The last couple of years have witnessed an upswing in mob vigilantism as self-styled custodians of the Hindu faith have gone about arbitrarily defining the terms and conditions one must abide by to be a citizen of this country. Consequently, the country at large is coming off as a nation that is becoming intolerant of its minorities and their way of life which differs from that of the majority. The intolerance of views, opinions, morals and intellect which diverge from the dominant discourse is most palpable on social media where the ‘humans of Hindutva’ are on high alert, shutting down those whose ideas may seem inimical to the larger narrative of Hindutva. This intolerance now manifests itself in politics and thus, often compromises public policy, which should ideally be enriched by a holistic discourse weighing the potentially positive and negative ramifications of every legislation.
Consider the deliberations in the Lok Sabha over the legislation which sought to outlaw Instant Triple Talaq. Those part of the ruling coalition vociferously voiced their opinion that Instant Triple Talaq or talaq-e-biddat needs to be made a non-bailable offence. Further, the initial draft of the Act made it a cognizable offence with a minimum prison term of three years. Had this initial draft found acceptance in both the houses of the parliament, it would have nullified the possibility of reconciliation of the couple and prompted misuse of the provisions under the Act for when there’s no bar on who can file an FIR, it would have inadvertently resulted in people filing cases out of spite. When the opposition voiced these concerns regarding the potential misuse of the Act and asked for the Act to be referred to a standing committee of the parliament, it was alleged that their assertions were nothing but tools to leverage political gains and many were labelled as disruptors to social good. To portray those with differing ideologies as harbouring extra-territorial loyalties and accusing them of disrupting the process of development amounts to the greatest disservice to the nation. Yet, that is what some members of the parliament are resorting to when logic betrays their arguments.
Further, the negative repercussions of these flawed policies are seldom brought to the fore. The Kathua rape case was an act of utmost bestiality which deserved a nuanced debate on whether the existing laws are sufficient to protect our women and children. Instead, the horrific incident brought about knee-jerk reactions from the current political dispensation. The concerned ministry floated an ordinance proposing that death penalty should be awarded to those who are convicted for the rape of minor girls below 12 years of age. The proposed law, which has now been accepted, discounts reason in its stance and doesn’t take cognisance of the existing data on the rape of minors in the country. The National Crime Record Bureau data on the rape of women and children reveals that in 94% of the cases, the perpetrator is known to the victim and is very often a blood relative. Instances of sexual abuse are already under-reported because there is a tendency on the part of the victim to suppress the issue due to lack of support from family members. The sentence being compounded to capital punishment will aggravate this problem for there will be fewer victims who’ll be willing to send a family member to the gallows. Further, the impending death penalty would spur the accused to kill the victim to get rid of the evidence.
It is indeed a tragedy that such incidents of brutality end up becoming opportunities for the ruling class to appease the masses by enforcing severe punishments on criminals while little attention is paid to strengthening the investigative arm of the Police which is understaffed and underpaid. The media too remains largely muted on how these real problems will negate the ostensibly positive effects of new legislation.
So, if Indians seem tolerant of real-life injustices, it is in part, due to their lack of awareness of how decades of flawed legislation has brought about the deplorable status quo. A revision of this status quo is possible only when we as a people realise that unpalatable views and expressions are the hallmark of a democratic society and thus, conducive to nation-building.