India @70 has moved very far away from Bapu@150

Even as India has marked 70 years of the Republic in January,  the closure of the 150th birth anniversary  of Bapu reveals the degree to which the nation has moved away from the Gandhian spirit and ethos, writes C Uday Bhaskar for South Asia Monitor 

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On Thursday evening Indian TV channels flashed ‘Breaking News’ that read: East UP: 14-year-old girl's head crushed with bricks. Yet another Dalit (lower caste)  girl had been crushed to death  in the killing fields of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh (UP).  Population - about 200 million.

In a tragic departure from the values and principles dear to Mahatma Gandhi (venerated as Bapu or Father), namely the safety and welfare of the most downtrodden and vulnerable in society, the closure to the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of the Father of the Nation (October 2) is soaked in the blood of India’s savagely violated and brutalised women. Collectively,  India which prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy  stands diminished but alas, remains largely indifferent.

In the last few days, even as the country was beginning to comprehend the gruesome enormity of the gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit in Hathras (UP), yet another alleged rape was reported from Balrampur. again in UP,  on Tuesday (September 29). And the latest death by bricks of a hapless 14-year-old girl is from Bhadohi in eastern UP.

The Hathras rape death is clouded in denials by the local police and the Balrampur case is now being framed as one that does not point to rape, ostensibly based on medical reports, but the faith of the discerning citizen in the structures of governance has eroded. Critics point to a film titled ‘Article 15’ that illuminates the manner in which evidence collected from rape victims is brazenly tampered with and reports doctored to suit the interests of the local power-brokers. This is borne out in the Hathras case, where the body of the victim was  strangely consigned  to the funeral pyre  in the darkness of the night, and the family was not allowed even to claim the mutilated corpse  of their daughter and  mourn her gruesome passing at the hands of the upper-caste perpetrators.

Compounding this lack of empathy and compassion by the state were the  insensitive remarks and veiled warnings  of  the local district magistrate (DM) to the victim’s family,  apropos their statements indicating the Hathras police. The adage that the guardian had turned oppressor has  become increasingly evident in Uttar Pradesh in relation to the Dalit population.

India's caste oppression

Gandhi’s abiding concern and  visible compassion for the less privileged in India’s deeply ingrained caste hierarchy was manifest in his coining the term ‘Harijan’ – or the children of God. He urged the nascent  Indian state,  revelling in its freedom from the colonial yoke to ensure that the last tear of the less privileged citizen was wiped with compassion. However, even as India has marked 70 years of the Republic in January,  the closure of the 150th birth anniversary  of Bapu reveals the degree to which the nation has moved away from the Gandhian spirit and ethos.

This is reflected in the just-released  annual National Crime Record Bureau’s Crime in India 2019 report which  reveals that the section Crime against Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) saw an increase of over 7% and 26% respectively in the year 2019 as compared to 2018. Predictably UP recorded the highest absolute numbers in both categories.

Police reforms and an objective socio-cultural review of what ails Indian polity in relation to the deeply ingrained caste dynamic are  imperative,   if India@70 is to realize some modicum of the 'Idea of Bharat'  as envisioned in the Constitution in January 1950.

The Indian Police Foundation (IPF), led by Prakash Singh a former  Director-General UP Police has been campaigning for police reforms for more than 15 years – but despite a 2006 Supreme Court ruling in the matter, there has been little tangible progress.  As Singh noted with regret, “the reality is that none of the major political parties of the country have shown interest in police reforms. It seems they all find it convenient to use this instrument to subserve their political agenda.”

A self-serving power clique 

In the last 70 years, India has seen the cynical manipulation of the caste factor to advance short-term political agendas even while paying lip service to the many provisions that Dr. B R Ambedkar sagaciously included in the Constitution.  This in turn has morphed into a self-serving power clique that manipulates the electoral process and the modus of governance with a venal mix of money and muscle power,  where all elements of the state stand compromised. Hathras and Balarampur are illustrative of this deep corrosion that has entered the Indian body politic even as the principles of Gandhi are venerated in a lofty rhetorical manner that lacks sincerity. 

Writing in Young India (1929)  Gandhi noted:“Whether Rama of my imagination ever lived or not on this earth, the ancient ideal of Ramarajya is undoubtedly one of true democracy in which the meanest citizen could be sure of swift justice without an elaborate and costly procedure.” 

With Uttar Pradesh poised to embark on building the Ram Mandir (temple) in Ayodhya after a predictable court verdict and the Hindutva triumphalism that has marked the closure of the  1992 Babri Masjid demolition case, the many ironies of India claiming Bapu even while disparaging what he stood for are becoming all too evident.

(The writer is Director, SPS, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal)

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