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“We shall Overcome! Challenges before the Human Rights Movement!

The horrifying incident of the burning alive of 46-year old, Mohammed Afzarul in broad daylight in a public space, on 6th December, 2017 in Mahasamund of Rajasthan, for the only reason that he was a Muslim, by Shambulal Regar aka Shambu Bhavani, highlights the dangerous depths to which the politics of hatred, intolerance and killing of minorities has descended to in India in the last 2-3 years of the present BJP led UPA government. The filming of the gory incident by Shambulal’s 14 year old nephew and the widespread circulation in the social media symptomatises the extent to which many sections of mainstream majority community have become desensitised to brutal acts of violence and legitimise killing of muslims as an acceptable practice.

The most shocking aspect of Afzarul’s murder is not just in its cold-bloodedness or brutality. The new dimension is the randomness of the attack, marked by the fact that the killer did not know anything about Afzarul, had absolutely no prior personal interaction or acquaintance or animosity with the murdered person. The filming and subsequent videotaped confession of Shambulal, saying that the murder was to avenge the dishonour to the majority community caused luring of young Hindu girls by muslim men in the name of `love jihad’, showed how deeply the poisonous and cancerous growth of hate propaganda has seeped into the minds of millions of people of the majority community across India. The fact that Shambulal is reportedly a Dalit only highlights the success of the Hindutva votaries in their campaign to enlist sections of the Dalit, Adivasi and OBC communities as foot soldiers in violent attacks on minority communities as showcased during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.

The randomness of the killing of Afzarul was followed in subsequent attack on 15th December, 2017 in Satna town in MP when Christian priests and seminarians travelling to attend a Christmas carol singing programme were attacked and their vehicle torched. Ironically, instead of arresting the mob which torched the vehicle and attacked them, the Christian priests were accused of committing offences and arrested. Similar incident of attack on Christian celebration programme took place on 19th and 20th December, 2017 in Pratapgarh, which took place after informing the police, but in which the mob reportedly led by RSS leaders in the presence of policemen attacked the pre-Christmas prayer assembly.

A noticeable feature of such hate-crimes is the lack of response of the BJP-led UPA Government in the centre in not condemning such incidents and calling upon members of the majority community to stop indulging in such violence. The non-prosecution of the key leaders of the Hindutva groups instigating such attacks indicates the political support given by the political executive to those who indulge in hate crimes which in turn emboldens the violators as they are promised immunity and impunity for their lawless acts.

As worrying as are the acts of violence which have engulfed the country, there are three worrying trends visible in the acts of the central government since they came to power in May, 2014.

  1. Undermining Democratic Institutions: In a systematic way the Modi-led Central Government has been continuously working to undermine democratic institutions and processes. Appointments to key constitutional institutions like the Election Commission to other key oversight institutions like the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to appointments to key posts like the Additional Director of CBI and other bodies, have been enmeshed in controversy. The manner in which the decision to announce demonetisation was decided, sidestepping the RBI, or the GST was introduced, bit by bit, the Central Government has continuously shown scant regard to established democratic practices. The delay in appointments of judges or finalising the Memorandum of Procedure (MOP) regarding appointment of judges to the Supreme and High Courts or introduction of key legislations as Money Bills thereby avoiding placing bills before Parliament for discussion, underlines the scant respect to institutions and institutional processes.

  2. Subverting Rule of Law: In a calculated and systematic manner the Central Government has been subverting the Rule of Law, making a mockery of criminal laws and procedures. Misusing the CBI, Income Tax authority and Enforcement Department (ED) officials to conduct targeted raids of politicians and political groups seen as inimical to the Central Government and dropping charges against those exposed having committed major financial frauds epitomises the manner by which these important institutions authorised by law to enforce the laws of the land have been shackled and made to become dependent on the commands of the political executive rather than implementing the constitution in an independent, objective and fair manner.

Criminalising Dissent and Silencing Rights Defenders: A worrying trend is the increasing trend of targeting rights defenders across the country. So much so, there is now the need to launch a major programme to `Defend the Defenders’ – to support human rights activists and other rights activists from being suppressed, silenced and subdued.

All these trends put together, place a great strain on our democracy and democratic process. A great responsibility rests on the human rights movement to be able to counter the growth of hate politics and violence, not merely by demanding prosecution and improved security of minority and marginalised communities, but by launching a long-term campaign programme to bring about changes in the attitudes and mindsets of the people highlighting the long history of tolerance, communal harmony and sense of compassion and solidarity which have been elemental parts of our collective social and cultural heritage. The challenges are daunting, but they also set the benchmark for the human rights movement in India to work towards.

In the end, we will have to rise to the demands of the present historical period and show that “We shall overcome!”.

We wish our readers and subscribers a Happy New Year, 2018.


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Related Bulletin : Jan 2018