Darkness Falls On Our Democracy
MYSURU: As darkness fell on September 5, noted activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh was entering her home in Bengaluru, and unknown gunmen extinguished the life of a courageous and outspoken upholder of democracy and opponent of communalism.
Gauri is the fourth well-known person after Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M.Kalaburgi, to be murdered for speaking her mind. What is common to these four martyrs for the cause of democracy and freedom is that they were unequivocal in their condemnation of the forces which worked against democracy and freedom, and opposed and condemned social, economic and physical violence against individuals and groups on the basis of religion and caste. Also, they were all murdered in the same manner.
It is therefore not possible to avoid the needle of suspicion turning towards right-wing forces.
Many persons have also been murdered for various reasons like suspicion of possessing certain goods, or exercising their right to eat what they choose, or doing their “job” of skinning dead animals, and the surviving members of their families have been subjected to threats of dire consequences. These were not murders like those of the four martyrs named above, but were done by mobs, whether instigated or spontaneous, and always for “causes” sponsored by right-wing forces.
Murders and rapes due to personal and non-political reasons are of course condemnable crimes, but rapes, murders and lynchings for reasons of ideological, political, religious, caste or language differences are doubly condemnable because they are strong indications, even proof, of intolerance and hate in our society. All murders are condemnable including murders of right-wing workers.
Those who wield political and administrative power and authority are engaged in petty and not-so-petty politics of winning forthcoming elections. They have failed to investigate the murders adequately, or play down the lynchings as having been done by “bad” gaurakshaks, or transfer blame onto the victims. In one case, one of the persons accused in a mob-lynching died of natural causes, and an elected representative honoured his dead body with our national flag, an honour given to only those who die in the cause of our nation like soldiers killed in action.
The silence, inaction or negligence of the Indian State in dealing with these murders is violation of their oath of upholding the ideals of our Constitution in letter and spirit. If we can be generous enough to absolve some elected representatives of secret acts of commission in these murders (impossible to prove in any case), it is not possible to absolve them of acts of omission of upholding the Constitution. This culpability cuts across all political parties in-power and out-of-power at different levels.
As regards Gauri Lankesh’s murder, who murdered her (and who commissioned them to murder her) is yet to be found out, but what murdered her is abundantly clear. She, like Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalaburgi before her, was murdered because she courageously translated her thoughts, beliefs and convictions into words and actions, in the interest of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.
Of course some, even many, may have been unhappy, even pained, by what she spoke and wrote, but they had no right whatsoever to take her life. Her murder is wholly condemnable and calls for swift and transparent action by Government of Karnataka. Police cannot be accused of incompetence, but perhaps can be accused of being politicized if investigation into Kalaburgi’s murder two years ago is any indication. So we must pray that investigation, arraignment and prosecution in Gauri’s murder will be rapid and definite.
There is a sinking feeling that among many elected representatives at all levels, there is little understanding of the tenets of our Constitution, and even less willingness to act in implementing what they have understood of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Of personal examples there are few if any, but there is hope with Suresh Prabhu (possibly the first after the exemplary Lal Bahadur Shastri) notably offering to resign his Railways ministerial post, taking moral responsibility for accidents as his personal failure.
Which home ministers will resign their posts for failing to handle repeated murders and mob violence, taking a cue from Suresh Prabhu for moral responsibility?
Do they have it in them to understand that violence due to difference in thought, belief or speech should not be tolerated, and that dissent is an essential element of democracy?
Which political party leader will direct his/her party members to adhere to the tenets of our Constitution? If a government cannot use the powers given to them by We the People to maintain the writ of law, they do not deserve to continue in power.
Even though the Executive at various levels is primarily responsible for the deteriorating state of affairs in our society, the Legislative and the Judiciary at all levels cannot be let off the hook, since they too have the responsibility to perform their duties in accordance with our Constitution, using their authority and power in the best interest of We the People. Shouting matches in legislatures or the “ivory tower” attitude by courts of law in delivery of justice cannot deal with real-life, real-time threat to our very Constitution.
If Gauri’s murder is not followed by non-partisan, firm and definite action by the elected representatives in the Executive and Legislature and by members of the Judiciary, they will fail We the People and their constitutional oath.
It will confirm fears that our precious Constitution is being extinguished, and our dear country is sinking into a condition where the mind will be beset by fear, where the head will be bowed by the shame of not fighting untruth, and all Indians will suffer from the fragmentation of society in the enveloping darkness of hate and fear.
There is need for every citizen to awake to Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s call for freedom.
(Major General S,G,Vombatkere is retired from the Indian Army)