Whose Democracy is it Anyway?

Few days ago, Ramjas College was forced by ABVP, a student organization affiliated with RSS and ruling BJP to disinvite certain scholarsthat it does not like and call off a seminar ironically titled ‘Cultures of Protest’. Unprecedented rampagingthat included breaking of infrastructure and assault on faculty members and students by the members of ABVP and abdication of the duty to protect free speech by the Delhi Police,ensured that only voices that can and will be heard are the ones that are backed by violence and the state. The next day, when a diverse crowd of students from various institutions was assembling to take out a peaceful procession from RamjasCollege to Maurice Nagar Police station to protestagainst violence and silencing, the police kettled the assembled students in a manner that enabled a hundred odd ABVP members, who were vocal about their intent, clear access to launch a concerted physical assault and hurl stones on the peaceful protesters. As a result a number of men and women, including students, faculty members and media persons were molested and beaten up. Some received grave injuries on their heads and limbs. The phones and cameras of the media persons documenting the assault were deliberately broken by the policemen and members of the ABVP in an attempt to erase all evidence of their actions.Fortunately substantial footage of the assault has survived and is splashed all over the social media.

Let us forget the ‘problematic’ populations subject to Indian control who are effectively not entitled to any rights, and remain focused on the event in question at a premier college in the capital and through this event reflect on what has been happening in various universities since the present right wing government with fascist moorings has come to power.

For any sane person who was at the gates of the Ramjas College on the 22nd of February 2017 or has followed the events in the college closely, one fact must have become crystal clear. Under Modi regime, the rioters associated with ABVP, whose job it is to routinely attack various political or academic events and student gatherings in various universities and colleges, and the state actors, whose job it is to protect free speech and maintain law and order, have become virtually joined ranks. The fact was boldly articulated by the ABVP rioters before unleashing themselves on the students protesting peacefully for having been silenced:

“Yehandarkibaathai!Police hamareysaathhai!” / It is an open secret, the policemen are with us!

For a while now, regardless of issues at stake, be it women seeking greater personal freedoms (PinjraTod), be it intellectual exchange over a controversial political issue, be it narcissistically inclined political individuals trying to promoting themselves in public by aligning with a certain issues, be it intellectually or politically subversive art events, be it representatives of marginal groups, castes, communities, genders or nationalities demanding emancipation in or fromthe majoritarian India, the venues are routinely vandalized, audiences and speakers assaulted and prevented from expressing themselves, simply because ABVP does not like who they are or what they have to say.

Even while India continues to call itself a democracy, ABVP through its unabashed performances of vandalism and violence on behalf of the majoritarian government, tries its best to ensure that no one dares to speak or mobilize around an idea or a concern that is not aligned with the interests or aesthetic preferences of the establishment. Silencing dissenting or deviant voices seems to be its sole existential purpose. Its message is absolutely clear. If you do not toe the government line, or are not rabidly majoritarian or Hindu enough, your rights are dispensable, you are game for physical assault or even murder. What is more, the people in uniform will ensure an enabling environment for you to get beaten up by them and effectively silenced.

While certain Left groups and individuals find themselves in conflict with ABVP more frequently than the rest of us ordinary mortals, it is not just they who are affected.

The modus oprendi of the ABVP-police combine is simple and absolutely clear. Once the mob arrives like clockwork on every such occasion and starts vandalizing the venue and beating up people (sometimes even before the rampaging has started), the police instead of rounding up the culprits (or the potential culprits posing a credible threat), advises the institutions involved to cancel the event for having caused emotional distress to those who cannot resist violence. Exactly like women have to be locked inside the homes or hostels early because the potential rapists cannot control their sexuality. If the organizers refuse to call off the event, the police steps aside or even sides with the rioters in beating up people who dare to speak their minds, exactly as they did outside the Ramjas.

The state readily abdicates its responsibility to protect free speech on the ruse of maintaining law and order and by siding with the law breakers as if free speech and law and order were two contradictory interests in a supposed democracy. The police officers do not try to eliminate the threat to free speech, but instead acquiesce to such threats. The “law and order”, minus the freedom of speech that is thus established is a perfect recipe for a majoritarian dictatorship. Apparently, that is exactly what the establishment wants to unleash on people.

Silence is imposed by mobilizing a large number of musclemen whose job it is to beat up people who dare to speak or people they don’t like, but of course it is all done in the ‘national interest’ (Rashtra hit, the pun intended), which essentially amount to little more than the interests of the dominant groups that currently wield power.

While certain Left groups and individuals find themselves in conflict with ABVP more frequently than the rest of us ordinary mortals, it is not just they who are affected. The chilling effect empties public spaces, classrooms and seminar halls of all ideas other than the majoritarian ‘nationalist’ ones—which are reducible to a pernicious mixture of exclusionary and oppressive strand of Hinduism (the one that makes it essential to hate all other religions, ideologies and even the interpretations of itself) and unfair crony capitalism (for example, the one that makes Patanjli products tax free in the name of yoga!)

It is about time the Indian state, particularly its law enforcing agencies, are compelled to make their stand clear on freedom of expression through recourse to law. This could perhaps be done in the form of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking answer to a simple question: Is the freedom of expression a constitutionally guaranteed right in India or not? In case it is, why has the Indian state consistently failed to protect it? In case it is not, please make it explicit by dropping the misleading prefix ‘democratic’ and replace it with the word ‘majoritarian’ which would be more apposite.Are there any takers from the legal fraternity? I know judiciary infiltrated by RSS may yet again disappoint us with yet another regressive judgement, but regardless it would help to have some clarity on the issue.

In the meanwhile let us brace up to deal with DEMOn that has gone CRAzY, that has taken an avatar of brain dead ABVP on rampage everywhere, shutting up people and baying for blood.

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Gowhar Fazili Written by:

Research Scholar at Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi

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