& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Foot Soldier of the Constitution: A Memoir

Religious violence is endemic to the Indian subcontinent. Its unpleasant legacy of hatred may be traced to the formation of religion-based nationalistic ideologies in the 19th century. 

However, it has grown exponentially after India became an avowedly democratic nation after its Independence from the British rule; a nation that constitutionally guaranteed universal rights to all its citizens irrespective of their religious beliefs.

There are many reasons the Indian State has not been able to find an effective and a lasting solution to the menace of religious violence. 

Primarily, it is the presence (and the ascendency) of political forces that espouse Hindutva – the majoritarian ideology which denies the minorities the basic human rights.
The present government in New Delhi, which is led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (but is a coalition of over 40 political parties called the National democratic Alliance), has seen an unprecedented revival of ideology-driven intolerance against all minorities both religious and caste based.

The Hindutva forces have, in particular, targetted India's Muslims.

Innumerable incidents have been recorded since 2014 when Narendra Modi won the parliamentary elections and became the Prime Minister of India. These incidents are proof of a rapid and comprehensive deterioration of the values enshrined in India’s constitution.
The Modi government is on a mission to change the ethos of Indian nationhood that has traditionally been based on acceptance of differences and respect for diversity. 

These values found a reflection in the Indian constitution, which also ensured affirmative action in favour of those sections of the society that had been traditionally subjected to a subservient existence.
The Modi government’s mission to change Indian ethos includes (but is not limited to) to a naked assertion of Hindutva ideology in all spheres of the Indian polity, including, dismayingly, even the judiciary and the media.
The Indian civil service has been steadily infiltrated by the Hindutva ideologues, and the executive arm of the government is under despotic control of the Prime Minister of India and his thuggish henchman Amit Shah, the head of the ruling BJP.

It is important to keep this perspective in mind when reading Teesta Setalvad’s memoir Foot Soldier of the Constitution. The memoir is a historical testament to the genocide of Muslims in the western Indian state of Gujarat, and the epic battle she has waged against the State apparatus hijacked by the Hindutva forces led by Narendra Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, and who is culpable in the carnage.

Nearly two thousand Indians were killed in the 2002 carnage in Gujarat, and most of them were Muslims. Religious violence of this magnitude is rare but not uncommon in India, where every decade or so, subterranean tensions bubble over, leading to rioting and deaths mostly of Muslims. Where the 2002 Gujarat riots have proven to be different is in the unprecedented number of culprits being convicted for their role in the riots.

This is because of Setalvad’s indomitable courage and dogged persistence and perseverance.

As a friend of the author, Amir Rizvi, notes on the social media, “Teesta Setalvad is the first and only person in India who has sent 117 killers to jail, including the closest friends of Modi.”
MJ Akbar, who for four decades, was India's foremost chronicler of atrocities against all minorities, and who is now, unconscionably, serving as a junior minister under Modi, also praised Setalvad before he joined the dark side. 

He wrote: “The important, and vital, point is that justice survived the malfeasance of the system; perhaps that is the only point. The courts were assisted by the dedication and sheer determined obstinacy of civil society leaders like Teesta Setalvad, who refused to be defeated by the acquittal of the accused by a court in Gujarat, and went to the Supreme Court...Thank God for Teesta Setalvad and the Supreme Court. And thank God for a free media too. We will see if media has the tenacity of a Teesta Setalvad or not.” (Peace of Justice, 26 February 2006, Asian Age).
The slim book is an exhaustive detail of the cases that Setalvad has pursued to bring justice to the victims and victim-survivors of the Gujarat carnage. 

It comprehensively lists the failure of the Indian State in defending its Muslim citizens and records its failure to bring justice to those who faced utter desolation as a result of the riots.

Faced with impregnable walls of officialdom, Setalvad’s frustration is palpable in many places in the book. 

She observes, “Close to fifteen years after independent India’s worst ever state sponsored carnage directed against the Muslim minority, issues of state impunity for mass crimes, accountability to the Constitution, deliverance of justice, fair compensation and reparation, citizenship rights and an on-going climate of fear and intimidation remain.”
At another place, she laments, “India is at best an electoral democracy tottering or edging often towards majoritarianism and mobocracy. In a constitutional democracy, the last word of dissent should have a legitimate place and should be respected.
“The rights of the voiceless and the marginalised – the victims of deep institutional communal, caste and class bias – need to be taken not just seriously, but brought on par with the resourceful defences put forward by the State that is backed by its vast administrative and monetary arsenal.
“Institutions such as the Judiciary, especially the higher Judiciary, exist in the Constitutional scheme to correct this imbalance, otherwise bent in all senses, towards absolute State power. This is not the case in our time. The power of the State, therefore, remains near complete.”
The book is an important chronicle of the death and devastation wreaked upon the Muslims of Gujarat and the facile attempts by the state apparatus to cover-up the crime. 

It proves (not that proof was ever needed) that behind the glib shibboleths of secularism and democracy the Indian State is deeply prejudicial and inimical to its Muslims citizens.
The horrific details of the genocide in the book will shock an average reader who is largely dependent upon mainstream and social media for news, views and information.

No comments:

Post a Comment