Ostrich Syndrome!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Democratic Space- What is that?

As if the Chhattisgarh government was not good enough to rain destruction on a soul like Dr Binayak Sen, we now have the Madhya Pradesh government arrest Mrs. Shamim Modi, a social activist and a law graduate working among the tribals in Betul district of the state. Geographically they seem to be different states with different issues; the fact that they are ruled by the same party is uncanny. What is even more interesting is the fact that both Dr Sen and Mrs Modi were involved in raising issues of the local people; their health, their employment and very importantly their environment.
In Algebra of Infinite Justice and throughout her other essays, Arundhati Roy has spoken of a democratic space. A breathing space within the plexus of a complex social order, to agitate and protest. In my opinion democratic space is an unwritten permission to think. A fundamental consideration and respect granted by a state to its subjects to raise a voice of dissent and disagree. It is this democratic space which forms the basis of a vibrant democracy. We Indians have witnessed a violation of this space time and now either as clamping of emergency, burning of books, boycotting movies or even building dams against local wishes. Violation on and off is a mistake but violation on a regular basis is a habit. This is even more dangerous when the infringement is by the perpetrators of democracy themselves. The ruling party in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh stands guilty of this crime. The BJP has a habit of intruding into the democratic space.
Most contraventions of this nature start as pin pricks to test a society. The experiment is completed with the implementation of harsher laws, more strict censorship and refusal to accept protest. India’s neighborhood has witnessed this all. What could be more glaring than the Talibanisation of Pakistan. The resurgence of Taliban in Pakistan started with minor issues. They were seen as saviours from a US backed regime setting in order its own personal agenda than caring for the welfare and will of the people. Today Taliban threatens to annihilate the state. And remember it was the Pakistani state machinery which silenced those who made the correct noises. People like Pervez Hodbouy and Asma Jhangir stand isolated and lonely.
Freedom to protest is an intrinsic check mechanism in any democratic system. It provides a measure of accountability to the system. Even history remains witness to the power of protest. Who can ignore the fall of the German wall to persistent and powerful protest. Writers, artists, social activists, intellectuals, government employees, anyone can be a medium for this voice of reason. Disputing the government policies need not necessarily mean sedition. Governments are after all meant for the welfare of their subjects. If subjects are unhappy with a policy, they should have the right and freedom to organize and agitate. Labeling this agitating cohort as traitors is a calculated move by those who are inclined to fail democracy itself.
The cases of Dr Binayak Sen and Mrs Shamim Modi are no different. They are a minority which knows the art and power of protest. They know how to expand the democratic space. They asked questions which had uncomfortable answers. They are the true guardians of democracy. By actively using the state machinery against them, the governments of Chattisgarh and MP have shown a blatant violation of a valid democratic right. The BJP as such has proved beyond any doubt its inability to handle issues without blurring the line between civilization and savagery. It is of utmost importance that we Indians should be able to read the game plan of an organisation hell bent on destroying the democratic credentials of this beautiful country. There is an urgent need to protest against this brutality of thought. A clear message has to go today so that our generations to come could breathe in an infinite democratic space.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dr. Binayak Sen Granted Bail

The Supremme Court on Monday (25th May, 2009) granted bail to Dr Binayak Sen after hearing which lasted for just one minute. With bail being granted to Dr Binayak Sen, there is a sense of victory amongst common Indians like me, for whom Dr Sen is a symbol of hope. He meant hope for the underprivileged and deprived masses of this great nation. It is a matter of national shame that it took more than two years for the judiciary to grant bail on a sham case manufactured by an administration bent or punishing Dr Sen for his crusade against ill health, poverty and ignorance. As a nation born out of a non violent freedom struggle, it is our dharma to see that people like Dr Binayak Sen should always be given the right place in history. His untiring efforts to provide medical care to the downtrodden people of Chattisgarh might not have gone well with the defunct state machinery but his hard work should be lauded wide and aloud within the four corners of India.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dr Binayak Sen

14th of May 2009 was not only the last day in the long process of the LS Elections, it was also the second anniversary of the incarceration of Dr Binayak Sen. Dr Sen who languishes in Raipur jail is ailing with a heart condition for which urgent medical help is required. Despite the efforts and pleas of a number of NGOs, social activists and even nobel laureates, the Chattisgarh government continues its unjustified detention of Dr Sen. What is more appalling is the fact that even charges have not been framed against Dr Sen in the course of two years and he has been denied bail on more than a single occasion.

This is what our executive and judiciary can offer as reward to a person who gave everything up to continue on his mission to serve the poor and the underpriviledged masses of this great country. It's a shame that Dr Sen languishes in jail even when murderers and thugs can fight elections and get bail to vote out a government during a confidence motion. Even more atrocious is the total neglect on part of the Indian media towards this case. Both the print and the electronic media have made sure that the case does not catch the imagination of the people of India. On enquiry from a TV reporter of some repute, I was told that they don't support Dr Sen's case as he has charges of sedition against him. How rediculous could that be! In the first place, charges of any nature and gravity are yet to be framed and proven against Dr Sen. Secondly, if charges of murder against Arushi Talwar's father (yet to be proven), charges of sedition against Sanjay Dutt, charges of murder against Pappu Yadav can find place in our media than surely Dr Sen's case can find some support and space. Anyway this is what we can all expect from a media controlled by the corporate world. We all are well aware of how much the corporate world loves Dr Sen and his mission! Although the national media has conciously avoided covering Dr Sen's case, a number of International journals in medicine and surgery have carried editorials and news items asking for his early release. The New England Journal of Medicine and British Medical Journal are worthy of note in this respect.

It is a national disgrace that a soul like Dr Binayak Sen still languishes in prison due to the shear high handedness and draconian policies of a democratically elected government. It is high time that we, the people of India, channalise all efforts in our means to secure the early release of Dr Sen. We all should realise that such imperious and autocratic means to silence the voice of sanity must meet stubborn resistance from all quarters. If we don't speak for Dr Sen today, no one will speak for us tomorrow.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

All in the Name of Democracy

All in the name of Democracy
The general elections in India are in their penultimate stages. In a week or so we will know for sure who will, or for that matter if anyone will, be forming the next government at the Centre. It’s important to know who comes to power but more important will be the scenes from this election campaign which will (and should) haunt us for times to come.
It all started with the election commission, the watch dog for democratic process in this country. It found itself in the middle of power strife, a contention not heard of in a democratic set up. Who was the real election commissioner? Who is more powerful? Which commissioner was loyal to which party? All, in the name of democracy.
The campaigning tone was set up by the vituperative narration of Varun Gandhi, the catch of 2009 Elections for the BJP. It was his hate speech which started the election campaign for the BJP and set the right mood within the ranks of the Sangh Parivar. The falling apart of the UPA with visible division of the “secular vote” in states like Bihar and UP was followed by the utter frustration on the part of likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav. In fact the Samajwadi Party chief was caught on camera actually assaulting an election official. What a good precedence for our young generation who is taught to believe in the democratic and non violent credentials of this country. Mayawati who at one time was poised to usher in an era of political freedom for the down trodden Dalits of this country was seen setting her own agenda. Her quest for the prime ministership was too strong than her commitment for the people which she probably represented the best. Although I feel that her claim to be the prime minister is as good as those of many.
Then there was a war of words between the Prime Minister and LK Advani on who is stronger (or rather weaker) than the other. Advani left no stone unturned in saying what he did against the chair of the Prime Minister. Man Mohan Singh had no option but to go on an all out offensive, putting on a facade which did not suite him. In fact it was distressing to see him speak as he did. It all unfolded nakedly and shamefully right in front of our eyes, in the name of democracy. The rhetoric of Narender Modi, scornful as ever, was the icing on the cake. His chauvinism for gender, caste, religion and region (and even toys!) was on full public display, in the name of democracy. Rahul and Sonia Gandhi travelled through the length and breadth of this country. They had Khandar and the December Parliament attacks to offer, besides promises which were no different from those made in 2004. The left was hobbling with the ghost of Nandigram; it’s a different issue that the police had to kill few more people to cleanse the place for fair and free elections, all in the name of democracy. In the name of democracy the veins of Indian social fabric were ripped apart and the nation left to bleed. The wounds given in the process were deep and painful. The nation was yet again made to mourn its dead and dying political morality.
The election campaign saw promises made, candidates killed, alliances broken, ally’s switch sides, left turning right and right going ultra right. All this, in the name of democracy. The real issues which bother millions of Indians were left grappling in the dark. No one talked of health, education and poverty. No one wanted to discuss development. There were no takers for issues like female feticide (female ratios in some states have dropped to 800:1000), women rights, farmer’s debt, child labor, crimes against Dalits, corruption, civil rights, ecologically disastrous projects, and so on and so forth. Issues, of which we have no dearth. Issues which could change the way people lived in India. Probably our politicians do not want to change the way our masses live. The mayhem was deafening and total. Not a sane voice was heard. In fact even humanitarian crises were addressed as they fetched votes (AIADMK and DMK did talk about the massacre of Tamilians in Sri Lanka).
Democracy is a philosophy which can be felt by those who cherish it. It is a political pluralism which gives space to breath. Democracies are meant for the betterment of their people. It’s a weapon of mass upliftment. As Indians we can’t be luckier enough to cherish a democratic set up nurtured through a unique freedom struggle. At the same time, as Indians we are unfortunate enough to mess with this dream. We made a tryst with destiny more than sixty years back. Today the dream lies shattered and unfulfilled. The custodians of our democracy have turned traitors of our fate. It is my firm belief that if things go wrong in a democratic set up, it is more difficult to set the house in order. Even harder than setting things right under a dictatorial regimen. Raping a democratic system is far easier than molesting a despot. It is high time that our politicians, the torch bearers of Indian democracy, wake up to the realities of this great land and its fantastic people. There is an urgent need to address the problems of the common Indian. To blur the boundaries of Bharat and India. To set examples for others to follow. To listen to the needs of those in pain. Pain from poverty, pain from hunger, pain from social ostracization. People of India await answers from those who are hell bent on fulfilling their own needs and agenda, all in the name of democracy.

Hope for Change

The events of last fortnight have saddened me, not as a Muslim but as an Indian. Varun Gandhi and his audacity of criticizing muslims have taken us all by surprise. It was always clear that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar would stoop to the lowest levels for polarizing the Indian society. After all this is a do or die election for LK Advani, the “iron man” of the party. But how fair were they in using Varun Gandhi, the great grandson of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in carrying this baton of hate?
Practicing in a prestigious medical Institute, it occasionally falls upon me to take care of the so called “politically connected” patients. A significant number of these patients came from Pilibhit, the constituency where Varun Gandhi wanted to chop off muslims hands. Like most other patients coming to a government medical hospital, these patients were poor and in dire need of help. Like most of the patients coming to the Institute, they had letters from their MP, in this case, Smt. Maneka Gandhi, the mother of Varun Gandhi. And above all, in this cohort of patients, a large number were muslims (with names that frighten Varun Gandhi). But is this all going to change post Varun’s rhetoric of hate? We can only wait and see.
Varun Gandhi has catapulted himself to an advantage position. There is not an iota of doubt in my mind that he will be easily winning the Pilibhit constituency with a huge margin (after all we know that Narendra Modi had no difficulty in retaining Gujarat post Godhra). But is this all that matters in politics? Are numbers important than individuals? Is abhorrence of a community the mantra for change? Well, we all can watch with hope.
As an Indian I earnestly hope for things to change. After all it was hope that changed America. It was hope that kept the likes of Mahatma Gandhi to flirt with the idea of freedom. It was hope that let Martin Luther King dream. It was hope that kept Nelson Mandela alive and it was hope which energized Varun’s great grandfather to build a secular and pluralistic India even when we were plagued by the scourge of partition. It’s time for the common Indian to hope. Hope for a change from politics of hate to politics of inclusiveness. Hope for a change from oratory of hate to a language of healing. Hope for a change from repugnance to esteem. Hope for a change from saffron to white, the color of peace.