Friday, May 5, 2017

Future of Democracy, Social Justice, Diversity and secularism in India

Concept note for a Round Table Discussion on future of Democracy, Social Justice, Diversity and secularism in India
Irfan EngineerDirector,
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

 India’s politics has taken a decisive rightward turn after the 2014 Lok Sabha Election and even more so after the results of UP State Assembly elections giving massive more than 3/4th mandate to the BJP. The PM tweeted after the mandate that the country is changing. The question that arises is in what way is it changing? Are the values of equality, freedom, justice, still operating? Is there a change in the way patriotism, nationalism, secularism are being understood?

Events that have taken place after the UP elections point to the consolidation of a mind set in which these terms are being understood in a particular way. The Government appointees on important posts in educational institutions have eroded its autonomy and standards both leaving students are highly dissatisfied. The Executive was perceived to eroding independence of the judiciary first through legislation of National Commission for Appointment of Judiciary and when that was struck down by the Supreme Court, having a confrontation of Memorandum of Procedure to appoint judges of high courts and Supreme Court.

After UP elections, BJP has been pushing Aadhar even more aggressively compromising privacy of citizens and concerns about denial of benefits of welfare legislation; Gujarat amended its anti-cow slaughter bill to enhance punishment for cow slaughter to life term signaling and encouraging cow vigilantism; Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer was lynched to death in Alwar; GST is being pushed more aggressively; “talking” to the people of Kashmir is done through security forces; attack on Kashmiri students pursuing their courses outside Kashmir; anti-Romeo squads are intimidating and controlling matrimonial choices, particularly of women; BJP MP led mob attacking SSP’s home in Saharanpur for denying Ambedkar Shobha Yatra through Sadak Dudhli Village; First denying license renewals and then closing slaughter houses in UP are some of the results of the UP elections. These events have been leading to the authoritarian pervasive and invasive cultural state on the premise of Hindutva propounded by the RSS, with which the present BJP shares its umbilical cord. The Hindu Rashtra propounded by RSS seeks to impose culture and symbols which privileges the upper caste. The Neo liberal market friendly policies pursued by the state is drastically increasing inequalities while the dalits, adivasis, workers, peasants, particularly the women of these sections are pushed to the margins, hunger deaths and forced to commit suicide.

The changes mentioned aforesaid are sought to be justified on the basis of nationalism and patriotism. The concepts of nationalism and patriotism itself are sought to be redefined to denote support, nay, uncritical and unconditional loyalty to the present Government, reducing the citizen to mere and compulsive cheer leader of the Govt. Those who cannot submit themselves to the homogenous and hierarchical culture which privileges just a few, or demand their due and just share in the development of the country, are excluded and termed as anti-nationals and rendered second class citizens. The dalits, adivasis, women, minorities and sections which depend on meat industry, leather industry etc. are subjected to heinous and brutal illegal violence by state as well as non-state actors with the perpetrators having no fear of law.

Regarding religious minorities, does this concept of Hindutva involve more than a strategy to show Muslims their place? Is minority bashing only a strategy to consolidate votes? These questions need to be addressed to evaluate what Hindutva actually signifies and why it has created a resonance among the population at large.

A number of specific concerns and questions arise which need deep introspection, before any action oriented programmes can be instituted.  If we focus on three basic issues – secularism, nationalism, democracy, we need to ask ourselves first of all how we understood these terms, how they operated in our country, where did they fail to connect to the people, how are they being interpreted today, are they in line with the values of equality, freedom, diversity? If they are not, then how has the present regime been able to convince the different sections of society that it is in their interest to support the present regime?

Secularism – what did it mean to us? (i) definition – separation of religion from government (ii) all religions to be treated equally.

The first was in a sense easy to understand in the sense of no discrimination by government – we are all equal as citizens. In practice, discrimination on the basis of caste, community, religion has always been there – but it did not count as not being secular since it brought in religion as an identity marker and not on the tenets.  However, the issue surfaces when it comes to the right to practice – in a secular country what kind of practice can be allowed in the public sphere? We then come up with competitive display – processions, where should they go, how loud should they be, how should they be financed, etc. Should government support religion – the answer is no but we know that government does support temples, gives haj subsidy, etc. Knowing all this, we should have protested these – the result has been the charge of appeasement of Muslims as regards the haj subsidy, and the feeling of majoritarian domination on the question of support to Amarnath pilgrims or temple support. Why is Muslim Personal Law considered to be the major threat to secularism?

Are we witnessing Hindu consolidation or is something else at work here? Are social movements for equality, human rights, socio-economic rights of the marginalized, movements for defending livelihoods of the marginalized, accountable state and citizenship failing to mobilize critical mass to be able to make difference? If so, why? Do the marginalized people not see any alternative? Or are the social movements not able to effectively connect to the people, particularly the youth? Why is the issue of cow and nationalism as propounded by the BJP successful in mobilizing people?

We also need to ponder over the future of democracy; including equal citizenship and liberties; diversity; social justice; and secularism. What kind of interventions are necessary to promote and strengthen these issues?

In order to ponder and reflect on these issues, we have organized half a day Round Table discussion on Saturday, 27th May 2017 from 3.00 pm to 7.00 pm. We propose that the discussion be carried out in two sessions as under:

 Session: I (2 hours) – Political mobilization: Recent trends and issues; Implications for democracy and secularism

Session: II (2 hours) – Future challenges to democracy, social justice and secularism
Irfan Engineer
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism
Call:  +91-22-26149668  | Fax: +91-22-6100712

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