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India: Who has the right to judge?

August 24, 2011

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

‘India: Who has the right to judge?’

There is surely nothing wrong in demanding an end to the reign of corruption. And yet, for many in India it seems to amount to being "as good as undermining the Constitution", or resembling "a process to destabilise the establishment". The religious elite in the country claim that "fasting demanding an end to corruption is a sin, since none has the right to end the god-given life". Others note that, "none other than those who have an impeccable past and can promise a similar future has the right to protest", while some even say that "the middle class have no right to speak".

It is correct to say that Mr Anna Hazare--the leading figure of India’s present movement against corruption--or the 'brains' behind Hazare is not India. They are Indians nonetheless. It is equally true that a particular version of the proposed law against corruption need not be the best such law out there. Yet, to decry that demanding an end to evil is wrong unless made by a person who meets a set of moral criteria, or that the law is legislated as the country's parliamentarians wish, is nothing but hypocrisy and impudence. Moreover, who has the right to judge?

A democratic framework of administration arguably need not be the best form of government. Until something better is possible however, the best presently available should be allowed to prevail, and perhaps even improve. To function, a democracy requires institutions. While they could be construed as superstructures, without functioning and accessible institutions the notion of justice will remain unattainable. Positing that unless past and present injustices are addressed in their entirety there shall not be any change in the status quo, is as good as undermining the impetus to change. It is as obtuse as not using the internet since the companies that developed a software might not have a good rights record; as nonsensical as saying that God of Small Things is a terrible novel since the publishing company is Harper Perennial, a subsidiary of Harper Collins, owned by controversial News Corporation, the world's second largest media conglomerate chaired by Mr Rupert Murdoch. It is as trivial and immature as arguing that accepting the proceeds of the Man Booker Prize for social work is like selling one's soul to corporate barons who head the Man Group PLC that sponsors the prize and invested an estimated 360 million USD in Mr Bernard Madoff's money swindling schemes. Since the Chief Editor of The Hindu accepted the Sri Lanka Ratna prize from one of the worst dictators in the region, Mr Mahinda Rajapksa, it is ridiculous to argue that the journalists working for that publishing group support war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is as thoughtless as arguing that globally respected social activist Ms Aruna Roy and her movement is castist in character since 'Roy' is also a Brahmin surname.

It would be far more prudent to ask what rationale other than the quotients of equality and justice are needed to decide upon good and bad. Indeed, India today is witnessing an overwhelming cry demanding change from the present unequal and unjust status quo. Only those deaf to this heart-splitting cry would want to resort to status quo ante.

If the religious leaders in the country find the anti-corruption movement disturbing, it is probably because of their fear of losing their unparalleled wealth and power they enjoy in the world's largest socialist, secular republic. This fear concerning the difficulties they might have to face to continue enjoying their unaccounted wealth is precisely why there should be a regime that could combat corruption. Understandably, the possible future reality of losing their prerogatives approved by the Supreme Court, to manage education, health, conversion and reconversion businesses in the name of all known Gods, worth millions of rupees, should give these men and women many sleepless nights. Similar fears must be assailing the country's politicians, who could be foreseeing an impending and painful cleansing process, should a strong anti-corruption framework be established.

However, a mere legislation against corruption, or even an implementing framework will in itself not change India for the good. There is much more distance for the country to travel to come closer to what democracy in letter and spirit mean. At the minimum, there are at least 2730 confirmed, yet unidentified dead bodies buried in mass graves spread across 38 sites in north Kashmir's Baramulla, Bandipore and Kupwara districts to be accounted for, as reported by the Kashmir Human Rights Commission in its report released on August 21, 2011, not to mention the hundreds of cases of torture, extrajudicial executions, rape and disappearance in states like Manipur, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.

There are wounds to be healed, created by the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. There are persons to be acknowledged and their struggle respected, like Ms Irom Sharmila of Manipur, who has been fasting for the past decade against violence committed by state and non-state actors in Manipur, by the government and by the civil society, including the country's self-proclaimed national media.

Anna Hazare's fast might not be a complete solution to India's problems. But this man and the people behind him represent a substantial portion of the country's psyche, disgusted of the present, and that must be acknowledged. It is a movement that has today given a platform for many in the country to say what they wanted to say for decades. Painting it as bad is as good as arguing that India does not deserve a change.

In the midst of this if Indians hear words that resonate sentiments like "… it is alarming and nauseating to see … a seditious Middle Temple Lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half naked up the steps of the vice regal palace, while he is still organising and conducting a campaign of civil disobedience, to parlay on equal terms with the representatives of the Emperor-King…", it is ample proof that the movement India is witnessing today is indeed a second wave of independence from the modern day Churchills, who have enslaved the country and the citizens since August 15, 1947.


About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.


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