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-Rajeev Kumar (Editor-in-chief)

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

What lies beneath (The Telegraph)

Bhaswati Chakravorty 

There is a daily ugliness in our lives. We have grown accustomed to its face — its many faces — and to what lies beneath. How long, for example, did we linger over the image of a supine mahagathbandhan  legislator of the Bihar assembly being dragged by his arms over the ground by security personnel? Was there any shock or disbelief? The upending of norms implicit in the image could not have unsettled us too much either. We are bombarded every day by images of violence, criminal or administrative, to such a degree that such a small matter may slip our attention. The daily ugliness, therefore, is not limited to what we see or hear; it runs deep like a bubbling fissure in our minds, confusing perception, thought and judgment. 


The legislator was being pulled away from outside the Speaker’s chamber where he had been sitting with other Opposition members of the legislative assembly in protest against the passage of the Bihar special armed police bill, 2021. According to the government, the law would “develop the Bihar Military Police into a well-trained and fully equipped armed police force with multi-domain expertise to cater to the development needs and the larger interest of the state”. The Opposition was protesting against the powers of search and arrest without warrant that this force was being given; no court could take cognizance of offences under this law by any officer without government sanction. These immunities made the phrasing of the law seem threatening rather than reassuring.


The Central Industrial Security Force, tasked with guarding assets and installations, has similar powers. But the Bihar Opposition found the tasks of the new force conveniently vague. They ranged from ensuring public order and fighting extremism to guarding installations and performing other such duties as notified. Going beyond the protests, we now have one more police force with the power to pick anyone up without accounting for it — whatever the process later. The spread of police forces immune to accountability suggests that governments like to make the people feel that they are criminals till proven innocent.


The inversion of norms represented by the legislator’s picture lay, for one, in the reported refusal of Nitish Kumar’s government to engage with objections. But ramming through controversial laws has become a daily matter in the Lok Sabha, as though Parliament has vanished already. The protesting MLAs were marshalled out and, reportedly, beaten up by security personnel. Why not? Respect and decorum are foolish concepts in a political culture dominated by violence of word and deed. The police are free to drag an elected representative over the ground when the ‘site’ they are ‘securing’ has lost its sanctified status as a vessel of the people’s will. That is what the picture is saying. 


Or is it? In 2020, it was reported that 2,556 sitting members of parliament and MLAs had cases pending against them; 174 cases, if proven, would mean imprisonment for life. So maybe the legislator — about whom we may know nothing — is getting what he deserves? The confusion in the response — originating in a corruption of the system that long predates the present government — makes it easy for other, more dangerous, inversions to flow unresisted into our minds while offering us an excuse not to confront the life-altering changes taking place behind the daily ugliness.


There is more. Can the Opposition complain about an empowered police force when one of its criticisms against Kumar’s governance is the rise in crime? Government data show that his earlier fame in establishing law and order had become rather tattered, although some crimes, murder and robbery for instance, had declined by 2019. But the overall situation is grave enough for the chief minister to have had three meetings with police chiefs after his return this time. Rising crime is an excellent ruse for a force with powers to arrest and search without warrant. The mischievous logic here has grown as familiar as our own skin in the last seven years through its varied application by Bharatiya Janata Party governments; all it demands is an overturning of democratic principles, processes, relationships and rights.  


The legislation in Bihar echoes the Uttar Pradesh Special Security Force Act, 2020, which gives the same powers and immunities and has a similar declared purpose. The UPSSF protects not just installations but persons and residences as directed, and can, like the Bihar special armed police, arrest anyone whom it thinks is suspicious. That is truly convenient in a state where Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister, flourished by encouraging police ‘encounters’. That is outlawed, and a comment to this effect from the Centre could have clarified the rights and wrongs of extrajudicial killings by the State. Was it because most of the targets came from the poorer sections of the minority community, underprivileged classes and marginalized castes that these transgressions were flaunted, and accepted — by certain sections — as a chief minister’s success? This inversion was established some years ago; are we too confused to judge or just scared?


Uttar Pradesh is one state that excels in crimes against Dalits. Can the UPSSF be expected to protect them? Women there are not just raped and frequently murdered, but survivors or members of the survivor’s family are also threatened or killed. Recently, a victim’s father was allegedly pushed under a bus, supposedly in front of policemen. Yet Mission Shakti came into operation last October to execute the chief minister’s promise of zero tolerance for crimes against women. 


Defining the relationship of laws, police and crime with one another has become difficult, for these have lost their familiar moorings in the last few years while we have been scrambling to pretend that they are in their usual places. Were we used to mob lynchings of people suspected of slaughtering cows, carrying or storing beef? We are now; we might even be mildly surprised that the accused in the 2015 killing of Mohammad Akhlaque are facing trial this year. Ugliness has entered our souls. Without our participation in the inversion of values it would not have been possible for UP and Madhya Pradesh to formulate laws against ‘love jihad’, a phenomenon acknowledged as non-existent by the police and even the ruling party in Parliament. Yet there is a law against it in two states; others may follow. The idea is to isolate the minority community and destroy inter-community amity, criminalize the relationship between men and women in particular circumstances, control women and attack the rights to autonomy and privacy. Will the law create the crime, or will it just pervert our understanding of a loving bond between two human beings? Perhaps, because Adityanath, the BJP’s star campaigner, reminded his audience in West Bengal with suitable condescension that the state needed this law in order to protect ‘our’ women. 


There is an unspeakable ugliness in the vortex of institutionalized lawlessness and hatred of freedom, diversity and democracy into which we are being — willingly? — drawn. We are living through changes that will alter in their totality what we knew to be our rights and wrongs when we were born in this country. Comparing this moment with similar phases in the history of other countries may be odious, so let us not do that. Instead we could reflect on the meanings of small, obvious things, such as the refusal to give an ill priest over 80 bail because he is supposed to be part of a banned group that is planning to overthrow democracy and even assassinate the prime minister. The priest is an activist for tribal rights, just as his alleged co-conspirators in prison are activists for Dalit or human rights. In its lightless heart, the vortex is not confusing at all.

Courtesy - The Telegraph.

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Help Sampadkiya Team in maintaining this website

इस वेबसाइट को जारी रखने में यथायोग्य मदद करें -

-Rajeev Kumar (Editor-in-chief, Sampadkiya.com)

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