Fr CEDRIC PRAKASH SJ | 26 JUNE, 2020
Then and now
Few will forget that infamous night of 25/26 June 1975, when Emergency was declared in India. No right-thinking Indian will ‘celebrate’ that event, as one marks its 45th anniversary. There will be some muted voices perhaps, who will attempt to justify its imposition. There will certainly be no lover of ‘Democracy’ who will count among them. Abrogating, denying or even suspending the Constitutional rights and freedoms guaranteed to the citizens of a country is a non-negotiable and not acceptable.
The emergency lasted for twenty-one months up to March 21 1977, when thankfully it was withdrawn and the rights and freedoms of citizens were restored. The period of emergency was certainly a dark chapter in the history of India. A Chapter which will never be forgotten; and of course, the country saying in unison, since that time “Never Again!”
Fast forward to 25/26 June 2020: that’s today! There is no emergency ‘officially’ proclaimed; but the sad and tragic reality is that today India is being systematically throttled by a Super Undeclared Emergency, And like then today too an influential group in the country feels that “all is well” (provided their interests are not harmed) and the vast majority are too frightened even to open their mouths!!!
Economically, the country is in shambles: the GDP is an all-time low; unemployment is on an all-time high; the few rich continue to become scandalously richer whilst the poor are pushed into dehumanizing poverty; the gap between the rich and poor is widening at a rapid pace. The Government has been increasing the price of fuel (diesel, petrol and gas) almost every single day, even as the global prices of fuel have touched an all-time low.
A few weeks ago, the respected US rating agency Moody's downgraded India's sovereign rating to ‘Baa3’, the lowest grade. It thereby joined Standard and Poor and Fitch, which had already relegated India to the bottom rung in this regard. Explaining their decision, Moody's said: "While today's action is taken in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it was not driven by the impact of the pandemic. Rather, the pandemic amplifies vulnerabilities in India's credit profile that were present and building prior to the shock, and which motivated the assignment of a negative outlook last year."
Those in power and their supporters, spew venom on others, through their hate speeches. Most so-called mainstream media (both print and electronic) is sold out, crawling before their political masters; freedom of speech and expression is virtually a thing of the past! Several journalists, writers and authors who have taken a stand for truth and justice (especially those who write for online portals and in social media) are at the receiving end of a vengeful system.
A few days ago, well-known journalist Supriya Sharma from ‘Scroll.in’ was booked in connection with an article she published on 8 June, entitled ‘In Varanasi village adopted by Prime Minister Modi, people went hungry during the lockdown’. Apparently one of those who were interviewed from village Domari has now changed her statement. On the other hand, those ‘so-called journalists’ who spew venom and spread hate, divisiveness and falsehood (the ‘godi media’ brigade), can literally get away with murder.
Minorities (particularly Muslims and Christians) are consistently targeted and denigrated and often even attacked. Lynching has become the ‘new normal’ -the victim always belongs to someone from the minority community.
A 14-year old Christian boy was lynched to death in Odisha a few days ago. Churches are regularly attacked. Recently, there was a tragic death of an elephant in Kerala; a Minister of the ruling regime stoked the communal flames by mischievously and falsely situating the death in a Muslim dominated district of the State.
Those who take a stand for human rights, justice, peace and pluralism, have false cases foisted on them, they are harassed, attacked and even killed! A recently published report by Citizen Lab and Amnesty International has evidenced how several Indian human Rights defenders were targeted in an official and coordinated malware campaign.
Several human rights defenders, particularly in the Bhima- Koregaon case are languishing in over-crowded jails. Young students who have had the courage to take on the Government with regard to the anti-Constitutional ‘Citizenship Amendment Act’(CAA) have been booked and sent to jail.
Stalwarts of Democracy like Harsh Mander and Yogendra Yadav have false cases foisted on them and are even charge-sheeted. NGOs are systematically throttled through legislation which stifle their effective functioning.
Inspite of what the country is going through in every sphere, the Government in December 2019 had the insensitivity to introduce the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Population Register (NPR) at an all-India level and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). All three are patently discriminatory, divisive and draconian and which most believe, go against the grain and spirit of India’s Constitution and democratic framework.
The CAA, the NPR and the NRC are bound to have a serious and detrimental impact on the poor, the excluded, the minorities and other vulnerable groups like the Adivasis and Dalits.
Because of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, there is some respite to the nationwide protests; however, till March 24, millions of citizens, from every walk of life, were out on the streets, in every corner of the country. They were protesting and demanding that this anti-people law and related measures, be withdrawn unconditionally and immediately.
Young and old, students and their professors, social activists and other eminent citizens, the rural folk and the suave urbans, are all protesting in an unprecedented show of strength and solidarity, never seen before in post independent India! Several powerful statements and excellent articles by leading global thinkers are already in the public domain.
Ever since the nationwide lockdown was announced three months ago, a humanitarian crisis unprecedented in India’s modern history, has severely disrupted the lives of India’s migrant workers. Millions of migrants have found themselves stranded without food, cash, and shelter, trying to get home. They have been subjected to violation of their fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 and often to severe police harassment on interstate borders. Many have reportedly died as a result of the lockdown, due to exhaustion en route home, starvation, suicides, police excesses, illnesses, and rail and road accidents.
In the midst of the pandemic, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has apparently given a green signal to more than forty projects without the mandatory environmental clearances. Most of these projects favour rich crony capitalist friends. Our precious biodiversity and our fragile ecosystems are being destroyed.
At this juncture, one cannot help but revisit the incisive poem ‘Pity the Nation’, written more than twelve years ago, by the well-known American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (based on a similar work written earlier by the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran):
"Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerers
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
With force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
Who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away
my country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!”
Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights and peace activist/writer.
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