For A Secure Indian Like Me, Democracy Is Merely A Symbol

Posted by Harjeet Inder Singh Sahi in Politics
March 20, 2017

People living in the so-called “fringe” areas, plagued with “separatist elements” are constantly urged by political leaders and even intelligentsia to join the mainstream.

What exactly is the mainstream?

Is it the dominant cream of people from various walks of society, who, with their thoughts and actions have time and again attempted to severely limit others’ ways and conception of the world? Why are we urged to think and act in a particular way? It is the very nature of authority to work towards creating submissive clones of its own self as directed by its dominant ideology? In the armed forces, you can’t reach anywhere without submitting a, “Yes, Sir” under a rigorous regime of discipline.

I long to see armoured cars, paramilitary, military and police personnel pointing assault rifles, and to have my ears jarred by announcements of curfews and prohibitory orders doing the rounds on a jeep. I am a safe and secure Indian, ensconced in a shell of relative privilege and comfort, living in one of the most prosperous cities of our country. I have never faced the insecurity that non-mainstream India is continuously bombarded with.

Earlier, monarchy and nobility were quite naked in the homage and conformity that they required. Under this pre-democratic form of governance, the estates could be broadly categorised into three – the clergy, the nobility and the commoners; although their composition and division were varied and complex in different parts of the world.

With the gradual development of people’s movements and parliamentary democracy, oral writs or edicts of monarchs came to be replaced by codified laws and acts. Instead of being issued by a single person, these started to be proposed by a council of ministers and passed by a legislative body. But it is important to not see these changes as absolute guarantors of liberty and equality among people.

If an “educated” person were to read a few Acts passed by the Parliament, it would reveal that such a complex circumlocution of jargon could not have been manufactured at a greater magnitude. If I talk of practice and implementation, what passes for democracy in theory is actually a lot of words, incomprehensible to the “masses”, who are supposed to benefit from it. The brighter the juggler of words or a lawyer you can afford to hire, the better is your ability to circumvent the law or delay justice.

Control and authority have never been abandoned by the ruling bloc of human civilisation, although those who comprise the ruling bloc have been changing. Under a different guise, the core requirement of authority remains the same in most of the functional democracies, although they masquerade as pseudo-symbols of free speech, pluralism, liberty, equality and fraternity in different part of the world.

Differences and boundaries are merely anthropogenic. It is useful to employ Foucault’s discourse to study them. Different religions are merely different paths with common threads. In the hands of fanatic practitioners, religion can become an oppressive discourse and a source of conflict. Adding to that there are normative definitions that hold true for only a certain group or society.

There are “normal” children and many so-called “differently-abled” children. “Forrest Gump” shows how the eponymous protagonist, despite being seen by everyone as a dimwit, a special child, manages to recognise both his limitations as well as his strengths, and succeeds in his own clumsy manner. Normative categories and their ideologies are so strong that they dismiss exceptions like chaff from the grain. Religious, ethnic and casteist discourses also have the tendency of developing into a rabid “them” and “us” approach.

Leave aside separatism, democracy, with its direct or indirect homogenisation, cannot even allow for dissent against the authority.

It takes visionary leaders to allow dissent and to let pluralism flourish in a democracy. If that does not exist then the label of democracy easily becomes a symbol, having mere display and broadcast value.

NEW DELHI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 22: Supporters of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) protested outside Maurice Nagar police station against All India Students Association (AISA), on February 22, 2017 in New Delhi, India.The protest turned violent and a massive clash took place between All India Students Association (AISA) and ABVP members. Later police used batons and beaten up the AISA students and took them to the police station. (
Photo credits: Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Dissent in the union of India is an entangled issue, and especially so because  the country has suffered Partitions. Individuals or groups who do not toe the official line are seen as troublesome children. However, dissent is partially allowed in cosmopolitan centres, where it can either be contained as “multiple viewpoints” or doesn’t inflict a lasting damage as an academic discussion does.

It is violently muzzled in Jammu and Kashmir, the North-East, as well as the hinterlands  of most other regions. No other group of states in the union is lumped together like the north-east and collectively dubbed a “problem”. Seldom, we read headlines with the lumping acronym N-E (with the first two letter of NEWS), as it is pretty hard for the region to get media attention. Conferences are held on ‘north-eastern states’, as if there is some flaw in that direction itself.

Many tribes in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Telangana and Maharashtra, and other regions comprising the Maoist belt, have no sense of private or corporate ownership. But they are sitting on a vast amount of mineral wealth, and from a myopic point of view, their protests against exploitation lead to a loss of thousands of crores of “national” wealth, which is merely another dominant discourse.

When two women in Mumbai were arrested, one (Shaheen Dhada) for writing a post on Facebook against the chaos on the roads during Bal Thackeray’s funeral in 2012 and the other (Renu Srinivasan) for simply liking the post, indeed induce shock and disbelief. Another “Facebook arrest” was that of writer Kanwal Bharti for posting a message criticising the Uttar Pradesh government for suspending IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, who had cracked down on the sand mafia. The litmus test of a democracy is based on its treatment of dissent, pluralism and divergent groups of people.