A small news item in Pune’s Marathi newspaper, Sakal, profoundly disturbed me. The headline of the story, dated September 13, 2008 read: Censorship by the VHP: Curtain on children’s play before its performance,
The story reported that the children of Woodland Co-operative Society, Kothrud, Pune, had been rehearsing for four months, to present a play at their Ganesh festival celebrations. At the last minute, it was abruptly called off due to strong objections by the local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). About 50 children were to take part in this production, presenting the universal spiritual message of Jesus Christ. The previous year, the same children had presented the universal message of Saint Jnanadev, the Marathi poet-saint. The parents were persuaded by the police and the local municipal councilor to call off the production, lest it might cause local unrest.
Are we getting used to such extra-constitutional interventions in civil life by the many senas, brigades, dals and assorted pseudo-political goon outfits masquerading as moral policemen?
The VHP, Bajrang Dal, Sambhaji Brigade, Shiv Sena, Maharashtra Navanirman Sena and even smaller local ‘armies’ habitually take the law in their hands and yet, the police just placates them. In fact, it persuades citizens to succumb to their force and avoid a confrontation to help maintain peace and order. The destructive power and guerilla tactics of these ‘armies’ is not unknown to the government and the security agencies. People live in fear of them. Even the media is scared to inflame their wrath and now accepts invitations to televise their protests and agitations. Our democracy has rapidly slid from downhill to rock bottom.
For myopic political reasons, the state in
Recently, Raj Thackeray, self-appointed spokesperson for the ‘Marathi manoos’, challenged an Assistant Commissioner of the Mumbai Police to step down from his chair and go out to the streets of Mumbai to learn, ‘Mumbai ka baap kaun hai?’ The message was clear: ‘Only your uniform protects you from us. We own and rule Mumbai.’
This asserts that Raj Thackeray and the likes of him, whatever political or communal faction they belong to, are above the law of the land. Ordinary citizens have to suffer them because the government and the judiciary prefer to turn the other way when such self-styled protectors of ‘native culture’ tell them who’s boss.
In the 60 years since we proclaimed ourselves a republic, we have only fabricated a grand facade of democracy, whereas real democratic values have not yet taken root. Police codes and procedures remain virtually the same as they were during the British Raj when ordinary people were subjects, rather than citizens. The bureaucracy shows no inclination to be transparent and citizen-friendly. Politicians are sworn in to hold the Constitution supreme but do exactly otherwise. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening and helping to increase the number of frustrated lumpen youth willing to join a spectrum of senas, dals and other anti-constitutional activist ‘movements’. Violent demonstrations are the order of the day and citizens can do no more than read about them in the papers or watch them on television. The legitimization of violent disruption of civil order, and the glorification of its openly defiant leaders, are crimes committed by a passive government and an overenthusiastic media.
A proactive judiciary is only part of a possible answer. The real answer lies with citizens who allow themselves to be misled by communal and religious propaganda and appeals to uphold a narrow ‘pride’ of religion, native history and communal culture above the Republic of India and its broad, secular and democratic spirit.