SILENCE KILLS: Speak out against Denial of Justice

Jacob Peenikaparambil
05 Oct 2020

September 30, 2020 will go down in the annals of Indian history as one of the darkest days because of two reasons. A 19 year old Dalit woman, who was gang raped and tortured by upper caste men in Uttar Pradesh's Hathras, died on 29th September in a Delhi hospital and she was cremated by the UP police at 2.30 am on 30th without allowing the family members to do the last rites. It was reported in the media that the family members were locked in their house by the police. On the same day a CBI court acquitted all 32 persons charge-sheeted in Babri Masjid demolition conspiracy case. The acquitted include among others the BJP leaders LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti. "The accused tried to stop the demolition," said special CBI judge SK Yadav. These two incidents indicate how Justice, one of the core values of Indian constitution, is denied to certain groups in the Indian society.  

The cruel and inhuman act of the UP Police was condemned by many.  Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "A daughter of India has been raped and murdered. Facts are suppressed and in the end, her family's rights to perform the last rites are snatched away. This is insulting and unjust." "Even criminals are allowed dignified cremation. Here is a rape victim being cremated by police at 2:30 am without family members. Could this happen, if the family was not Dalit? This is a matter of national shame. Our own George Floyd moment," tweeted Yogendra Yadav.

The woman who was gang raped had suffered multiple fractures, paralysis and a deep gash in her tongue in the assault. This tragic incident is parallel to the 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape. According to the media reports, people protested in front of Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital when the death of the woman was out, but the police took away the body of the woman without informing the family members and it was carried to Hathras for cremation.  
It is heart wrenching to see the relatives throwing themselves on the hood of the ambulance carrying the body. Her mother sat on the road sobbing and beating her chest. The vehicle was stopped at multiple points on the road, but the police pushed away the people. Neither any of the villagers nor the media was allowed to be present at the venue of the cremation. Why did the police who are expected to be the protectors of the law took law into their hands and cremated the body without allowing even the parents of the woman to be present at the spot of cremation? Does the law of the land give authority to the police to indulge in such actions? 

The judicial system in the country seems to be confused or hobnobbing with the executive. The Supreme Court in its verdict on Ram Mandir Ayodhya on November 9, 2019 had said that the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 was an ‘egregious’ violation of the rule of law. It said, “The entire structure of the mosque was brought down in a calculated act of destroying a place of public worship.” But today’s judgement says, "Anti-social elements brought down the structure. The accused leaders tried to stop these people." The judge also said the audio and video evidence that the CBI submitted before the court did not prove any conspiracy. Reacting to the special CBI court judgment the Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said, “The decision of the special court to acquit all the accused in Babri Masjid demolition case runs counter to Supreme Court judgment and also the constitutional spirit,” He urged the Centre and the State governments to appeal against the judgement of the CBI special court.  

There were many visuals showing the acquitted BJP leaders present on the spot when the kar sevaks pulled down the mosque in 1992. Journalist Renu Mittal who was present on the spot on December 6, 1992 wrote an article in National Herald on December 6, 2017, describing what she had seen and heard. She wrote, “On the far side was a big stage with the BJP leaders perched there and all around was a sea of humanity. The slogan shouting was reaching frenzy and from the stage, the likes of Sadhvi Ritambara and Uma Bharati were egging the crowd ‘Ek Dhaka Aur Do’ and the sea of humanity would chorus, ‘Babri Masjid Tod Do”. 

It is a fact that the demolition of Babri Masjid was the culmination of a political movement planned and spearheaded by the RSS-BJP combine. The mosque demolition was preceded by a series of Rath Yatras by LK Advani. Ram temple campaign catapulted the BJP to the national spotlight and in the following elections the BJP could substantially increase its seats in the Lok Sabha. On the other hand, it divided the Indian society on the basis of religion. The communal violence that took place in different parts of India after the demolition killed thousands of people and destroyed property worth crores of Rupees. Babri Masjid demolition was a heinous crime that had far reaching consequences on the Indian nation. But after 28 long years the criminal justice delivery system did not deliver justice. As Sitaram Yechury has said, “Babri Masjid demolition verdict is a complete travesty of Justice”. 

The political scenario of India today is indeed worrying. On the one hand, the law breakers, because of their political clout and ideological leaning to the ruling dispensation, go scot free. On the other hand, those who empower the underprivileged and fight for justice are harassed and even imprisoned. The recent amendments to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and freezing of the bank accounts of Amnesty International are calculated attempts to chock funds to the NGOs and to paralyse their activities. The Amnesty International closed down its activities in India and about 150 employees lost their jobs at the trying time of the pandemic Covid 19. 

There is no doubt that the Government is duty bound to prevent or stop the misuse of funds by the NGOs. Prior to the passing of the recent amendments the Ministry of Home Affairs had enough powers to monitor and control the receipt and use of foreign funds by NGOs and thereby prevent any misuse of funds by them. It is nothing but hypocrisy to stipulate that the NGOs should spend only 20% of their total FC receipts for administration, including salaries of the staff. The Central and the State governments spend a huge portion of their revenues for the salary and pension of the government employees. The Kerala government has to spend about 80% of its revenue receipts for the salary and pension of its employees. Hence the purpose of the recent amendments to FCRA goes beyond preventing the misuse of funds. 

The last four decades witnessed a remarkable change in the functioning of the NGO sector. Although many in the NGO sector followed a mixer of charitable, development and social action approach, a large number of NGOs moved from charity and development mode to empowerment of the underprivileged through social action.  Social action aims at structural change in the society through awareness creation among the poor and the underprivileged about their rights and organizing them to struggle for change. 

The NGOs took initiative to organize people’s movements for the protection of environment and livelihood of the people and for safeguarding the rights of Tribals, Dalits, women etc. In this process the NGOs came into conflict with the government in the implementation of certain development projects that caused large scale displacement of people and destruction of the environment. Narmada Bachao Andholan, Fishermen’s Movement and Jungle Bachao Andholan are only a few of them. People’s movements also came into conflict with the corporate sector when they took up projects in ecologically sensitive areas. As a result the governments began to brand some of the NGOs and people’s movements as anti-national.  

The NGOs also played a key role in the enactment of social legislations like Right to Information Act, Forest Rights Act, Right to Education Act and Right to Food Act. These legislations have been very helpful in accessing the rights of the underprivileged groups. The NGO movement in general resulted in greater empowerment of the suppressed and oppressed communities like Dalits, Tribals, fisher people and women in general. These groups also began to assert themselves when they were denied access to their rights. 

The NGOs that empower the depressed castes and classes and women in general are stumbling blocks in the strategy of the Hindutva organizations in shaping the Indian society on the pattern of Manusmriti- a caste based hierarchical and patriarchal society. Debilitating the NGOs by choking funds to them through tightening the provisions of FCRA will contribute to building a society based on the Manusmriti in which women and the depressed castes and classes will have a very low status. The BJP government wants the NGOs to limit their activities only to charity and empowerment of the underprivileged groups hereafter is a forbidden area for them.  

Increasing crimes on Dalits, especially raping and killing of Dalit girls and women in Uttar Pradesh, is to be perceived from the perspective power equation in the society. Through these crimes and the soft-pedalling of criminal cases against the upper castes by the police a strong message is sent to the Dalits and the underprivileged groups that asserting their rights is inviting peril. 

After the execution of 4 men who gang raped Nirbhaya, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi in 2012, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted saying "justice has prevailed". He added that the country had to "build a nation where the focus is on women's empowerment". There was huge hue and cry, particularly among the urban middle class, when there was delay in the execution of the four criminals. There were huge protests all over India, especially in the metros, against the brutal rape of Nirbhaya. But such protests and expression of outrage are not seen when Dalit women and girls are brutally raped and murdered. Why is this selective expression of anger and protest only in some cases? Is not empowerment applicable to Dalit women? Why do many opposition parties keep silent in the face of gross violation of Justice to the minorities and the underprivileged groups? Why do the right wing-organizations, who have taken upon themselves the role of moral policing, keep mum? If the people of India fail to raise their voice against denial of Justice to any group of Indians, democracy and human rights will be in danger and all will have to bear the consequences, as happened in Hitler’s Germany. 

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
 Martin Niemöller

(jacobpt48@gmail.com) 

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