The year 2018 was singular in the sense that India couldn’t seem to decide which way to go. On the one hand, the Supreme Court upheld liberal values inscribed in our constitution by pronouncing judgments on section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and Sabarimala temple entry along with many others. On the other hand, bigotry and narrow-mindedness were also at full display, especially in the second half of the year. Be it, the renaming of the beloved city of Allahabad as Prayagraj, the mob violence at Bulandshahr or the protest in Kerala over Sabarimala verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the shrine, all of this certainly makes 2018 an eventful year.
Let’s recap and take a look at top five topics that dominated the public discourse in 2018.
1. Is my life really mine? : Privacy was at the forefront of public discourse both in India and the world in 2018. In India, the Supreme Court ruled in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), that it was not mandatory for Indians to link their Aadhar cards to various agencies to receive benefits from the government. Meanwhile, the year ended with a row over an MHA order allowing 10 governmental agencies the right to seize and look into personal data of private individuals. This sparked a huge debate over State surveillance and its validity.
Internationally, the scandal of Cambridge Analytica broke out exposing social media giant Facebook, which allegedly sold private consumer data to advertisers and political parties. It has been a contentious issue which questions whether social networking companies can be trusted with private user data. In nutshell, the incidents of mass surveillance and misuse of personal data were nothing less than the Orwellian nightmare.
2. India is a “Liberal” democracy: Supreme Court through its judgments asserted the supremacy of the liberal values inscribed in our constitution. Two instances where constitutional morality was established are the scrapping of section 377 of the Indian penal code and the decision to allow women between the ages of 15-50 in the Sabarimala temple of Kerala. In particular, SC’s landmark decision to decriminalize homosexuality ushered India in a direction of an equal society for people with different sexual preferences.
Further, the Sabarimala verdict upheld every Indian’s right to practice his or her religion irrespective of their gender, caste or race. It allowed the entry of women of menstruating age in the temple which was previously banned. This was seen as a positive step towards gender equality in India.
3.Colleague or Predator: The #metoo movement took India by storm in October 2018, when Tanushree Dutta came out and accused Nana Patekar, her co-star in 2009 film, “Horn ‘Ok’ Pleassss”, of sexual harassment. After that, many brave women from various fields came out with their stories of sexual harassment at the workplace. The movement led to naming and shaming of many eminent personalities from various industries, who were forced to resign from their post. This movement is expected to help create a safe work environment for women in the future.
4. Should history be “revenged”? : The past year witnessed political vendetta over “supposed” wrongs in the history. The inauguration of the 182 metre tall “Statue of unity” for Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the proposal by the present government to convert the Nehru memorial museum at Trimurti Bhawan to a museum dedicated to all Prime Ministers of the country for the past 70 years, the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj, all were the attempts towards political vendetta of the ruling BJP. The society collectively needs to decide whether this mentality should have any space in a functional democracy.
The late Hindi author, Dr. Dharamvir Bharti, described with great affection the Allahabad of his times in his seminal novel, “Gunaho Ka Devta”. We can’t be sure if he would have the same enthusiasm for the “Prayagraj” of our times.
5. The “strength” of our financial system: 2018 exposed glaring flaws in our economy and financial system. The year was kick-started by the elopement of Diamond merchant Nirav Modi who had embezzled funds from the Punjab National Bank. He and his partner Mehul Choksi were both able to flee India escaping punishment under the law. Meanwhile, the collapse of IL&FS bared the loopholes in our financial system and how easy it is to manipulate it. Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), small shopkeepers and the informal sector of our economy are already weak in the aftermath of demonetization and the implementation of GST. The government should seriously take the initiative to reform, structure and regulate our financial sector. The past year was certainly one for reckoning and should lead to a serious effort by the Government.
The year 2018 will be remembered for many positive reasons and been a year which provided many people with a right to live their lives with dignity. Nevertheless, it also gives a clarion call to every citizen to fix the loopholes in our system and save it from collapsing entirely.