The burden of societal injustices will weigh on the collective consciousness of the nation and become the dead weight that stifles India’s growth — both as a vibrant democracy and as a roaring economy
A series of recent events has highlighted the yawning gap between aspirational India and the crude reality of where we stand now.
On one side there are positive signs of a country punching above its weight and making the world sit up and take notice: In early September, India test fired a hypersonic missile carrier and became the fourth country to do so. Since the Coronavirus outbreak India has sent aid to more than 150 nations! Then, of course, on September 26, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his United Nations General Assembly speech, reiterated India’s demand for a prominent role in the UNSC.
On the other side are regressive streaks that go against claims of being a rich civilisation or a modern democracy: from brutal attacks on women to judgments that shake the faith reposed in the judiciary, from State apathy towards migrant workers to insensitivity towards caregivers.
The gang-rape of a 19-year-old Dalit woman, allegedly by upper-caste men, in Hathras in Uttar Pradesh is yet another reminder — if we ever needed a reminder — of how violent crimes against women are worryingly frequent. NCRB data suggest that every 15 minutes a rape is reported in India — given that there’s a stigma associated with the crime, many cases are not reported, and thus the number of rapes could be much more.
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The brutality of the Hathras attack not only shows how deeply embedded caste fault lines are, but also highlights the sheer disregard sections of society have towards law and order. The police’s actions do not inspire confidence and they seem to be bystanders here where caste boundaries and loyalties are followed.
Close on the heels of the Hathras case, another Dalit women was raped and killed in Balrampur, in Uttar Pradesh. It was in UP that a rape victim was burnt alive in 2018 when she was on her way to court for a hearing of her rape case. One of the five accused in this attack was accused of raping her and was out on bail.
Sadly, the case is no better for women in other states. The NCRB’s Crime in India 2019 report states that UP recorded close to 60,000 cases of crimes against women, followed by Rajasthan with 41,550 cases and Maharashtra with 37,144 cases. Clearly, irrespective of the political party in power, crimes against women are disturbingly common.
Once a case gathers media attention, the State wakes up and springs into action: arrests, special investigation teams, visits to the bereaving family and compensations are announced. There is a nauseating predictability to the State’s reaction in such cases, while little is done to prevent such crimes.
The burden of these injustices will weigh on the collective consciousness of the nation, will haunt it like Banquo’s ghost, and become the dead weight that stifles India’s growth — both as a vibrant democracy and as a roaring economy.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s vision of turning the state into a $1 trillion economy by 2025 does not align with this reality of UP. How can a state with such a poor law and order record inspire investor confidence? Can state governments that fail to ensure the safety of its people in their everyday life ensure the safety and prosperity of businesses? Even if they do, is that a true index of progress?
In the midst of this gloom, the government would like us to believe that progress is underway; the many reforms undertaken are cited as examples. Full marks to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, and the BJP which leads it, for trying to boost the morale of the nation. After all, in such testing times when the double whammy of a health and economic crises has hit, every morsel of positivity is required. It is another fact that every political dispensation in power is compelled to give a positive spin to events under its watch. The question is, how much of this is a spin, and how close is it to reality?
Manoj Joshi, senior journalist and distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) recently observed that “Not only is the Indian economy sliding, but the liberal democratic foundations of the Indian Republic are withering away…”
Supporters of the government’s optimism and positivity would like to see the glass as half-full; those who do not share that passion see it as half-empty. In a 2013 speech, Narendra Modi, then Gujarat Chief Minister, gave this analogy a unique spin, by saying he didn’t see a half empty glass, but a glass filled half with water and half with air. The refreshing uniqueness in this inspires hope. Seven years later have we realised those hopes? How close are we to realising the dreams of a better India; or are we still haunted by the nightmares of everyday India?(For more Opinion pieces, click here)