Surfeit of Democracy

Flouting the constitution is so rampant that opposition parties, not excluding left parties, otherwise mired in the cesspool of parliamentary opportunism, have of late, stopped talking about it. Throughout India there is now a visible swing towards centralisation and erosion of democratic culture at every level. The people are witnessing a paradigm shift in democratic governance but the shift is for the worse. Discourse on democracy and human rights makes little sense as it is a tale of indifference, if not deliberate neglect. Indians live in a time when they would like to celebrate ceremonial values more than instrumental values. And it is nowhere so glaring as in observing Human Rights Day. The outcome of the Protection of Human Rights (PHR) Act, has been a classic case of upholding ceremonial niceties rather than instrumental application. No wonder this is the fate of most Rights Acts, passed by parliament and guaranteed under the Constitution. There are so many constitutional rights for the citizens that the showcase of Indian democracy is dazzling. In reality it is a mirage, it creates a false notion of democratic space which is virtually absent in Modi’s out and out autocratic dispensation.

How statutory rights are being denied to even middle class people, not to speak of the marginalised, who are literally voiceless, demonstrates among other things that democracy in India can never succeed unless rights enshrined in the constitution are honoured. For a democracy to succeed it should take roots in the habits of the ruling entities. No, it is just not happening.

The creation of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is the direct result of the passage of the PHR Act. But it is at best a white elephant, rather a well-decorated institution for rehabilitating retired judges and bureaucrats. Even the Supreme Court dubs it as a toothless tiger. It is toothless because it has no mandatory power. Nor are the authorities inclined to obey and implement the recommendations it makes from time to time in respect of violation of human rights. The apex court is of the clear opinion that the Union of India is not at all serious about authorising this high-powered body a genuine functioning instrument of democracy. NHRC, being handicapped by inadequate staffing, lags behind even in discharging routine activities. The latest annual report on the NHRC website is of 2012-13. But as per PHR Act the commission is bound to ‘‘submit an annual report to the Central Government and State Governments concerned, which they are required to lay before each House of Parliament or the State Legislatives respectively, as the case my be, along with a memorandum of action taken on the recommendations of the Commission and the reasons for non-acceptance of recommendations, if any’’.

The hard reality is that the recommendations made by the Commission about violation of human rights are simply ignored by the centre and state governments. Only in case of some monetary relief to the victims of ‘rights abuses’, some governments respond and that too reluctantly after a long persuasion, by some rights bodies.

The protector of human rights—NHRC—sometimes mocks at itself. In July 2017 the Supreme Court ordered for a CBI inquiry into 95 cases of encounters in Manipur between 2000 to 2012 in response to a Writ Petition (CRL) No 129 of 2012 on the 14th July. The NHRC proceedings formed part of the petition. Also, judicial inquiry report and High Court judgements were taken into account in framing the Writ. 95 ‘encounters’ and yet NHRC had very little scope to bring the culprits—the gross violators of human rights—to the book. But how CBI is being used—or misused—by the ruling parties at the Centre to further their political interests is an open secret. CBI is a tool in the hands of the ruling parties at the Centre. It is being frequently used to silence the voice of dissent. So, nobody expects much from the inquiry of CBI. In India’s criminal justice system CBI has a chequered history of doctoring evidence, tutoring witnesses, pressurise forensic laboratories, conceal vital crime scene photographs, distort the sequence of events and mislead the media through selective leaks in dozens of cases in recent months. CBI sleuths are in reality ‘demons in disguise’. Manipur cannot get justice from them.

Not that Manipur is the sole state that witnessed so many encounters and cold blooded murders. ‘Encounter’ is regularly taking place in Jammu and Kashmir and in Central India where Maoists—or left-wing extremists—are challenging the authorities, in their own way, to punish the violators of human rights without waiting for NHRC recommendations.

Without a powerful human rights movement across the country, nothing will change for the better. True, there are some civil liberties organisations and human right bodies that highlight the issue of violation of human rights but they are too localised to make their voice heard. Unlike Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch there is no all-India organisation that can make the persons in power think twice before indulging in ‘rights abuses’. Celebrating the human rights day by a few rights bodies here and there while eloquently eulogising the UN charter on this issue is no answer to the rights-abusing agencies the Centre has created over the years. With the political right gaining upperhand, violation of human rights shows no sign of abating. The hilarious aspect of the rights issue lies in how shamelessly the violators of human rights are themselves observing UN-sponsored human rights day.

Vol. 50, No.23, Dec 10 - 16, 2017