Recently, India celebrated Republic Day, marking the constitutional foundation of an emerging country. The solemn promise behind the country was that India will be a nation of laws with equality for every Indian citizen, irrespective of their caste, creed or religion. However, today the Republic has instead created a different scenario where the very same laws are not the same for every one and the promises made during the independence struggle have not been realised.
The rape of a young woman in Delhi recently led to wide spread protests and national concern, instigated mostly by the young middle classes of India. That event brought to the fore the emerging fear of insecurity and the ever-widening gaps in the country. The high powered commission formed in the wake of the outcry was most notable in its report to suggest that wide-spread accusations of sexual assault by Indian security forces during times of conflict should be dealt with promptly under civilian jurisdictions. Previously, draconian laws have provided immunity to the security forces in times of conflict, in Kashmir, the North-East and our own Punjab, security forces who in the name of law destroyed the basic fabric of dignity by violating women in these places. This inequality of treatment can be seen across the country in a number of ways.
The reservation system was introduced in India to ensure a certain quota of positions and admission was kept aside for the most downtrodden of people. However, the condition of some of these people such as the Hindu lower-caste Dalits and Adavasis has not improved. Statistics suggest that every day four Dalit or Adavasi women are raped whilst eleven are badly beaten up; every week thirteen are killed whilst five or so of their homes are set on fire; and at least six are kidnapped. The reason behind the emergence of the recent Maoist movement can be attributed to these happenings.
Recently the people from coastal areas of Southern India have been rallying against the opening of a nuclear plant as some are being forcibly displaced from their land in the name of development and secondly because they fear that proper functioning and safety concerns are not being addressed. Rather than address the concerns of the people in whose name they govern, hundreds of activists are being detained and harsh laws are being applied to them.
Across the country, social, political and environmental activists belonging to all different backgrounds are being charged with serious offences for simply demanding that their concerns be responded to. In May of last year, newspapers reported that three women from the city of Mangalore stopped the District Commissioner to ask why he had not inspected a site where alleged violations of coastal regulations were being perpetrated. Instead of being heard, all three were detained and then charged with unlawful assembly, rioting and assault. In every region of India is a similar story.
Here in Punjab, the arrest last year of an elected SGPC member and a political dissident are just the latest in a long line of those who have been silenced through the casual use of fabricated charge sheets; laws have long been used here as tools to harass, intimidate or silence those whose aim is to bring Government closer to the common man.
All too often in India, fabricated laws of terror or sedition are a smokescreen for extra-judicial killings, as happened in Punjab with the Sikhs in the not too distant past. These were ways to curb dissent and to quieten those asking for democratic freedom – a question whose answers when asked for are met with silence in the name of national integrity.
In the case of the Sikhs, the freedom won from the British after a prolonged struggle to liberate holy Gurdware resulted in a slow malaise as we are now mired in shameless voting to elect custodians who handle enormous budgets. The fight for control of the Delhi body in charge of Gurdware there is a good example of this. Both main parties, be it Punjab’s ruling party who claim to be the sole voice of the Sikhs and the other group from Delhi backed by the ruling party of India, have one goal: to attain seva of the Gurdware using every corrupt means.
Despite long years of independence, the population at large is still baffled, be it in Punjab, Manipur or Kashmir – not everyone is equal before the law. As long as this type of activity from state continues, the less common people will not be able to claim that they live in a true democracy; and the longer people remain silent and part of this system, we will be denied our basic right of equality.