Written by Kamakshi Anand, a grade 12 student.
What is a democracy? Abraham Lincoln called it a government “by the people, for the people and of the people”. What happens when the government stops being synonymous with people?
On March 28, 2021, the President of India gave assent to the proposed Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (a minor change or addition designed to improve a text, piece... More) Bill. This Bill declared that the expression “government”, with regard to Delhi, in any law made by the Legislative Assembly would henceforth mean the Lieutenant Governor. It greatly limited the powers of the elected state government of Delhi. My vote is no longer the source of power for the “government” in the National Capital Territory and this is a great disservice to me, a citizen of the world’s largest democracy. But this backhanded assault on the constitution laid down by our visionary forefathers is not a one-in-a-million case; this is a recurring pattern displayed by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
“Freedom is my birthright and I shall have it.” — Lokmanya Tilak
I read this quote in grade 7 in my history textbook and today, as I flip through the newspaper, I recognize its weight. I also recognize its absence. Freedom is my birthright, and I should have it, but until my countrymen don’t, I am not truly free.
Earlier in March 2021, India’s “free” status was changed to “partly free” according to an annual global report by US-based Freedom House, a non-profit organisation that conducts research on political freedom and human rights. Why?
The Bhakts will argue that this assessment is flawed, corrupt or part of a conspiracy against India. They will justify their support for the current government by providing instances of “economic and technological development,” but they remain blind to the decline of democracy in India under the pretence of growth. The only thing that seems to be growing in India at this time is its intolerance and the use of the phrase “internal matter”. This hypocrisy is not new to Indian diplomacy. It condemns the police brutality and racism in the USA, the dissolution of the multi-party government in Nepal, and the military operations in Balochistan. Yet, when the Canadian government shows similar disapproval of the Centre’s behaviour towards protesting farmers, India lashes out with bitter statements and Twitter storms. This behaviour is not new to India either. It has survived many governments but today, in an age where information is free, nothing stays hidden from the international community or scrutiny. The BJP cannot simply push matters under the rug, especially matters of human rights violations when the list has only lengthened, particularly since 2019. The Acche Din (good days)were never here to begin with, but the Bure Din (bad days) have certainly arrived.
Here are some instances that shed light on the existence of a partly free India.
The first major repression of the people’s right to freedom and liberty was seen during the government’s relentless crackdown on protesters at Shaheen Bagh against the Citizenship a minor change or addition designed to improve a text, piece... More Act (CAA), offering citizenship to illegal, non-Muslim immigrants from three neighbouring countries. Another evidence of the BJP’s repressive approach is its actions in Kashmir. The Public Safety Act is as ambiguous as the National Security Act of 1980. Hundreds of people have been imprisoned under this draconian Act, which permits detention without trial for up to two years. On June 2, 2020, the government introduced a new media policy, Media Policy 2020, that empowered the authorities to decide what is “fake news, plagiarism and unethical or anti-national activities”, and to take punitive action against media outlets, journalists, and editors. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act continues to grant security forces effective immunity from prosecution, even for grave human rights violations. Three people were killed by security forces in the Shopian district in July, 2020, allegedly because they were insurgents. Their relatives, who identified them from images of the killings that circulated on social media, said they were labourers.
Vague policies seem to be the BJP’s go-to response when asked to colour within the lines. The recent “Love-Jihad” law in Uttar Pradesh, which aims to ban forced corruption, is a powerful weapon in the hands of radical Hindutva agents and is just as vague as any BJP policy. The law does not define what qualifies as a “forced conversion” and seems to be targeting Hindu-Muslim marriages specifically. A family that disagrees with their son/daughter marrying a person of a different religion can simply lodge a complaint with the police resulting in the arrest of the persons to be wedded. The oxymoron that is “Love-Jihad” has been receiving wide-spread support from conservatives who continue to house stereotypical attitudes towards Muslims. The continued marginalisation of Muslims threatens India’s pledge to preserve secularism.
Perhaps, from PM Modi’s capturing speeches, one does not consider him an authoritarian Head of Government, but his exemplary public speaking skills do not excuse his less than democratic attitude towards the farmer’s protests. The farmers who have been peacefully protesting since November 2020 have been facing widespread criticism and the wrath of the police force on the national capital’s borders. Journalists covering the protests have been arrested, facing baseless criminal charges. Comedians have been put behind bars for jokes that they did not make. Civilians may be arrested for tweets. In India, words are no longer free.
With the death toll rising at an apocalyptic rate, perhaps PM Modi did not have the COVID crisis handled and India needs more than his Mann Ki Baat. His government chose to export vaccines over catering to domestic demand and now India faces a shortage. His unmasked election rallies in West Bengal’s recent elections were more important than dealing with the shortage of oxygen and hospital beds. His call to keep the Kumbh Mela “symbolic” was, unfortunately, a little too late, and 99% of the attendees have tested COVID positive. A man who refuses to answer to his country in times of crisis, who always denies any wrongdoing (evident in the 2002 riots in Gujarat), is a man who values his image more than the lives of the people he serves. Unemployment rates are higher than ever. The economy is suffering blow after blow. The administration, in its own time, will explain these numbers, but how will they make up for the loss of a mother, a sister, a brother, a father, a child? Blind nationalism and rhetoric will not do the trick this time.
“The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy, you vote first and take orders second; in a dictatorship, you don’t have to waste your time voting.” – Charles Bukowski
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