PUCL Bulletin, April 2001

Are Human Rights Safe in a Soft State?
By Rajindar Sachar

(All the issues discussed here, at one stage or the other, involve questions of human rights. The biggest question is that if a State that relies on seeking compromise solutions for matters where the rights of one section or the other are involved, is not a soft State, then which is? - Chief Editor.)

Ayodhya Issue:
When Gurnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist, called India a soft State, he was not thinking of its coercive powers. What he talked of were the lack of a work culture among public officials and in society and the atrophy of political will to correct these distortions. The recent musings by the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, on the Ayodhya issue, insofar as they committed to the government to honoring the court verdict at any cost, were a welcome development. Had the secular commitment of our present political parries been as firm as that of Gandhi, Nehru, JP, and Lohia who controlled the more inflamed passions of communal fire in the wake of the Partition (1947), we would not have tolerated the wild suggestion of any attempt to build a temple at the site of the Babri Masjid which existed for over 400 years. But then even the tallest of the Opposition are pygmies and, notwithstanding their bluster, they took for soft oppositions. This is what must have persuaded the Prime Minister to suggest in the same breath that if possible the matter may be settled by mutual talks - a suggestion agreed to by opposition which clearly disclosed a mindset to avoid a correct but hard decision.

Who has given the authority to the VHP and a band of cellular phone-holding 'Sadhus' to speak on behalf of Hindus. The cowardly act of demolishing the Babri Masjid is condemned by a large majority of Hindus. I am surprised that the Opposition should fall for this ploy of putting the perpetrators of crime and the victims on the same side. This suggestion seeks to cloak the wanton attack on the secular base of our democracy by purporting to present it as a case of mere misunderstanding between the two communities. The goons who demolished the mosque cannot be allowed to don the role of judges. With Muslims almost unanimously saying that if the courts finds that the mosque was built by demolishing a then existing temple, even if not a Ram temple, they would withdraw their objection because the Quran forbids construction of a Masjid by pulling down any religious building, the only respectable alternative is to await the verdict (which may be sought to be expedited by mutual request). That is why the BJP game plan of mutual negotiations is nothing but a veiled threat to coerce the Muslim community to agree to give up its rights - a course totally unacceptable.

It is in this background that the tensions created by the VHP and the rest of the Sangh Parivar using the occasion of Maha Kumbha are a dangerous portent. This is an attempt at 'Talibanisation' of the Hindu religion. It is time that average non political, sensitive Hindus realised the harm they will do to the cosmopolitan philosophy of Hinduism and to the social reform, in personal laws and the position of women, won after Herculean effort by secularists.

This spread of hatred and discord being sought to be projected at the Maha Kumbh endangers the real essence of Hinduism and its philosophy of stoicism. The history of people, a state or a nation, is part of its culture, its tradition and its identity and can no more be forgotten than an individual can forget his or her personal history. But those mentally fixed in the past cannot grow, cannot develop and cannot adapt to new circumstances. The events of the past can be remembered in a way, which preserves historical rivalries or carefully nurses the idea of alleged past injustices. But this is not the only way. The future is a page of history that has not yet been written. If we allow it to be determined by reliving the past, it will simply be a repetition of that past with its sad record of religious rivalries, of bloodshed and human misery. But there is a choice and with a mature attitude to history it does not have to be like this. A correct and impartial reading of history will show us that the people who can learn to look forward instead of backward need not be condemned to relieve that past and will consequently learn to live with one another in harmony.

The Maha Kumbh is an occasion for the so-called saviours of Hinduism to give thought to ameliorating the condition of the starving millions for, as Karl Marx said, "poverty is the greatest sin and the biggest blot on human race". What better timing than the Maha Kumbh to try to wash off this sin of poverty by heeding the millennium message of the Pope that "our world is entering the new millennium burdened by the contradictions which offer immense possibilities to a fortunate few while leaving millions of others living in conditions far below the minimum demanded by human dignity". Let the 'dharma Sansad' engage itself in improving the conditions of the poor. Lord Ram has a presence throughout the universe.

Why must the VHP restrict him to a particular site - "garbhagriha". The proceedings of the VHP managed 'dharma sansad' purporting to fix the outer date for temple construction to coincide with the Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh are a cheap gimmick, betraying the political motivation of the temple movement. In this context, the visit by the Congress president, Ms. Sonia Gandhi to the Kumbha Mela with a view to making a dent in the same obscurantist, fundamentalist religious section of the Hindu electorate is unfortunate. That may help her in getting some votes, but the secular fabric of the nation has been further weakened by this open and shameless effort at mixing religion with politics by both the major parties for their electoral gains.
Postal Strike: a creeping paralysis was the government's response to the national postal strike. So when the High Court directed it to apply the Essential Supplies and Maintenance Act against trade unionists, the government caved in and hid behind judicial skirts. Sadly, Mr. George Fernandes who challenged in the Delhi High Court the applicability of the ESMA to him when he organised the railway strike in the 1970s chose to keep an eerie silence.

Kashmir: The Centre has announced the extension of ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir and, in my opinion, rightly. But it was somehow afraid of reactions from the hawks and that alone can explain why it floated a tribal balloon using the strategic office of the Chief of the Army Staff. The government did a disservice to the prestige of the Army Chief persuading him to go public on a political decision, obviously to ward off any adverse comment against extension of the ceasefire from other political quarters. Thus it sought to hide behind the general's trousers - a case of political impropriety and administrative perversion.

The bungling in the matter of issue of passports to the Hurriyat leaders is a manifestation of the absence of a thought on Kashmir policy. This arrogance ill behaves the government after it has accepted Hurriyat Conference as one of the groups with which it will have dialogue on Kashmir. The government by unnecessarily making an issue of denial of passport to Syed Ali Shah Geelani has played into Pakistan's hands and this may strengthen militancy. What damage could Mr. Geelani's visit to Pakistan cause? None. If Mr. Geelani has to be coached the Pakistan High Commission can serve the purpose. Again, the government shows itself to be overwhelmed by the inter-service intrigues and the hawks of the RSS Parivar. The sufferers will be the masses, especially of Jammu and Kashmir. Such pusillanimity manifests a weak political armour.

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