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Fear creeps into lives of Indian citizens

November 24, 2012

The state fails when its citizens live in fear. All over India, more and more people are joining the ranks of those who have been living in fear for decades now. Dreams of economic emancipation or global leadership cannot be realised by excluding large sections of Indian society from the map of growth, equality and justice.

A Facebook post said it all. The writer, a young man and a Muslim, “hailed” the hanging of terrorist Ajmal Kasab saying that his death would at least put an end to the weight that some political parties and groups were making Indian Muslims carry. And that while they basically did not give a damn, they were made to carry the cross through insinuations and direct comments by communal forces always looking for shadows where none existed.Kasab’s hanging has not stirred a leaf in India, or for that matter even in Pakistan. Except for extremists such as Lashkar-i-Taiyyaba whose reactions were on expected lines, even villagers in Faridkot in Pakistan where Kasab ostensibly lived, chased away reporters saying they were not interested in the matter at all.

The young man had crossed every civilised line when he, along with nine others, had picked up the gun to shoot down Indian citizens in Mumbai in one of the worst terror attacks this country has ever seen.

In fact, the debate post Kasab is not about whether he should have been hanged, but about death penalty per se and whether it should be abolished. The one intelligent move that the government made was to ensure that the hanging took place without the media being informed.

This prevented the 24-hour news channels from sensationalising the issue to a point where it could have taken a nasty turn. Immature commentary, jingoism, ridiculous interpretations even before the actual hanging by hysterical anchors would have vitiated the atmosphere and given a handle to vested interests to make communal hay.

As it is, India was already reeling under the shock of the arrest of two young girls for an innocuous Facebook post on the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray. News channels with their incessant coverage turned a political leader into a hero, with not a single worthwhile analysis made in the mainstream media of his contribution to Indian politics, his declared admiration for Adolf Hitler and how that had influenced his politics.

Such an electric atmosphere had been created by television channels that an innocuous post incited the Mumbai government and its police to arrest the two young girls after sundown, in an action that sent tremors of fear through the city and angered the country. They were charged with inciting communal hatred, with not a word about those who had enforced a shutdown in the country’s financial capital with mere threats of physical violence.

In one stroke, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government demonstrated that it was on the same page as the Shiv Sena insofar as even mild dissent was concerned. Two, it had the authority and the reach to monitor Facebook posts and three, with the arrests, it sent out the message to all Indian users of social media that they should be careful of airing their views lest they meet a similar, or worse fate. The public outcry forced the government to release the girls and dilute the charges, but last heard, the cases had not been withdrawn and the duo need to make court appearances every week.

In fact, Shiv Sainiks were more disciplined in the death of Thackeray than the Congress party and the NCP who bent over backwards to prove their dependability with the arrests and their decision to give the departed leader a state farewell.

The state fails when its citizens live in fear. And not fear of each other but of the state’s inability to provide them security, to protect them from violence, and to ensure justice.

All over the country, more and more people are joining the ranks of those who have been living in fear for decades now. The percentage of oppressed and victimised people is growing as India supposedly marches towards economic emancipation. But dreams of economic prowess or global leadership cannot be realised by excluding large sections of Indian society from the map of growth, equality and justice. But this is something our politicians seem unable to acknowledge.

Fear of arrest, fear of attacks and fear of violence have crept into our daily lives as has the nagging worry over food security. Those living in big bungalows in state capitals have little idea of how much helpless this is making millions and generating unforeseen levels of resentment and disaffection.

This is evident from the outpourings in the social media that of course insecure governments, not just in India but elsewhere too, want to curb. But it has also become evident in the scale of protests breaking out cross the country, and in the increasing duration of such protests. The fishermen who stood in water for days to demand basic livelihood rights withstood the agony of swollen feet, blisters and bites as life on the ground had become meaningless for them without adequate compensation and support.

The Indian state seems to have lost its compassion. The Mumbai incident indicates that it is more than wiling to deploy its brute might to suppress even innocent and modest dissent. And unfortunately, unless there are enough people to beat back the authority of the state, the state will not see reason.

There is a severe disconnect between politicians and the people, with the first unable and unwilling to appreciate the sensitivities and aspirations of the second. This has led to a divide that expresses itself in violence by the state, and every now and again, by the people seeking redressal and justice.

In Delhi, one is aware of a small clique that lives in another world where the rich (industry) make common cause with the powerful (politicians) and the influential (media) to seek membership of this exclusive group of power brokers.

They protect each other, and also determine the levels of indifference and callousness to the "other" India to ensure that it does not impinge on their consciousness in any significant manner. The funerals of known thugs and mafia dons attract politicians, film stars and industrialists, but there was not one person seen holding the hands of the traumatised Mumbai girls who must be still wondering what they had done that was so wrong.

By arrangement with The Statesman/ANN