Categorized | South Asian Politics

Hate overtakes tolerance

Posted on 28 July 2010 by .

THE escalating violence in India frightens me. Still more frightening is the shape it is taking. It has turned communal, regional and ideological in various places. Whatever its direction, it indicates a trend where the rule of law is lessening and force is gaining recognition.

I had imagined that political parties would not stoke fires and would, in fact, find a way to douse them. Instead, I find some of them organising their cadres and arming them to jump into the fray. For the first time, Hindu terrorists are also active.

The Maoists, however misdirected, are at least saying that they do not believe in the ballot box. Their trail is marked by blood in at least half the 200 districts they dominate. There is no stopping the Maoists who have targeted civilians, apart from the security forces. How do they serve their cause, which is supposed to be the welfare and emancipation of the people?

The stone-pelting incidents, believed to be instigated by the Hurriyat, against security forces in Indian Kashmir are taking place every now and then. This has been the scene for the last one year.

The excesses committed by the security forces there are reprehensible and there should be an inquiry by a judicial commission to find out why they indulge in violence. The promise of zero tolerance doesn’t mean anything when children are killed in action taken against agitators. I do not expect anything from the extremist elements because they are out to destroy the polity and disfigure democracy. It is for New Delhi to ensure that no force runs amok and there is proper punishment for those found guilty.

The latest addition to the list of brutality is ‘honour killing’. In recent months, one has heard about scores of such killings taking place in northern India, particularly in Haryana, where the khap panchayats have openly backed these killings. Several young boys and girls getting married have been the victims. In some cases, the couples were driven to the edge and committed suicide.

The neighbouring state of Punjab too has joined the law violators. A strange example is that of a non-resident Indian killing his stepdaughter because he did not approve of her marriage to a low-caste Sikh in Brussels. Television networks have rightly brought such brutalities to light.

But one unfortunate fallout is that people are beginning to equate violence and ‘honour killings’ with a tainted system. Their confidence in it is turning into cynicism. They are finding the law and order machinery an instrument of tyranny in the hands of rulers and their cohorts who stage-manage false encounters to eliminate the opponents and trump up cases to harass the critics.

Whether it is a single-party government or a coalition, the methods employed are no different. The worst culprits are civil servants. The ethical considerations which once guided their action have dimmed. The desire for self-preservation has become the sole motivation for their behaviour.

In the process, the people have been disillusioned. They have come to believe that justice is only a relative term. They have lost the awareness of what is right and do not realise what is wrong. They find the dividing line between right and wrong, and moral and immoral, sinking in the sands of opportunism and oppression. They are at a loss as to how to act. No wonder they fall prey to what is promised by a demagogue or the person with the gun.

Political parties should realise that any appeal to violence in India is particularly dangerous because of its inherent disruptive character. We have too many fissiparous tendencies in the country to take such risks. Violence, even otherwise, leads to conflict and disruption. It is absurd to imagine that the result of a conflict would be the victory of socially progressive forces. I find the Left sometimes thinking along these lines.

In India, diversity, which to date had been the nation’s forte, is turning into separate entities. Consensus, which is the cornerstone of democracy, has become so difficult that even the basics cannot get the approval of parliament. Yet there is inherent unity at which foreigners marvel.

I recall that when I was India’s high commissioner to the UK, the Soviet Union was tottering. Mrs Margaret Thatcher, the then British prime minister, told me about the advice she had tendered to Moscow: learn from the example of India which has stayed together for hundreds of years despite people professing different religions, following different castes and speaking different languages.

Mrs Thatcher asked me what I attributed it to. It took me some time to explain to her that we in India did not divide things into black and white. We believed there was a grey area which we had been expanding for decades to strength our pluralism. Twenty years later, I feel what I told Mrs Thatcher is changing to the detriment of India.

Unfortunately, the spirit of tolerance or the sense of accommodation, which provided the glue for India’s integration is fading. Parties which are attempting to deny or defeat the ethos of secularism are harming the country’s unity and its catholicity. They have their own agenda and want to pursue it even at the expense of the nation’s unity. Methods do not matter to them.

I believe in the basic dictum that the wrong means will not lead to the right results. This is no longer an ethical doctrine, but a practical proposition. India can disintegrate like the Soviet Union if the nation does not awaken to the dangers of conflict. The Maoists and all political parties should eschew not only violence but also the language of violence which instills division and hatred. The situation is too uncertain for the country to remain complacent.

Author: Kuldip Nayar

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