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Why India Can't Be A Modern, Civilised, Free Society

April 15, 2022 12:32 IST
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On such things as the meat ban and hijab ban, we are finding that elements that comprise the system are enthusiastic about denying people their rights.
It says something awful about us as a society, asserts Aakar Patel.

Photograph: PTI Photo

What is democratic government? Often it is reduced to one essential element, and that is the electoral process.

This refers to having heads of government who are elected through fair and free elections.

And also to whether or not all sections of society have the right to participate.

India usually scores well on this count.

Even in the rankings of Freedom House, which says India is only 'partly free', on electoral democracy, India scored 33/40, which is pretty good.

In fact it is one point more than the United States of America, which got 32.

On civil liberties, however, India only scored 33/60 while the US scored 51.

And so the US was rated as 'free' while we got 'partly free' (and Kashmir was rated 'not free').

It may surprise readers that electoral democracy was only good for 40 points while civil liberties was 60.

But that is how most of the world views democracy.

It is about the rights and freedoms of the individuals and not just limited to a single act once every five years.

This, then, is how democracies are rated and why we are slipping.

However, there is a third aspect to democracies which has not been discussed here and that is the functioning of the State.

The engagement the citizen has is not with the politician they elected.

It is with the bureaucrat and collector and the police officer that we have to deal with.

For us it is these people who are the State, and who are the ultimate representatives of the democracy.

If they were to be rated, how would it go?

Unfortunately, it would be quite bad. One part is obviously the corruption and inefficiency that we have to live with.

But there is something else and it is the ability of the political establishment to bend the bureaucracy to their will.

The police and the agencies are unleashed on opponents by the politicians and there is no resistance to this from within.

There appears to be no real morality in the officers manning the agencies that are used in this way.

Raids by the enforcement directorate (which is controlled by the Union government) on Opposition leaders and parties have become a weekly affair.

And the targeting of those who are especially threatening is obvious.

Similarly, the National Investigation Agency, again controlled by the Union government, has been used against activists.

The Bhima Koregaon case was initially about the violence between Marathas and Dalits in the village of Bhima Koregaon, but it was taken away from the Maharashtra police after the BJP lost the state to the MVA.

Those in jail in the case include individuals whose work the BJP doesn't like and doesn't want continued.

One of those, Father Stan Swamy, died in jail because the BJP kept opposing bail to him.

But the intent of the political party is separate from what actually happens.

Some officer will have to write down a case that is either wholly fraudulent or cooked up in some way or meddled with in other ways.

Another officer must approve this file, knowing full well that what is happening is patently illegal. But they go along with it.

These things do not happen in other democracies. We have to accept that.

And when they do, these things are caught and exposed and there are consequences. There are none here.

And that is the reason that the officers continue to harass people that the political leaders want harassed.

What can be said about those individuals in government who as officers and as advocates denied Stan Swamy the right to die in dignity?

What can be said about those in the police force who, as courts in Delhi have observed, deliberately went after the victims of the Delhi pogrom rather than the perpetrators?

You have to be a particularly venal sort of person to do such things.

And yet it seems that there are more such people in the system than of the sort that resist.

On such things as the meat ban and hijab ban, we are finding that elements that comprise the system are enthusiastic about denying people their rights.

It says something awful about us as a society.

It is bad enough that the State structurally does not allow us to exercise our rights and freedoms, as the global indices scores show.

But it is even worse that within such a restrictive space, the apparatus of the bureaucracy has succumbed to the whims of those who are elected.

It is why our road to becoming a modern, civilised, prosperous and free society is long and will be full of obstacles.

Aakar Patel is a columnist and writer and you can read Aakar's earlier columns here.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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