Rights & Wrongs

While the issue of human rights is increasingly becoming a new area of academic discourse, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the national-level watchdog, pleads helplessness in curbing growing menace of human rights violations by government authorities across the country. It routinely recommends some monetary relief to a negligible section of victims—mainly the poor of weaker sections—only to see at the end that most of their recommendations remain unimplemented and state governments in most cases ignore them. The reason is simple: the persons in power and authority who are responsible for violation of human rights and indulging in atrocious activities towards the socially and economically disadvantaged, can’t punish themselves. Meanwhile, NHRC is growing, both horizontally and vertically with increasing budgetary allocation every year, without making any real impact on the people who are at the receiving end. But they have now a huge bureaucratic structure. They find their utility in periodically organising high-sounding seminars on thought-provoking issues among academic elites. Whether the elites discussing human rights will improve the situation at the grassroots level is a different matter but they certainly get media focus.

Recently NHRC organised two national seminars with the avowed objective of raising awareness amongst all stakeholders about importance of human rights with respect to gender and social justice in modern democracy. The first one was on ‘Gender, Social Justice and Human Rights with reference to North East’, at Kohima, Nagaland on March 15,2017. And the Department of Linguistics, University of Nagaland was the co-host. For decades the people of NE have been facing the worst form of human rights violations by the army and security forces. The story of notorious Assam Rifles is the story of medieval barbarism and brutality. Irom Sharmila’s historic hunger strike that ended only a few months ago, against the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act and its consequences—rampant violation of human rights by the army and para-military forces—has failed to move the mountain. The government continues to rule the so-called disturbed areas in NE through this obnoxious Act despite international outcry against its frequent misuse. How much gender and social justice will be done through NHRC sponsored discourses and that too among academic elites is anybody’s guess.

While it is crucial to address the permanent emergency that has produced enormous anger and frustration in different ethnic communities in NE, it is also important to address the accompanying existential crisis that has virtually destroyed the self-esteem, identity and hopes of those considered disposable. A culture of fear and a war against any voice of dissent demanding democracy, has produced both a profound sense of hopelessness among not only toilers but also among comparatively better off middle class people who feel crushed by Modi’s ruthless economic measures including demonetisation and digitisation.

The venue of the second seminar was ironic because it was held in Chattisgarh. The topic was ‘Literature, Society and Human Rights’. NHRC organised it in collaboration with Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur, Chattisgarh from the 23rd-24th March, 2017. The tribals of Chattisgargh know well how human rights are being honoured in the region. For them it was a joke! Interestingly one of the four sessions of the seminar dealt with ‘Identifying Challenges and Solutions to Human Dignity’. For the people of Chattisgarh who are rebelling against the system, either violently or peacefully there is no human dignity. The security forces are tram plating it daily with impunity by ignoring rules of the land.

All these high-sounding seminars propagating different aspects of human rights scenario have no appeal to ordinary people who find it increasingly difficult to raise voice against continuing and ever widening social and economic injustice in Modi’s democracy. Modi’s unapologetic authoritarianism has created a situation in which more and more people are getting marginalised. With the rise of saffron power and its cheer leader Modi; Indian people have entered into one of the most dangerous periods of 21st century. Prime Minister Modi is not only a twisted caricature of every variation of economic, political, educational and religious fundamentalism, he is an apogee of an increasingly intolerant and authoritarian political outlook, otherwise medieval in all respects aimed at destroying free speech, human rights, women’s libertarian movements, and all vestiges of economic justice and democracy. People under Modi’s dispensation feel insecure everywhere and at every level. This surge of hopelessness and helplessness is made possible mostly through the emergence of a savage neoliberalism backed by the Indian financial elite, a pervasive concentration of power by the ruling classes, and an aggressive ideological and cultural war committed to undoing the basic principles of Constitution and democratic and civil rights gained through struggles and sacrifices over the years. Instead of just reacting to the horrors and misery perpetrated by the security establishment, it is more than urgent now to call its end while supporting a notion of democratic socialism that speaks to the needs of those who have been left out of the discourse of democracy and human rights.

Vol. 49, No.52, Jul 2 - 8, 2017