A document of hope

Sometime heavily flogged sayings like "Justice delayed is justice denied" convey adequately the context of much of the suffering visible around us. It didn't need the case of Ruchika Girhotra's family winning token justice after 17 years of unceasing toil for the reiteration of this maxim. Impressions of how injustice has ravaged ordinary lives stare at us from forested habitations where tribals scrounge for food and dignity, or on the faces of exiled villagers who are driven by economic deprivation to migrate to big cities. There are other manifestations of injustice that gets accentuated during the phase of nation-building which gives license to successive governments to use violence to subjugate independent voices and communities. Indeed, our history is fraught with such instances where free voices have been silenced for the larger project of building new India.  

The Indian Constitution and its expansively embroidered preamble were meant to serve as a document of hope and correct past injustices and compensate history's victims. Dismantling the ills of the caste system, egalitarian land reforms and redistribution, and mainstreaming the disenfranchised were the basic constitutional enterprise based on equity and justice. After 60 years of being a republic, can we explain why "the upper castes have forged miles ahead of the lower caste have-nots"? Or why a handful of super-rich corporates have usurped the Indian political economy? 

The promise to dispense political, social and economic justice does not thread through meaningfully in the way the ruling elite interfaces with dissent, contrarianism or deprivation. Democracy has proved inadequate when it comes to enlarging the welfare of ordinary people that is based on justice and fairness. Philosophers of ethics like John Rawls suggest tools like the "veil of ignorance" to lend objectivity to the distribution of justice. He wants the dice to be loaded in favour of the poor and vulnerable instead of the rich and powerful. Mahatma Gandhi also wanted governments to ascertain how their policies would impact the poorest of the poor.  

The elite provides content and legitimacy to a narrative where greater primacy is given to fighting 'terror' then addressing the reasons that contribute to ordinary people picking up weapons against the State, especially the poor in the ravaged interiors of India. It remains a cause for worry when police atrocities and organised injustice against the poor is justified as a 'national cause'. The 'Greenhunt' against the Maoists in tribal India exacerbates the dilemma about how competing actions should be interpreted. This, in no way, legitimises the Maoist barbarism of beheading, orone-dimensional violence as the only form of political engagement, be it the State, or armed guerrillas.  

Similar questions are being raised about how the fight against terror is re-ordering relations and the way the Indian State countenances dissent. Greater power to security and intelligence agencies is subverting democracy and its institutions. Media, an important watchdog, finds its independence undermined by this obsession for security and terror. Militarisation, which is against the idea of democracy, has become the lodestar for editorials and hysterical TV anchors.  

To be fair, this problem is not limited to India. After the WTC attack, many countries are grappling with the issue of terror. Experientially, this mindset has made governments more powerful at the expense of ordinary people. The collateral damage to thousands of lives is always ignored in a display of obnoxious triumphalism. From Iraq to Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, massacres have been justified as a moral imperative. 

Nobel laureate and author of 'Idea of Justice', Amartya Sen, has interpreted the justness of the US 'war on terror' and seemed shaky on how he should justify actions that were clearly founded on falsehood and corruption. In short, he falls back on the calculus to ascertain the mood of the majority to figure out what is just. Can such a blunt instrument be used in a world of spin-doctoring and embedded journalism where truth is always a casualty? Hardnews explores these sensitive issues where the idea of justice acquires different meanings. Are we ready to accept the Indian Constitution as a document of hope? Or have we already dumped it?

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2010