Friday, May 24, 2024

Indian constitution: A fading dream

One wonders if this is what dystopia feels like. When you begin to lose your sense of normalcy and memories of happier times keep becoming distant. A painful realisation that the direction that we have taken as a country is going to result in a civil war-like situation as a result of the biased media houses, the non-interfering judiciary and above all the inexplicable enthusiasm of the masses that cheer on as houses are demolished and innocent people are beaten. It is their unfaltering devotion that has in fact acted as a catalyst in our collective doom. 

It feels like a dark age has commenced as incidents that ought to have given us sleepless nights now barely make us bat an eyelid. It’s all the new “normal”. The extent to which we are ready to normalize cruelty for the sake of not wanting to disturb our convenient lives and our luxury routines is appalling. It is a disservice not only to those who are the victims of the system but, as we will see in time, to ourselves as well. 

So deeply ingrained is the prejudice that drives the masses that we stop being humans. Stories of children seeing their parents being burnt alive in front of them during the North-East Delhi pogrom are also not enough to muster any kind of basic sympathy. They are being shown their place, is the justification shamelessly given by many. Then there is the other defense of whatabouttery. Delhi pogrom is justified because of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. The fact of the matter is that the justifications given are secondary considerations that hold no relevance and are of a variable nature. It is prejudice that is concrete and unchangeable. 

In this background, a few facts need to be stated, as painfully obvious as they may sound to a reasonable person. 

  1. A person is presumed to be innocent till found guilty by a Court of Law;
  2. Demolition is not a punishment recognized for participating in protests or even riots by any statute;
  3. As per the procedure laid down by Municipal Acts across the nation demolition can only be carried out after following due process;
  4. The Government and all public authorities of this country, as they stand today, have to necessarily be of a secular spirit which is to say that they must treat all religious communities equally and must also be seen to be doing so;
  5. Police officers cannot physically abuse persons in custody under any law, any such action by the Police is illegal.

Despite the aforementioned fairly general principles that ought to be part of a layman’s sphere of knowledge it is seen time and again that not only are they conveniently forgotten but are deliberately given a complete go-by. 

Recently, a complete lack of religious sensitivity, tolerance and responsibility was displayed by the BJP Spokesperson Nupur Sharma when she spoke ill of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). What could have been nipped in the bud by a timely response from the BJP Government was allowed to escalate, the Government at no point in time felt that it was necessary to criticize the hate speech given by the said Speaker and assure the Muslims whose sentiments had been hurt that the Government in no way supported this blasphemy. 

Several days passed and nothing was done and this paved the way for the eruption of violence and clashes in Kanpur over a call to shut down markets in protest against the said speaker’s comments.

Finally, it took international criticism and diplomatic censure by several Gulf countries for the Government to perform its duty as a guardian of the citizens and the Constitution. However even in doing so the true spirit of secularism was conspicuous by its absence. As citizens, we are still grappling with the national shame that this blunder brought about.

In the meanwhile, authorities started arresting and lodging FIRs against the persons for their alleged involvement in the Kanpur clashes. Ground reports from Kanpur also suggest the exercise of identification of houses of accused being carried out by the authorities so as to demolish the same.

Demolition of houses is not a punishment that has been laid down for any of the offences covered under the IPC, Gangster Act, Goonda Act, NSA or UAPA. Yet the ADG (Law & Order) Prashant Kumar said that the houses of the persons involved in the Kanpur riots will be demolished. A similar punishment was bestowed on the persons accused of clashes earlier in Khargone, MP and Jahangirpuri, Delhi.  

A crucial detail to be noted is that the authorities went ahead with this illegal punishment without allowing any hearing or trial. One may choose to look the other way or call it a coincidence but the fact of the matter is that a majority of the victims of these illegal demolitions were Muslims. 

The unfortunate fact that precious little was done by authorities of various states when calls of the genocide against Muslims were made time and again by several persons while Umar Khalid has spent more than 2 years in jail for a speech that, to say the least, did not call for genocide, again shows the lack of an impartial attitude by the State and its authorities.

Not long ago we witnessed educational institutions in Karnataka shutting their gates to Muslim students who were wearing a hijab. The argument taken here was that the same was being done to bring about and maintain uniformity amongst the students. Wonder if the wearing of kalayas and tikkas by Police personnel or even students ever raises any alarms so far as maintenance of “uniformity” goes.

Another event is the unnecessary clamour around the Gyanvapi Mosque title suit despite there being a clear law prohibiting this very determination. Our country has always had seeds of disruption waiting to be watered. It was only in view of these tendencies that the Legislature in its wisdom enacted the Places of Worship Act, 1991 specifically “to prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947…

It must be remembered that an Act or a Statute is much more than a simple law. It is, in a Welfare State, the best possible course, taken in good faith, by the Government to protect and promote the Constitutional values that form the foundation of this country. This is why the presumption of constitutionality lies in favour of all statutes. 

As citizens of a secular country, we are dutybound to embrace the spirit of religious tolerance and acceptance. The keepers of the law, however, are dutybound not only to treat all religions equally and impartially but to also be seen to be doing so in order to ensure that the people, especially minorities, do not lose faith in the system.

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