling in the mind. The Oscar winning Hollywood actor, Dustin Hoffman, was reported to have disclosed in an interview that he was thinking about sex every seven minutes. Most males have a similar experience. There was a revealing story about Swami Vivekanand who was once so plagued by it that he sat on a hot stove to eliminate it, scorching his underside.
Seers, are, thus, also not exempt from its searing intensity. Our mythology relates many anecdotes of holy men not able to control their libido and losing their discrimination.
Fulfillment of a sexual desire is a natural quest. It becomes a rape when sex becomes a mechanism for establishing power and domination. Punishment for rape should not therefore be just a deterrent against crimes of opportunity. The search for appropriate remedies should also scrutinize the sociological order which invests men with embedded power over women. It will be discovered such power is exercised wherever men interact with women, such as in families, work places, educational institutions and on the streets. The phenomenon receives support from religious doctrines, social customs and traditions and biological reality of men being of a stronger built than women.
The requirement for prevention then boils down to an emergence of an all pervasive empowerment of women, to prevent their abuse in all spheres and fields, not just creation of protection for them against assaults. Empowerment necessarily entails giving women gender equality in all manmade equations including legislatures and political parties.
And yet there is one area where gender equality cannot be practiced, the differences imposed by nature. Because of this, the female remains the quarry, the male the hunter. This stark reality needs to be recognized: its neglect creates problems. Feminists may feel outraged but the fact remains that certain decorum in dress and conduct reinforces the protective armour of the woman. It is not for nothing that advertisers of products insert the comely figure of a woman in their advertisements in print or electronic media. Their logic is that the figure will remain long in the minds of their viewers, reminding them of the product advertised, resulting in larger sales. The feminists should agitate against such exploitation of the female figure which creates a reaction akin to arousal. Legal steps in this context also need to be considered. Some do regard depiction of alluring female figures in advertisements as a version of soft pornography and hence reprehensible. Some corresponding taboos should also be placed on the film industry.
Some feminists may claim that women have a right to dress skimpily or make themselves look sexy. But all will agree that none should move on the streets entirely in the nude. The desire to look sexy should be tempered by the awareness that it could be mistaken for an invitation to sex. Just as excess alcohol blunts discrimination, projection of sex appeal through sexy appearance can play havoc in the minds of men. It is pertinent to recall the words of Paramhansa Ramkrishna that had Sharda Devi not bound herself rigidly with a moral code he might have slipped.
It should be noted that that strangers do not constitute the largest number of culprits assaulting women. According to the figures of the National Crime Record Bureau for 2011 as many as 94% of culprits come from known circles of the victims. Among these close family members including parents number 1.2%, other relatives 6.9% and neighbours 34.7%. Some offenders come from army or police who are out on patrol duty. Those having custody also sometimes victimize their female charges. Thus by and large women must learn to be not too trusting.
Human right activists are forever seeking to extend the frontiers of human rights. irrespective of the consideration how they impact on the citizens’ expectations on their security and stability. They also oppose capital punishment. But the stark truth is that experienced police officers all over the world disfavor abolition of death penalties just as they stand against the concept of diminished responsibility or against sentimental leniency of the judges. Their attitude is not an indication of either cruelty or vindictiveness: they are just being partisans for decency and order.
A combination of laws prescribing tough retribution with training in morals and ethics at every level of education and insistence on parental teaching would seem to be the best stratagem to counter natural animal instincts. To reinforce society’s concerns, the culprit needs to be portrayed as a public enemy. It follows that such persons should be debarred from standing for elections of any kind, and those already elected should stand ejected. This will be possible only if suitable laws are now enacted.
Thus, external agencies can not ensure absolute security for women. An equal responsibility if not more lies on the women themselves on an individual basis for ensuring their security and safety.
To conclude, better governance requires not only refashioning instruments of governance but also making cultural foundations firm, solid and secure. It is a tall order in which everyone has a participatory role with leaders of the society leading from the front.