For the ‘children’ of India who had the fortune to go to school, our conventional textbooks on political science have forged a standard definition of democracy – A form of government in which the rulers are elected by the people through universal adult franchise.
I was one among these children, among us who are supposedly grown up now and are reading this today. I learnt this definition by heart and was highly struck by what I thought was such innocent, straightforward and confident vision of ourselves.
But those who struggled against difficult tides and somehow managed to continue their education in colleges and universities begin to realise that standards stand in the way. Like hurdles. Like hollow walls disguised as fallacious pillars of truth.
And these hollow walls are now beginning to crack, down the middle. Because what this definition of democracy tries to blind us from are the atrocities committed by a majoritarian regime, the existence of disenfranchised social minorities living hand to mouth, and the devious violation of the Rule of Law itself.
Yes, I have written these words with a sound mind full of consciousness and if that makes me an “urban naxal”, I will gladly wear the tag. Because I am Dissent, the safety valve of the pressure cooker called democracy.
I have both Marx and Lord Krishna in my book shelf, both Ambedkar and Savarkar in my laptop, both Phule and Goddess Kali on my wall, both songs of Gaddar and Lord Ganesh on my playlist and both sindoor and torn jeans on my body. I am a world of both’s and beyond. What I am not is a pressure cooker that will burst.
In the Bhima Koregaon raids that took place on 29 August, 2018, the homes of nine individuals that were raided by Pune police were those of professors, lawyers, social and cultural activists, human rights defenders, writers, journalists and poets. A rational thinking mind out there is asking an urgent and worrying question: Is the Indian State apparatus trying to make an implicit statement to its young people that anyone who is a student or aspirant of these vocations must rethink their careers and give up their calling?
I am a graduate of Journalism and English and currently pursuing higher studies in Sociology. Should I feel marginalized and unhopeful about social and economic opportunities, like a naxal would?
A closer look at the work of the nine individuals reveals that they are the voices that resist the everyday oppression and brutality committed against Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim, women and landless people of this country. They have consciously dedicated their lives to the cause of social justice, in newspapers, books and courtrooms, away from the comforts of white collar jobs that they are otherwise fully qualified for.
Is this a message to more than half of India’s population who are under 25 years old, that they must forget Babasaheb Ambedkar’s vision for social equality in scripting their future? Is so called corporate social responsibility going to remain as the only pseudo alternative to real social change?
Most of all, the manner in which the Pune Police barged into people’s residences, seized their data and devices in their absence and turned their homes upside down is not only a violation of legal procedure but a gross individual human rights violation. The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu cognizance of this high-handedness of the State’s law and order agency.
Forget vocation or social justice, our very right to speak, write, think and choose is in danger today, so much that our human self itself is being confiscated. We are no longer subjects of our government but objects of the authoritarian State, alienated from our free will – if we are Dissent.
Surely, one must condemn and oppose any move to hatch violent plots for communal riots or assassinations of eminent members of society, as is being argued against five of these nine individuals. But the Pune Police chose to bypass investigation and booked the five activists under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act which is a harsh anti-terror law. The Supreme Court showed courage and came down heavily upon the question of these ‘random arrests’ while hearing a petition seeking protection of civil liberties and dissent under Article 32 of the Constitution.
Meanwhile, the notorious Sambhaji ‘Bhide Guruji’ roams free despite being booked under measured charges of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and attempt to murder under the Indian Penal Code.
When I contrast these scenarios, the message is stark naked. Anyone who challenges right wing fascist elements will be targeted while lynch mobs will be protected from the law. In other words, democracy is no longer about treating the most marginalized social minority on par with majorities but about imposing majoritarianism – one ideology, one religion and one dictator. It, therefore, ceases to be a democracy.
So, I deduce that we have two options before us to resolve the crisis at hand.
One: All those who want to protect the ideals enshrined in the preamble of our Constitution must unite and lead a socio-cultural and political uprising before the powers that be, in the name of our own future. We must act soon, before the nexus between political leaders and crony capitalists becomes so strong that they take over the little faith we have left in our judiciary. Before we they steal our identities and space for dissent.
Two: Scrap all our current school textbooks and introduce a new one. Just one book with one page and one picture – a burst pressure cooker with the caption: ‘Democracy gone, Fascist Dictatorship has arrived.’
(Anju Rao Guddugurki is a postgraduate student of Sociology at the University of Hyderabad. She was NSUI’s presidential candidate for UoH Student Union Elections 2017-18).