PUCL Bulletin, April 2002

President of India under perpetual attack
The President Espouses the Cause of Those Who Have Been Victims of Societal Violation of Human Rights for Centuries
R.M. Pal

The privileged section of our people want a President for India who must speak their language, who must espouse their cause--the cause of the 200 million; the other 800 million to be treated were therefore angry and upset because President Narayanan, in his Republic Day-eve address last year (in 2001) espoused the cause of the 800 million--the poor, the deprived, the child, the woman--all those who have been victims of tyrannical social order and societal violation of human rights for centuries. He was attacked for not accepting the advice of the privileged to keep his lips sealed on issues like criminalisation of electoral politics, non-implementation of social justice, human rights, programmes like basic education, uplift of Dalits, Tribals, absence of social democracy, and so on.

This year, too, the President has been attacked for his Republic Day-eve address. Quite a few national dailies have come down heavily on him--these dailies did not publish even the important parts of his address, not to speak of publishing the full text; some of them gave untrue and misleading account of his address. One daily went to the extent of insinuating that the president is canvassing for another term--an insult to his person. Another daily wrote a lengthy editorial that the subjects the President dealt with are trite and reprimanded him for not concentrating on important national issues. Obviously the reference is to terrorism. The President does refer to terrorism, and how to tackle terrorism, as we will see later.

Let us give a quick look at what President Narayanan said in his address. In the context of attack on Parliament by terrorists he said:
"It is significant that it is the extraordinary courage and heroism of the ordinary security personnel at the Parliament House that saved the seat of our democracy against the dastardly terrorist attack. While we rejoice in the success of our security personnel, let us remember that our safety and security is dependent on our common people like them, and it is for their interests and welfare that we should work from our imposing Parliament and Government buildings."

Mr. Narayanan referred to India's ancient philosophy:
"We know that this old philosophy had been battered by the vicissitudes of history and that for long periods our country had fallen into the depths of thralldom, indignity, ignorance and superstition. ... Swami Vivekananda had declared that the chief cause of India's ruin has been the monopolising of the whole education and intelligence of the land among a handful of men. ... India has the largest number of illiterates in any country in the world. Therefore we welcome the Bill now before Parliament for the provision of education for all children between the age of 6 to 14 as a great leap forward. This is still a partial measure. There is the need for extending the facility of free and compulsory education to the entire age group upto 18 years so that illiteracy is banished from the land."

In fact, the present BJP-led government has played fraud on the victims of human rights violation of the right to education. Article 45 of our Constitution provides for "free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years."

The 93rd Amendment Bill to which the President refers restricts this right to education--a fundamental right--to age-group 6-10. Which means a vast number of children will be deprived of the right to education. What is disturbing is that our opinion makers, not even social and human rights activists have raised their voice against this perpetual human rights violation, and the cunning on the part of the government. The spirit of the amendment is to make Article 45 of Constitution a fundamental right-this article refers to all children up to the age of fourteen, not to 6-14 age group. So that children below age six are deprived of their right to education.

The President once again drew the attention of our political rulers about the non-implementation of social welfare programmes, human rights violation of women, Dalits, Tribals:

"One of the clearest indicators of the development of a society is the position and status of women enjoy in that society. Even though women's rights are recognised as human rights and they are considered as best of human resources and central actors for development, their standing in our society is deplorable. ... While women's movement is gaining momentum and gathering pace and reaching one milestone after another, the ill treatment and atrocities on women are recurring in regular and brutal manner. ... Half the number of women killed in India are killed in their bedrooms. Rise in cases of sexual harassment by 40%, dowry deaths by 15.2% and smuggling of girls by 87.2% in 1998 are indicative of their traumatised existence. No place is safe for them, not even their mother's womb. ... It is high time that we got rid of this inequality and indignity to women. ... We have become an inclusive society in spite of the political triumph of our democracy. The discrimination being suffered by women, the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes is a crying denial of the democracy that is enshrined in our Constitution."

The President was also attacked for advocating the human rights cause of Dalits and Tribals, especially for his reference to their representation in the private sector of the economic system. He said: "It is necessary for the private sector to adopt social policies that are progressive and more egalitarian for these deprived classes to be uplifted from their state of deprivation and inequality and given the rights of citizens and civilised human beings. This is not to ask the private enterprises to accept Socialism, but to do something like what the Diversity Bill and the affirmative action that a capitalist country like the USA has adopted and is implementing."

He concluded thus:
"If our great democracy is to remain great and relevant to the problems of the masses, we will have to pay heed to these crying socio-economic issues. With such attention to the problems affecting the masses of our people, our country will be strong and powerful to pursue the policy of peace and co- existence, specially with regard to our neighbours in the sub-continent and in Asia. And that will be our democratic answer to the evil phenomenon of terrorism that we in India and the world in general are facing to-day" (emphasis added).
No other President has ever spoken so passionately about the importance and role of the common man and woman in the development of our country. He has repeated his plea that the governance of the country cannot be left in the hands of the privileged few, and that without social democracy and a democratic way of life, and without promoting human rights specially of Dalits, Tribals, Women, Children, and the Minorities, formal political democracy does not have any meaning. Mr. Narayanan must be applauded for his forthright address by all thoughtful human rights activists who want the 800 million "non--persons" to have their legitimate share in the fruits and achievements of independents. -- 15 February 2002

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