A model year for the world's biggest democracy

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 06, 2014 10:09 hrs

2013 opened with the continuation of the massive protests against the December 2012 rape case. Much hope was placed in the Verma Committee Report but the government defanged and mutilated it till it became a useless document through the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 2013 (later an Act).

This latter document showed how little the state cares about women and how unseriously it took the massive protests that persisted for over a month, from the end of 2012 well into January 2013. 

The year has seen the systematic assault on women through rape, harassment and intimidation, not just in the usual corners of India (of tribals in Chhattisgarh, for example) but in the cities.

From the Tarun Tejpal case to the Justice Ganguly case, from the to the Homen Borgohain case in Assam to the Khurshid Anwar case, men have not only abused women but turned vicious and violent when taken to task for it and heaped insult onto injury, with no real outrage from any quarter.

Women remain the most abused minority in this country and 2013 offered a stunning array of examples to prove that. 

With most of the cases involving urban women with a sense of their rights, the backlash against them only indicates how much more difficult it is for women who do not have access to justice or a sense of their rights given their marginalised status along several other of the constitutive axes of their identities.

The economically poor Muslim women in Muzaffarnagar who were gangraped and brutally assaulted remain mostly silent. They are very unlikely to get any justice.

Ashis Nandy made his deeply offensive comments about SC/ST communities in the Jaipur Literary festival with equally offensive comments by Tarun Tejpal (who showed his true colours later in the year) and the sickening and offensive middle class actually rose to Nandy’s defence and, of course, he got away with it.

This shows how much has changed for Dalit and adivasi communities in India and the caste character of the middle class and the so-called intellectual class in India. The most criminal class in this great democracy is undoubtedly the middle class.

The clean chit to the violators of the Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre of 1997 only showed, once again, where Dalits stand in this country. The continued assault on adivasis in states like Chhattisgarh, and indeed in many other states in the so-called ‘Red Corridor’ in the name of wiping out Naxalism, shows how much adivasis matter. 

The most egregious example of which we have in Soni Sori, finally out of jail but exiled from her home state and recovering from months of abuse and assault.

An articulate and sincere adivasi woman who came to the centre to demand her rights was jailed, tortured, sexually abused, deemed mad and finally let out only on bail with half of her life destroyed. This is how this great democracy treats its indigenous people.

February saw the unconscionable hanging of Afzal Guru, a murder committed in our name, in what the President called “the national conscience.” It showed us that Kashmiris, even surrendered militants, have no rights and are mere fodder for the state in its bid to manipulate popular sentiment and hope to win votes.

Kashmir remains the gaping wound it is and all the Indian state seems able to do is open the wound wider.

The brutal attack on poor Muslims in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh later in the year showed how vulnerable economically poor Muslims are in this country and the continuing violence against them in the form of criminally offensive comments by the leaders of the Uttar Pradesh government and the razing of relief camps and denial of compensation shows just where Muslims stand in this country.

The dismissal of Zakia Jaffrey’s petition is the icing on the cake made of Muslim blood and bones that the Hindu state loves feasting on.

Sexual minorities, especially hijras, continued to be attacked, abused, arrested and humiliated as was clear from the Hassan incident in Karnataka when 13 persons were arrested in a midnight raid late in the year.

The most chilling thing about the Supreme Court judgement that rejected the Delhi High Court judgement’s reading down of Section 377 in December was the fact that the minority status of homosexuals made them irrelevant.

The term used was “miniscule fraction.” This is the idea of a democracy where the numerical value of a community will decide their fate.

Women, Dalits, adivasis, Kashmiris, Muslims, sexual minorities – all of these groups were shown their place yet again in 2013. We are talking here only of cases that appeared in the mainstream media and were given coverage.

The countless untold stories that unfold every day, relentlessly, form the silent backdrop to this noise. But both the silence and the noise appear to mean nothing to us.

It is business as usual for the world’s biggest democracy. While the growth in technology and media and were touted to usher in stronger accountability, all they appear to have done is create a spectacle for middle-class consumption. 

The caste-Hindu, middle class, heterosexual male, the largest numerical unit in the country, is the only unit that counts. It enjoys the spectacle and gets more and more hysterical in its baying for blood, in its shrill jingoism.

The great democracy and its great sold-out fourth pillar of democracy, the media, will never let us see those. Our democracy is the story of the largest unit. All smaller units, from almost half the population to a miniscule fraction’ don’t matter at all.

No oppression is total and there are glimmers of hope. The Dongria Kond rejected the Vedanta mining plan in Niyamgiri unanimously in all their gram panchayats (none of which was given prominence in the media, of course) this year and there are possibly countless untold stories of struggle and resistance unfolding in India every year too. We have to hold on to the spirit of the Dongria Kond as we enter 2014.

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Ashley Tellis a is a freelance editor, journalist and academic-at-large based in New Delhi

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