Challenges before the Human RIghts Movement in 2018

In a very ominous manner, the 1st day of the new year of 2018 started with a planned attack by right wing caste Hindus and non-Dalits belonging to Hindutva/majoritarian groups on thousands of Dalits who had gathered at a place called Bhima – Koregaon, (about 30 kms from Pune) to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the victory of Mahars over the Peshwa army led by Brahmins and upper castes by non-Dalit at the very spot.

Despite ample evidence that the anti-Dalit Hindutva groups were planning to attack the Dalits who assemble every year at the site, neither the State Government nor the local police did anything to avert the attack, which led to the killing of one person and injuries to scores and worse, of the Dalits being arrested on trumped charges.

In the next days, the violence spread to Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra which highlighted the planned manner in which right wing, Hindutva and majoritarian parties and groups were working in a systematic manner to exploit social divisions and differences. The violence in Bhima-Koregaon will have to be seen in the background of the December, 2017 elections to the Gujarat Assembly which saw a consolidation of Dalit groups challenging the ruling BJP party as being brazenly anti-Dalit, as witnessed in the Una incident in which some Dalit youth were thrashed mercilessly on charges of skinning cows, despite their protestations that the charges were untrue. From a human rights perspective, the violent anti-Dalit violence and discourse is an ominous portent for the future, especially as all the parties gear up for parliamentary elections in May, 2019.

An event of great historical significance occurred on 12th January, 2018, when the 4 seniormost judges of the Supreme Court, after the Chief Justice of India, Justices Chelameshwar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Cyriac Joseph, in an unprecedented manner conducted a Press Meeting in the lawns of the residence of Justice Chelameshwar, raising serious issues about the manner in which the CJI, Dipak Mishra, was conducting matters.

As the Judges clarified, they were forced to publicly come out due to the lack of response of the CJI to the issues raised by them in a letter, as also other issues which they hinted at, both in the letter as also in the Press Conference. The trigger to the Press Conference, it appeared, was the manner in which a PIL raising questions about the suspicious death of CBI Judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya was assigned to the Bench of Justices Arun Misra and MM Shantagoudar, considered relatively junior in the judicial hierarchy.

This politically sensitive case related to the sudden death of Judge Loya on 1st December, 2014 when he was hearing the discharge petition in the criminal case of alleged encounter killing of Sohrabuddin and his wife, Kauser Bi, in which Amit Shah, the former Home Minister of Gujarat had been implicated as an accused. We carry a detailed statement we issued following the press meeting, expressing our concerns over this unprecedented action.

The issues raised by the 4 Judges strikes at the very heart of the Constitutional Scheme adopted in India – of an independent judiciary, which functions freely and fairly, and whose institutional integrity is beyond question. We hope that the judges and the judiciary, will, at the earliest settle, amongst themselves, all the issues flagged by the 4 senior judges so that the judiciary plays the role it was envisaged by the constitution makers – as the sentinel of justice, functioning without fear or favour, not only seen to be acting but also acting fearlessly and independently.

The continuing economic distress and growing inequality in the last few years was dramatically uncovered in a Report released by OXFAM on 22nd January, 2018 showing that 1% of India’s wealthiest have cornered 73% of the wealth generated in 2017. The figures show that in the 3 years since the present NDA Government came to power, wealth concentration amongst the richest is continuously increasing each year.

The reason this is an important dimension is that as lakhs of youth who join the work force each year face the reality of crushing unemployment and joblessness, political parties will exploit their anger and frustration by stoking caste, community and religious divides both by way of diverting their anger from addressing the real causes of economic misery as also to mobilise them. This is particularly worrying from a human rights perspective, in an election year. The entire human rights community needs to be more vigilant than ever.

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Related Bulletin : Feb 2018