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A Year of Betrayal: Let’s Hope for the Best

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
02 Jan 2023
Betrayal becomes worse when the betrayer is the state or its agency, for it is supposed to function in an orderly manner.

Betrayal is the worst condition for a person to accept. World literature is littered with instances of betrayal by the lover, whether man or woman. Nothing illustrates betrayal better than the murder of the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar by his close associate and Senator Marcus Brutus. He was stabbed 23 times!

Betrayal becomes worse when the betrayer is the state or its agency, for it is supposed to function in an orderly manner. The death of Jesuit priest Stan Swamy in police custody in July 2021 was an act of great betrayal. He was interrogated by the police for several days.

The police sought his arrest as they wanted to interrogate him further in judicial custody. The fact of the matter is that he was not interrogated even for a second after his arrest. Interrogation was just a ruse to get him in jail.

A forensic examination of the contents of his laptop, based on which the police built up their case against him, has found that they were planted there to implicate him. The question is, how could an agency of the state, entrusted with maintaining law and order, go to such depths of chicanery?

How will Stan Swamy’s admirers, who looked up to him for the kind of moral courage he showed, ever reconcile themselves to his torture and eventual murder? How will the judge who sat on his appeal for a straw to drink water in the jail ever have a clear conscience?

Yes, betrayal is difficult to come to terms with. Scholarships for children of minority communities were introduced by the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh. Millions of children were getting the benefits of the scheme.

Of course, the scheme was diluted by the Modi government but nobody expected that it would be discontinued. That is what it did when it was announced that the scholarships would be applicable only from Class IX onwards.

Most of the beneficiaries were Muslims. If they feel betrayed, can they be blamed? If the government felt that the minorities were getting an extra privilege, they could have extended the scheme to the children of the majority community too on the same terms and conditions. Similarly, the Maulana Azad National Fellowship under which financial assistance was provided to students from six notified minority communities to pursue MPhil and PhD was discontinued.

But, then, betrayal is not the monopoly of Modi or the BJP. The betrayal of the Dalits is as old as the Indian Constitution. A Presidential order was issued to deprive non-Hindu Scheduled Castes of the benefits of reservation. The order has no rational, legal or Constitutional basis.

Yet, it was treated as sacrosanct by the successive Congress governments led by Jawaharlal Nehru to Manmohan Singh. When V.P. Singh became Prime Minister, he extended the benefits of reservation to the Scheduled Castes among the Sikhs, though Sikhism is as egalitarian a religion as Christianity and Islam.

For nearly three-quarter of a century, Dalit Christians have been fighting for the benefits of reservation. It is a different matter that the government has been cleverly doing away with reservation by privatising government services and allowing lateral entry from the private sector.

There is a large body of documents, both official and private, which point to the illegality of denying reservation to the Dalit Christians and Muslims. Justice Ranganath Mishra, who studied the issue threadbare, recommended that the Dalits, no matter which God they worshipped, deserve reservation.

Yet, the government thought it necessary to appoint the Justice K.G. Balakrishnan Commission to study the issue. Worse, it has been given two years to file its report. Even after appointing the commission, the government says that it is against giving Christian and Muslim Dalits the benefits of reservation. Is this not the height of betrayal?

In terms of numbers, the Indian military is second only to China. If all the paramilitary forces are included, Indian armed forces may emerge as the world’s largest. The RSS also claims that it is the world’s largest militia. Yet, the Indian state fears Christians who are numerically less than three percent.

Christians are the most law-abiding citizens of the country. Yet, state after state ruled by the BJP have been bringing forward anti-conversion laws, though not one Christian has been convicted so far. Recently, the Supreme Court accepted a petition against the threat of conversion which was rejected earlier by the same court.

Are these laws and judicial activism a betrayal of the promise given by the Indian Constitution that the people are free to propagate their religion? Narendra Modi can promise a magnificent temple in Ayodhya and seek votes. Arvind Kejriwal can promise free pilgrimages to Ayodhya to get votes. They are not allurements.

A man can vote for Modi in the Parliament elections, for Rahul Gandhi in the Assembly elections and for the CPM in the municipal elections. He does not have to inform the district magistrate about his changing faith in the political parties.

But if the same voter, vested with the supreme power of choosing the leader who will decide his destiny for five years, wants to worship a God different from the one he worshipped so far, he has to seek the permission of the District Magistrate. That is what the Freedom of Religion laws in many states like Karnataka say.

As the year 2022 is set conclude, nearly 600 cases against Christians have been registered in various parts of the country, especially Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Most of these cases are against the citizen’s right to worship.

India is supposed to be secular. The state has no religion of its own. It should treat every religion in the same manner. Is that the case now? It is the partisanship of the police that worries Christians in village after village.

There have been umpteen cases of persecution of Christians. The worst was in Kandhamal district of Odisha. Hundreds of churches, parsonages and parish halls were destroyed, dozens were killed and thousands were forced to move out of their villages. Not even in ONE, repeat ONE, case was there any retaliation from the Christians. They suffered in the name of their Lord.

Yet, the state is increasingly turning belligerent towards the Christian community. Is it not a betrayal of the promise of secularism? The Prime Minister recently conducted a puja for the construction of the new Parliament building. It was done under the Vedic traditions in wanton disregard of the secular principles governing the country.

Modi unveiled the plaque that would remain part of the new Parliament building for as long as it lasts. The plaque is quite revelatory. Modi’s name is written in a type larger than that of any other name including the name Parliament.

Om Birla’s name also figures there. After all, he is the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Parliament has two Houses, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Ideally, the Rajya Sabha Speaker’s name should also have been there. But it was omitted. You know why?

The Rajya Sabha does not have a Speaker. It is the Vice-President of the country who is the Speaker of the Rajya Sabha. If the Vice-President was there, his name would have come before Modi’s name because in the order of precedence, the Prime Minister comes only after the President and the Vice-President.

Modi did not want to share space with his own Vice-President. The puja was not only un-secular, it was also an affront to the basic structure of the Constitution which has at its pyramid the President followed by the Vice-President and then the Prime Minister. It is a betrayal of all the Constitutional values.

Bilkis Bano is a victim of the Gujarat riots. Elsewhere in the world, she would have been a symbol of helplessness. People would have rallied for her support. It was with great difficulty that she was able to get justice. For that even the trial had to be held outside of Gujarat.

But even before her tormentors could complete their term in jail, the state stirred itself to release them. The Centre was more than willing to collaborate with the state to end their jail term. The man who championed their cause saying they were Brahmins who had impeccable credentials was rewarded with a ticket.

Worse, the gentleman was elected from Godhra to the State Assembly. Even the Supreme Court felt annoyed that the subject was coming up before the court every now and then.

There was Nirbhay, a “medical student”, who was gang-raped in a moving bus in Delhi. She later died in a hospital in Singapore. None of the courts showed any annoyance in hearing Nirbhay’s case. What’s more, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court showed willingness to review all the rape laws in the country and come up with a deterrent law. Why are gang-rapes treated differently? Is not that a betrayal of the basic tenet of the law that everybody is equal.

A society can be judged by how well human rights are respected. Anyone who claims to be a human rights activist should be prepared to face arrest at any time. The arrest of Aakar Patel and many others are a case in point.

Siddique Kappan was not a human rights activist. He was a journalist who sought a lift to go to Uttar Pradesh to report a horrendous killing. He was arrested and kept in jail for nearly two years. Usually, journalists are punished for writing objectionable things but in his case, he was not even allowed to file his report.

India is today the president of the G-20 nations. Do all these behove a nation which we expect the world to look up to? I have not been able to understand the concept of Vishwa Guru that the RSS often talks about.

On what basis do we say that we are the world’s Vishwa Guru? Does it mean that Narendra Modi is the Vishwa Guru? If the claim is that India is the Vishwa Guru, what is the basis of the claim?

When early this year Russia attacked Ukraine thinking that it would collapse in no time, we sided with neutrality. When an overwhelming majority of the free nations voted against Russia in the United Nations, we effectively sided with Russia on the specious plea that it supported us in the 1971 war.

It was a different entity — the Soviet Union — which supported India, not Russia, though it is the “successor” of the Soviet Union. We have amended the citizenship laws to prevent Muslims from other countries from becoming citizens here.

Are people dying to become citizens of India? On the contrary, there has been an outward flow of high net-worth Indians. We used to say that Bangladeshis were colonising India. We no longer say that. Why? Because, the economy has been growing better in Bangladesh. Even on many social indices, Bangladesh is better endowed than India. It is like saying that Americans are dying to immigrate to Mexico.

India is respected the world over because it is the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Buddha. It gave sanctuary to people suffering from persecution, be it the Jews or the Parsis or the Bahais. It was also the land to which Swami Vivekanand invited all the missionaries of the world to come and preach.

However hard the hotheads try to stop the march of liberation, it will have only limited success. India will become the Vishwa Guru when it taps the full potential of its people, irrespective of their religious or caste differences. Let’s all strive to make India truly an inclusive democracy where everyone feels proud to say that he is, first and foremost, an Indian. Wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2023!

ajphilip@gmail.com

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