Democracy’s failing light
Book: A Fractured Freedom: Chronicals of India's Margin
Author: Harsh Mander
Publisher: Three Essays Collective
Once the big retail chains enter, suicide might well be the only option left for those who sell vegetables on the streets, besides others like hawkers, roadside vendors and kabariwallahs
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
The SIT might have left no stone unturned to give a clean chit to Narendra Modi, but the mass brutalisation he unleashed in what is famously referred to as ‘Hindutva’s Lab’ has left thousands of wounds festering, human lives ravaged, scores of households and hearts devastated. That justice will ever arrive for survivors like Zakia Jafri whose husband, Ehsan Jafri, was hacked and burnt alive along with several others, or Bibi Khatoon, whose three sons were rounded up and put in jail for years, and that the fanatic criminals, rapists and mass murderers will be brought to book, remains uncertain even as the Sangh Parivar continues its vitriolic agenda, including repositioning Modi as the ‘Superman of Gujarat’.
The fact that Harsh Mander sees the 2004 mandate to the UPA as good tidings for a country battered by the Hindutva onslaught clearly reflects the limitations of Indian democracy. There is little choice the voters have between the two evils, the fundamentalist BJP and the more sophisticated but equally dangerous Congress. This becomes clear as one turns the pages of this bulky, heartfelt, meticulously documented book, chronicling one horror story after another. Stories which justify the title of the book: coming from the margins, abhorred by the mainstream corporate media.
If the Modi-led BJP government presided over the state-sponsored genocide of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, it was the Congress which killed and devastated Sikh families in Delhi in 1984. The debris of hate politics and mindless bloodletting can still be seen, as the book records, in the West Delhi colonies of Tilak Vihar and Tilak Nagar, where scores have resorted to drugs or gone mad out of grief and trauma; some have committed suicide.
Even in the post-2004 scenario, there is little to suggest that the UPA, which was catapulted to power not once but twice in succession, has done its bit for the vast swathe of impoverished and disfranchised people. Be it the Muslim youth who have been systematically targetted as terrorists, tortured, jailed, even killed in cold blood as in Batla House (widely perceived to be a fake encounter); or anti-nuclear protestors who are hounded and assaulted in Jaitapur and Koodankulam; the brutish manner in which security forces operate with impunity in Kashmir (check the murder and torture cases by Avtar Singh), or thousands of indigenous people in the many land struggles stalked by displacement — the State has been unilateral in muffling all forms of dissent and voices
Undoubtedly, the plight of many Indians in starving villages improved when, under pressure from popular campaigns, the government was compelled to dole out policies like the MGNREGS or loan waivers for farmers. But the harsh reality is that farmers like Kusara Mallagaud still consume pesticide. Malnourishment stalks the landscape. Manual scavenging still exists, despite the rhetoric.
The government continues to oppose subsidies for the poor with the alibi that it will slow down the hyped growth rate benefitting the rich coterie of corporates — a classic case of crony capitalism. The intentions are manifest in the debate on poverty line and the demand for FDI in retail and other sectors which would ultimately ravage the unorganised sector. Once the big retail chains enter, suicide might well be the only option left for those who sell vegetables on the streets, besides others like hawkers, roadside vendors and kabariwallahs.
The recent campaign against corruption led by Anna Hazare, tacitly backed by the Sangh Parivar and BJP — which Mander criticised sharply — came as a grim reminder of manufactured media consent; it also showed us how non-violent struggles are crushed or ignored since they are obviously not backed by corporate interests and big media houses.
The book is a sensitive documentation of stories from the ground that showcases how the UPA wasted its mandate. Indeed, while Mander still sees hope in this democracy, I would rather go with what Arundhati Roy calls ‘democracy’s failing light’.