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Opinion

Time to end trial by media

The Centre should enact a law to prevent any more harm to those still being denied the right to a free and fair trial due to pre-trial by media.

Amita Singh

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Shashi Tharoor has been exonerated after torturous suffering of many years and so are many others likely to be after a free and fair trial in Indian courts which over-ambitious screen journalism has at every moment seized, diverted, and obstructed through their ‘TV-Khap Panchayat’ pre-trials. Many channels have learnt this quick selling art and craft in a market of TRPs as they transact on false perceptions of innocence and guilt nonetheless prejudicing the judges from the time of the NDTV telecast of R.K. Anand’s media trial in the famous BMW case of 2009. That case was the judiciary’s lost opportunity and most blatant jurisprudential slippage on the Indian Constitution’s Articles 14, 20, 21 and 22 which together provide fundamental guarantees against arbitrariness and ensure a free and fair trial to every citizen. Why is our learned judiciary not addressing this crime of whipping violence on screen, sunset defamation markets, irrepressible wrestling tournaments sustained through freebee reporters who operate through unethical stings or morally prurient and scurrilous contemporary investigative journalism? When former Justice P.B. Sawant’s photo was wrongfully flashed on a news channel for split 15 seconds, the judiciary had imposed a penalty of Rs 100 crore, are others so very ordinary to be even noticed? Ironically, the Delhi High Court itself pronounces in a 2017 case of Shashi Tharoor v. Arnab Goswami that, ‘any conviction resulting from the unfair trial is contrary to the concept of justice’ then why another standard for mortals outside judicial castles?

By telecasting trial by media, a feel of a hippodrome (akhara) of torso twisters is electronically created as crowds cheer and lynch mobs collect fuel. The victim is declared an accused even before a free and fair trial to which he is entitled to in a constitutional democracy has even begun. Prejudices seep into systems as undeniably, Judges are humans too and as the British judge Lord Dilhome stated in the Attorney General v. BBC that ‘judges and jurors could not claim to be superhuman and may be influenced subconsciously’. Consequently, learned judges never even attempted to harvest a jurisprudential opportunity that knocked their court as a BMW case. The Delhi High Court instituted contempt proceedings against the defence counsel, R.K. Anand, and the special public prosecutor, I.U. Khan, by prohibiting them from appearing before the High Court and subordinate courts for four months without even considering the question of NDTV’s responsibility and liability under the Act as well as under the 200th Report of the 17th Law Commission (2006) on ‘Trial by Media, Free Speech & Fair Trial under CrPC 1973’. In every crime a co-accused is also punished but our courts have been relatively soft in dealing with media publishers both online and offline. People have repeatedly scrutinised political and administrative leaders but carefully avoided looking into what goes inside our judicial minds. One may wait and watch the judiciary’s behavioural trajectory on return of 2009’s lost jurisprudential opportunity enabling judges to act suo moto against the venomous screen journalism being legitimised, ossified, and fortified in sunset defamation markets.Some channels definitely follow in full steam to locate a new victim every day, design a new e-ring of stone pelters over the day’s proclaimed offender who would then onwards be banished from any civilised society. The biases of judges could lead to a derailment of trust in judiciary as Per Bowen L.J. in Lesson v. General Council of Medical Education (1890) wrote, ‘The perception may be wrong about the judge’s bias, but the Judge concerned must be careful to see that no such impression gains ground. Judges like Ceaser’s wife should be above suspicion’.

That ‘trial by media’ aborts justice is only one side of the story, the other side is its strong support coming from powerful interests. If channels are getting funds out of sunset defamation markets they obviously not mind inviting aggressive party spokespersons, viciously divisive religious heads or chest-beating Director Generals of Police to present their investigation reports supposedly in conformity to the Indian Evidence Act and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to create a presumption of guilt or innocence. Sunanda Pushkar is just not one case as most channels simply survive on one investigation after another. Many such khaps have been pronouncing verdicts on famous cases of Jessica Lal, Sheena Bohra, Nitish Katara, Arushi-Hemraj, or Sushant Singh Rajput murder cases. There is also some anxiety against judicial delays, deflection, and denial that encourages a market of instant justice delivery platforms which in turn are stimulated by a public memory where the case is still fresh.

The judiciary, despite many drawbacks, continues till today, the last and the only resort of justice dispensation. Many learned judges have adorned the courtrooms and delivered judgements that illuminate free and fair trial jurisprudence as a requirement of human rights. The best commentary which is potentially one of the most scholarly descriptions of a free and fair trial is found in the case of Zahira Habibullah Sheikh v. State Of Gujarat [2004] popularly known as the Best Bakery Case. The learned judge Ajit Pasayat highlighted the undue influence of the state on trial proceedings. In his judgement was expressed the anguish , ‘When fences start to swallow the crops, no scope will be left for survival of law and order or truth and justice’. This kind of interference and influencing of court trials by outside interests are never in the interest of nation, democracy, or justice. The judgement gave five basics of a free and fair trial, i.e., impartial judge, fair prosecutor, atmosphere of judicial calm, no bias against accused, the victim or the cause of the case and lastly, witnesses should not be threatened, coerced or lured. A media trial capsizes the process by undoing all the above five requirements of a free and fair trial. The judge is anyone of the thundering channel anchors.

All this arbitrariness is allowed to flourish as big business despite the 17th Law Commission strongly recommending in its 200th Report that the Centre should enact a law to prevent from reporting anything prejudicial to the rights of the accused in criminal cases from the time of arrest, during investigations and through trial. Even under current circumstances the Court under Section 3(2) of the Contempt of Court Act can direct postponement of publication or telecast of a programme in sub-judice criminal cases. Most judges in courtrooms are fatigued by an overload of pendency of cases and would abstain from belling any cat.

In the end, it is worthwhile to recollect the two stanzas quoted from Manu Samhita by Justice Arijit Pasayat, in his opening para of judgement in Zahira Sheikh’s judgement, which reminds us that unless a judge is really sensitive about those who may suffer at his Court for want of justice, he may just do what comes out as a message and a warning in the two stanzas (14 and 18); stanza 14: “Jatrodharmohyadharmena Satyam Jatranrutenacha Hanyateprekshyamananam Hatastrata Sabhasadah” (Where in the presence of Judges “dharma” is overcome by “adharma” and “truth” by “unfounded falsehood” at that place they (the Judges) are destroyed by sin); stanza 18: “Padodharmasya Kartaram Padahsakshinomruchhati Padahsabhasadahsarbanpadorajanmruchhati” (In the adharma flowing from wrong decisions in a Court of law, one fourth each is attributed to the person committing the adharma, witness, the judges, and the ruler”)

Its time for the judiciary to rethink about their intellectual ammunition which the Constitution of India has entrusted to them. The trial by media is a social and an intellectual disease which Justice Cordozo in his ‘The Nature of Judicial Process’ condemn as ‘forces which enter into conclusion of judges’. The Centre should enact a law to prevent any more harm to those still being denied the right to a free and fair trial due to pre-trial by media.

The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.

That ‘trial by media’ aborts justice is only one side of the story, the other side is its strong support coming from powerful interests. If channels are getting funds out of sunset defamation markets they obviously not mind inviting aggressive party spokespersons, viciously divisive religious heads or chest-beating Director Generals of Police to present their investigation reports supposedly in conformity to the Indian Evidence Act and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to create a presumption of guilt or innocence.

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Opinion

LEVERAGING NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION WITH SUCCESS ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS

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Man has been using language— both verbal and nonverbal— as a tool of communication for centuries that allowed him to interact with the environment and to regulate his social behavior. Nonverbal communication adds to the information as communicated through verbal format using multiple channels like facial expression, vocalizations, artefacts, gestures, spacing etc. According to experts, a substantial portion of our communication is nonverbal that makes up 65–70 percent of the social meaning of a conversation. It is one of the most pervasive phenomena of our everyday life that accompanies us mostly unconsciously every minute of the day. The body sends a continuous flow of cues/signals, consciously or unconsciously, unravelling innermost feelings and thoughts, personalities, moods, often, more powerfully than with their words. It is therefore agreed that nonverbal behaviour provides fertile ground towards effective and efficient information transference, especially, nonverbal communication could be the most reliable source of information in situations where verbal communications are untrustworthy, ambiguous, or otherwise difficult to interpret. Freud, remarked that people watchers who watch/observe people can ensure themselves that no person can keep secrets from them, “If their lips are silent, their fingertips chat, betrayal oozes from every pore of their body”.

There is not one single universal nonverbal language. Different societies all over the world show widely differing behavior patterns making nonverbal communication a culture specific. In England, the nose tap gesture is a signal for conspiracy or secrecy, but in Italy the meaning changes and it becomes a friendly warning. Similarly, although most people in the world understand the movement of the head up and down to mean “yes” or “I agree,” this is not the case with Bulgaria. In fact, there are few factors that tend to have the greatest impact on interactions when crossing cultures. For instance, spatial relations and tactile communication are used differently in different nations. Americans, Germans, or Chinese, for example, tend to prefer larger amounts of personal space than do some Latin Americans, Italians, or Middle-Easterners. Likewise, there are cultures where during conversations touching on the arm, shoulders, or greetings with hugs or kisses etc. is very common, however, during conversations, in cultures of “keep your hands to yourself” touching is virtually non-existent and if it does occur, it can be a major faux pas. Further, mostly in some occidental cultures, direct eye contact is the way to go—it suggests confidence, respect, and interest in what the other person is saying. To look away may suggest being suspicious, shifty, and untrustworthy in most situations while as, it is just the opposite in oriental cultures where people expect and appreciate indirect eye contact when interacting.

Thus it evident that the nonverbal behaviour of an individual is profoundly influenced and regulated by the culture of a country. Misinterpretation of nonverbal cues at times can result into serious repercussions misunderstandings among people. Today, in the globalized world, where businesses are conducted across different countries, often, employees will be expected to listen to and communicate with diverse workforce who may come from different cultures displaying specific nonverbal behaviour that may not necessarily match with the nonverbal code of yours. Therefore, it becomes imperative for professionals operating globally, to study norms of interaction through a detailed examination of spoken and nonverbal interaction in the native and target language and are required to adapt their nonverbal behaviours to accommodate a particular international audience. This knowledge of nonverbal differentials across cultures will become a highly valued asset in a global community.

The recent outbreak of Covid-19 around the globe forced businesses to shift from traditional offices to physical to remote to hybrid way of working. People are wondering how can they substitute the lack of the richness of communication and body language inherent in face-to-face interactions on virtual platforms. However, the rules remain the same for telecommuters as well. The virtual conversations can be enriched the same way as the physical interaction by using the illustrator movements including gestures or other natural manners that accompany words that add meaning to verbal communication. While these body movements may not have a meaning that can be pinpointed, they serve to embellish/ contradict/substitute or complement a person’s words. Similarly, one can use affect display- such as the facial movements that can indicate disgust, anger, or amusement or a number of other emotions. Again, in any business or sales situations, people who are listening can apply regulator actions like they may nod and move their head in an interested manner, urging the speaker either to continue or explain or repeat. Further, non-verbal messages can be communicated in an online environment by means of the use of emoticons and bolded and italicized text. In order to portray anger, all capital letters can be used.

In the age of the virtual communication, nonverbal cues often speak louder than our words. Right kind of energy levels, speaking with passion, the tone matching the intent of the message could prove to be infectious on the screen as well.

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Opinion

Millennials, relationships, and the pandemic

The Wimpy Kid is in a way a metaphor for how younger people across the world have become more indoor oriented because of technology. If technology had made millennials more housebound, the arrival of this new deadly virus has compounded the problem.

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There are two ways that our changing world has affected relationships for everyone but more especially for millennials. Relationships with the family, with friends, and even romances are affected. The first cause for this is the advancement of technology and the second is the Covid-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, the new technologies had shaped our world, and particularly affected the world of the millennials.

Youngsters these days spend a lot of time online on Facebook and Instagram aside from other platforms. On the one hand, this is great for relationships for you could conceivably connect with someone on the other side of the planet who shares similar interests. At the same there is the danger of ignoring the here and now— and I don’t only mean bringing your smartphone to the dinner table. You don’t want to keep the people who are part of your daily life, be it parents, friends or siblings, waiting endlessly, while you excitedly track down how many likes and shares you are getting for a particular post or engage with someone living in another city or country.

I remember picking up one of the Wimpy Kid books for my niece from the airport, which I read during the course of a flight from Dubai to Delhi. Now this particular book has an interesting storyline. The Wimpy Kid’s mother feels that her kids are too immersed in their smartphones and tablets; and so, she decides that one day in a week the family will have togetherness time and all electronic devices ranging from the smartphone down to the TV will be shut down. Incidentally Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari, made a similar suggestion a few months ago. Anyhow, coming back to the Wimpy Kid, the story has a very interesting, and to my mind, appropriate twist towards the end. The mother cannot find the Wimpy Kid who has wandered off into the forest, but she manages to track him down through a tracking device she had installed in one of his shoes. Meaning that we cannot get rid of this technology; it is there to stay.

The Wimpy Kid is in a way a metaphor for how younger people across the world have become more indoor oriented because of technology. If technology had made millennials more housebound, the arrival of this new deadly virus has compounded the problem. Earlier parents may have been telling their children to leave their computer and go out and play a game or sport. Now they say, it’s better if you stay at home, and if you do go out wear a mask and keep a safe distance from others.

I recently met my nephew Dhruv and his wife Aarushi after a long time. Now Dhruv got married just a month before the onset of the pandemic. Both of them are working professionals and they were both asked by their companies to work from home, the same as I myself have been doing, in my job with the United Nations. When I asked Dhruv how they were doing he said something interesting. He said, “We are together all the time, 24 7, day and night, seven days a week. With this much proximity if you can still manage to like being together, it means that your relationship is really working.”

Dhruv and Aarushi were lucky, but the news has not been so good all around. Young and old married couples around the world have found it a challenge to be together all the time. In France there were so many cases of domestic violence as a result of enforced togetherness that the President ordered various hotels to be commissioned that could serve as places for women to stay in – women who had been abused or beaten by their husbands. Too much physical togetherness can be a problem but for some millennials, the problem was just the reverse. It was to get to physically meet their girlfriend or boyfriend, as the case may be during the time of Covid-19 restrictions. During the worst phase of the pandemic, when meeting people was discouraged, I came across this case in my neighborhood, where the boy told his girlfriend: “Let’s meet up at Mother Diary. We can chat with each other while we are in the queue, shopping for vegetables.”

Where do millennials go to for advice on relationship issues? In the past they could have confided in an elder but these days they often hesitate because the times we are living in are so different from those when their elders were young. Their viewpoints, and world view are also often very different. There are online resources millennials can turn to, or they could take advice from friends but one other place to turn to for advice and learning is books.

My new novel Star-Crossed Lovers in the Blue: Love in the Time of Corona, discusses some of the challenges faced by millennials. In fact, the story itself is about how the two main protagonists in the story, the merman Arj and the mermaid Utir, overcome various problems and obstacles to be together again. In the words of a reviewer, the story talks about love, joy, sadness, anger, trust, fear, mystery, everything in parts. The novel takes the reader through a roller coaster of emotions and discusses important issues concerning relationships, including the importance of trust. For instance, Arj is heartbroken when the love of his life, Utir apparently betrays him, but somewhere, deep-down, he trusts that she would not have done what she did unless there had been a compelling reason for her to do so. It is this very trust that takes him across the world’s oceans in search of Utir, and a potential happy-ending. No spoilers here!

The writer is the author of the book, Star-Crossed Lovers in the Blue. The views expressed are personal.

I remember picking up one of the Wimpy Kid books for my niece from the airport, which I read during the course of a flight from Dubai to Delhi. Now this particular book has an interesting storyline. The Wimpy Kid’s mother feels that her kids are too immersed in their smartphones and tablets; and so, she decides that one day in a week the family will have togetherness time and all electronic devices ranging from the smartphone down to the TV will be shut down. Incidentally Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari, made a similar suggestion a few months ago. Anyhow, coming back to the Wimpy Kid, the story has a very interesting, and to my mind, appropriate twist towards the end. The mother cannot find the Wimpy Kid who has wandered off into the forest, but she manages to track him down through a tracking device she had installed in one of his shoes. Meaning that we cannot get rid of this technology; it is there to stay.

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Opinion

US MUST SANCTION PAKISTAN

Joyeeta Basu

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement that some of Pakistan’s interests were conflicting with that of the United States and that Washington would reconsider its ties with Islamabad, are of immense significance. His was the first public pronouncement of the Joe Biden administration’s Pakistan policy. President Biden’s phone call to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, which he and his men have been publicly hankering for, is yet to materialize, even after nine months of Biden being in office. This should give an inkling that not all is well between the two countries. But what was unsaid, was finally said at the Congressional hearing, where Pakistan came in for severe criticism for the role it has played for decades to keep Afghanistan on the brink, while nurturing and using all sorts of terrorist groups to serve its own interests. Blinken was clear that Pakistan has been “involved in harbouring members of the Taliban, including the Haqqanis”.

Blinken also said, “What we have to look at is an insistence that every country, to include Pakistan, make good on the expectations that the international community has of what is required of a Taliban-led government if it’s to receive any legitimacy of any kind or any support… So Pakistan needs to line up with a broad majority of the international community in working toward those ends and in upholding those expectations.” Valid words. But how far is the US willing to go to punish Pakistan for the “duplicitous” role it has played—and still plays—specifically, by “using the US to defeat the US in Afghanistan”, as one of ISI’s ex chiefs, Hamid Gul had boasted? There is no reason to believe that a rogue country such as Pakistan will “line up with a broad majority of the international community” on the issue of Afghanistan, and thus give up the leverage it has acquired by installing a terrorist regime in Kabul. Instead, with the PRC as its backer, it now feels even more emboldened to continue with its misadventures. No US administration has taken any substantial action—except for some token aid cuts—against a rogue Pakistan, and this in spite of the perpetrator of 9/11, Osama Bin Laden found on Pakistani territory, right on the Pakistani military’s doorstep. Bizarrely, as the perusal of some recent articles in the US media show, even the discovery of Laden is now sought to be spun, at least by a section, as having resulted from Pakistan’s cooperation with the US. The US has publicly expressed its displeasure with Pakistan earlier as well, but when it comes to the brass tacks, Pakistan is still the US’ Major Non Nato Ally (MNNA), and thus eligible for special financial and military largesse. Public opprobrium has never translated into action from the US. Thus, Pakistan has got away with murder, every time. In fact, such was Pakistan’s confidence in US inaction—and in its own ability to gull the US—that it was, until recently, hoping even to come out of FATF’s grey list, because it was “helping” Washington to pull out American troops from Afghanistan.

However, this time it may not be so easy for GHQ Rawalpindi to get off the hook, in spite of the backing from the US Democratic Party’s pro-Wahhabi “progressive”—in reality, radical and regressive—fringe. This time Pakistan may have crossed the red line of “defeating” the US in a battlefield the superpower had invested itself for two decades. Ironically, things may not have come to such a pass for Pakistan, if Imran Khan and Company had not resorted to exulting over US’ exit from Afghanistan; or the GHQ had not inserted its pet terrorists such as the Haqqanis in the Taliban government. There is too much public scrutiny now of the role Pakistan has played, as evident from the severe criticism it received in the Congressional hearing. Also, no US President wants his people to see him as having been taken for a ride.

In spite of all this, if the US again falls into the trap of employing the arsonist to douse the Afghan fire, then it will have only itself to blame. Blinken must make good his promise to “reconsider ties” with Pakistan. A slight rap on the knuckles will not do, maybe by removing Pakistan’s Major Non Nato Ally (MNNA) status, or something similar. The need of the hour is sanctioning Pakistan and that is the process that the US must initiate.

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Opinion

Thoughts on the International Day of Democracy

UN’s most powerful organ, the Security Council is a face of unrepresentative and imperious decision making at United Nations which blatantly ignored even some most compelling demands made during the pandemic by nations beyond its five permanent members. So what provokes this world body to declare a day of democracy?

Amita Singh

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United Nations had declared 15th September as the International Day of Democracy way back in 2007. What made UNO to declare such a day when it has itself mostly failed to abide by the concerns of democracy around the world and across decades? Freedom House data has already shown that a global deterioration of democratic concerns is sweeping through the world like a tornado and democracies have been sinking into authoritarianism, militias or rule by mercenaries. Take for example the latest barefaced defiance of all UN resolutions in Afghanistan by just a small rustic group of medieval terrorists called Talibans, legitimized and made big by UN’s highest funding nation USA to smoothly squash civilian population, dump Geneva Conventions and human rights. UNO is repeatedly guillotined by powerful nations which are legitimizing their undemocratic decisions in many ways. UN’s most powerful organ, the Security Council is a face of unrepresentative and imperious decision making at United Nations which blatantly ignored even some most compelling demands made during the pandemic by nations beyond its five permanent members. So what provokes this world body to declare a day of democracy?

The Declaration came exactly twenty years after the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) adopted a Universal Declaration on Democracy in 1997. IPU is an international organization that has an observer status in United Nations. It is composed of world parliaments, parliamentarians and later several civil society organizations also joined in. IPU promotes democratic governance, gender parity amongst legislatures, empowers youth for political participation and ensures that nations adopt sustainable development in their models of progress. The 1997 Declaration was well researched as slippages in the democratic functioning of governments were abound. It also affirms principles of democracy, exercise of democratic government, and international scope of democracy. There exists a historical link to this declaration of 1997 which and can be traced back to people’s struggles during the 1980s against the stifling of democratic processes by authoritarian regimes. In 1988 a peaceful revolution in the Philippines called ‘People Power Revolution’ which was also called the EDSA Revolution getting this name from manila’s most prominent highway ‘Epifano de los Santos Avenue’ blocked by people to overthrow a 20-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. In Philippines, an innovative democratic model of governance was brought up through a movement of an International Conference of New or Restored Democracies (ICNRD) under the initiative of President Corazon C.Aquino of Philippines. In ICNRD’s international meet at Doha in 2006 this new model of democratic governance with a tripartite structure having three essentials participatory pillars ie; governments, parliaments, and civil society was explicitly recognized by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/253 of 2 May 2006. This movement of new and restored democracies acknowledged the fact that if even a single pillar of governance is weakened, democracy would derail. A year before the declaration of Democracy Day in 2006, another small Himalayan Kingdom state Nepal experienced what is known as ‘Nepal’s Magna Carta’ of 18th May 2006 when the Parliament unanimously voted to strip the King of his discretionary superior powers over people’s representatives. This day was hailed in Nepal as a ‘Democracy Day’ when all power that was vested in the King came under the power of people’s parliament including the 90,000 troops that the king controlled and in return all assets of monarchy became taxable.

Ironically, Qatar which a day ago had gone to meet the Taliban was given a lead by United Nations in 2006 to draft a text for a resolution on the democracy day by UN General Assembly. Finally, on 8th November 2007, the final resolution, titled, ‘Support by the United Nations system of Government efforts to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies’ was unanimously adopted by all UN member states to declare 15th September as an International Day of Democracy.

The Day of Democracy comes with an annual theme. Interestingly, the theme for 2019 was ‘participation’ and it talked of improving democracy by looking into institutional access and partnering with governments. Nevertheless, in 2020 it reverted to focus on basic concerns of democracy and selected a theme ‘2020 COVID-19: A Spotlight on Democracy’. In a very arbitrary frame of governance that lashed world events during the pandemic, there were raised concerns on due process of law, respect for international legal standards and right to access justice during crisis period which was being denied by democratic governments. In India as well, the execution of colonial era’s draconian ‘Epidemic Diseases Act 1897’ proved forbidding and humiliating to the underprivileged as they were denied transportation to reach their homes and one chief minister even allowed its administration to wash them with sanitizing chemicals as they enter a city. The 2021 theme remained undecided for long but then the focus garnered around the importance of ‘parliamentary oversight’ to maintain adequate checks and balance in any healthy democracy. It indicates that parliaments across the world have been failing to address their key role of maintaining a parliamentary oversight over an executive or a due process of law which should be followed in sustaining democracy. So, fear is that Parliaments which are a creation of democracy are now becoming threats to democracy.

A parliamentary system is a fusion of legislature and executive since leader of a majority party in Parliament is designated as the Prime Minister who then constitutes his Cabinet. Art 75 in the Constitution establishes that ‘pleasure of the President’ is the condition for a Minister to hold office and the Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the House. There are mutual checks and balances to establish intra-institutional controls. There are several Parliamentary Committees including the Standing Committees which are constituted in pursuance of the provisions of an Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business. These Committees especially Finance Committees such as the Estimates, Public Accounts, and Public Undertaking Committees are powerful committees to check the government’s overreach as well as the health of administrative systems during emergencies such as the pandemic. Judiciary remains independent and due to separation of power maintains its independent status of a watchdog of democracy. The former CJI Ranjan Gogoi emphasized the judiciary’s watchdog role in several public speeches that he delivered but on retirement he accepted being nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Watchdogs do not accept bones from those they are supposed to guard against. This relationship of greed with power was well brought out by former High Court Judge B.Kemal Pasha in his response to allegations against judiciary’s role in multi-crore Rafale deal. He said that judiciary should have ‘backbone’ to continue as the watchdog of the Constitution. He was referring to Art 142 under which the Supreme Court has immense power for judicial activism yet it said they have no power to intervene in the deal.The article 142 says, ‘The Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it, and any decree so passed or orders so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India …….’This is how our Constitution was formulated by brilliant and experienced minds but a few ideological vanguards like Sai Deepak in a latest talk show with Shashi Tharoor boldly declares that to protect this ‘Constitution at the expense of civilization is grave injustice’. Many who do not understand the balancing act of our Constitution also fail to understand that civilization is sustained because of this balance which they are trying to disturb.

Democracy’s lungful of oxygen comes from its respect for human rights. While the Day of Democracy focuses on ‘parliamentary oversight’ it is nothing but an assurance to people that they would be safe and justice would be done. Parliament is a primary forum for protecting human rights but its only on its failure that judiciary and civil society has to barge in. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 captures this relationship of democracy and human rights in Art 21 (3), “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

The last perplexing question on democracy emerges from Art 21(3) mentioned above. This article is merely reflecting an 1861 model of John Stuart Mill’s ‘Representative Democracy’ which continued to be popular in post -second world war explorations of Comparative Politics Movement in the non-western world. These studies conducted in emerging post-colonial nations experimenting with their cultural frames of democracies saw elections as a primary representative act of democracy as even that appeared difficult. Seventy five years later with fairly well informed voters and high paced technology it is now well established that to think of elections as an assurance of democracy is merely stamping a procedure which has become a ritual. It rarely gets converted to substantive democracy in which those who elect also control their representatives through institutions of accountability and information dissemination. Much has been done to prevent substantive democracy through ordinances, notifications and laws which shrink space for public discourse and twist democracy into a one way ratchet. This has now raised questions of ‘democratic backsliding’ in which governments ritually hold timely free and fair elections through an independent election commission nonetheless institutions for the participation of people and voicing their concerns are locked up and enforcement agencies have personnel policies which turn exceptional clause of discretion into regular norm to appoint compliant officials. In a world governed by cyber interaction and veiled opinions, winning an election against poor and minimally educated may just be a sort of a digital craft in which a prowling cat can be presented as a gentle generous lion. Now that this obstinate pandemic has put everyone from primary school kids to the top governance officials over on-line internet based information, one would fail to imagine now what intellectual disaster is cumulatively going to stand against democracies in times to come.

Democracy is short-term representative governance and a long-term substantive life based upon a due process of law, access to justice, freedom of expression, and protection of human rights including gender rights. Freedom of expression may give some shape to substantive democracy but laws on inculcating ethics and integrity are weakening. Democracies have no viable alternative other than repression and surveillance. Unless this Day of Democracy is rightly observed we may continue to repeat Plato’s words that democracy is where donkeys march on roads with flags claiming to be perfect democrats.

The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

FREEDOM FIGHTERS DON’T DESERVE TO BE KEPT MERELY LANGUISHING IN HISTORY BOOKS

Priya Sahgal

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On September 14th Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a trip to Aligarh to lay the foundation stone of a university named after Raja Mahendra Pratap, a Jat icon and yet another freedom fighter who did not get his due during earlier regimes. Whether it was the quest for the 17 percent Jat vote in the state that is set to go to polls early next year, or part of the BJP’s larger game plan to rediscover and honour leaders other than those belonging to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty; it was a recognition that was long overdue. As Mahendra Pratap’s great-grandson Charat Pratap Singh told the media, when he first heard about the project, “Der Aaye Durusth Aaye” (better late than never). Although Charat added that for the family it was not about politics, but giving respect where it is due, one cannot ignore the fact that all this is happening against the backdrop of a largely Jat lead farmers’ agitation in Western Uttar Pradesh; and that too a few months before the UP polls.

But back to the larger point. Without going into the current debate of cancel culture and rewriting history textbooks, there has been a glaring omission as to how some of our greatest freedom fighters have not been given their due honour. Take Raja Mahendra Pratap’s case for instance— he was an alumnus of the Muhammadan Anglo Oriental Collegiate School which now has been renamed as the Aligarh Muslim University. Influenced by the speeches of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Dadabhai Naoroji, he became entrenched in the Swadeshi movement and declared a jihad against the British rule, leading to the British declaring a bounty on his head. In 1915, he set up the first Provisional Government of India in Afghanistan as its President. This served as the Indian Government in exile during World War I from Kabul in 1915. In fact, as PM Modi told us at the event, it was after consultation with other revolutionaries and freedom fighters, Lala Hardiyal and Shyamji Krishna Varma that he went to Afghanistan. Later he also established the Executive Board of India in Japan in 1940.

Back in India, he contested the Lok Sabha elections in 1957 from Mathura defeating the Jan Sangh’s Atal Behari Vajpayee. Known for his social reform and his work for the downtrodden, he was also deeply influenced by Gandhiji and a firm believer in non-violence. Raja Mahendra Pratap was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1932. He also donated a sizeable chunk of land to his alumni the AMU in 1929. (Later in 2019 the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had asked that the university be renamed after the late Jat leader).

There is a reason for this digression into his bio data, because as I mentioned earlier, not much is known about the Jat King and freedom fighter. It is only now, after the Modi government decided to honour him that the media reached out to his family, and of course the internet, to find out what they could about this legendary personality. I have to confess, I have a personal reason for doing the same. Mahendra Pratap’s great grand-daughter, Meeta Pratap studied with me at the Welhams Girls’ School in Dehradun. For seven years we shared a dorm, discussed Doscos & Daphne Du Maurier, fudged our maths books, and mugged our history books. But, we were never told about the role that one of our classmate’s great grandfather played in our freedom struggle; and I am sure many like him are left languishing on the sidelines of history. Many more that we need to remember, honour and thank.

As readers of this column know I have often disagreed with the Prime Minister, but he has a point when he says there are so many who have struggled and sacrifised for our country but it is unfortunate that the ‘Gen Next’ is not told about their struggle and their stories. He has also promised that his government will make an `imaandar’ (honest) attempt to give these leaders their due. As he added, it is important for any youth who dreams big to know about Raja Mahendra Pratap for he spent every moment of his life in service of our country, first during the freedom struggle and later on through his philanthropy. Given that this is the 75th year of our independance, one hopes that many other such iconic stalwarts would be given their long overdue prominence and rescued from the dust of history.

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Kerala’s new woes: Narco terrorism and love jihad

Kerala Catholic bishop’s claim of ‘narcotics jihad’ is becoming a political flashpoint across the nation. To ensure peace and stability in the region, Kerala government has to take cognisance of the issues. If it does not, Centre should intervene, lest things go out of hand. 

Satish Kumar

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The Love Jihad has become the itching menace in Kerala. When the issue was raised by RSS, most of the liberal intellectuals called it political offshoots. This time it has been raised by a Catholic bishop. Mar Joseph Kallarangatt, Bishop of Palai, has come out categorically, accusing a section of the Muslim community of targeting Christians girls through Love Jihad and ‘Narcotic Jihad’. These groups, according to him, have been using different strategies to run the show. Pointing to a sharp rise in cases of young Christian women being subjected to abuse or religious conversion after eloping with men from other community, the Bishop warned that these “jihadists” had already cast their nets over places including schools, colleges, training centers and even commercial centers. Regarding the “Narcotic Jihad”, the Bishop said the rising number of drug cases were a pointer to the practice’s existence. “These gangs operate out of the ice-cream or soft drinks parlors and restaurants run by jihadists and deploy different types of narcotics as a tool to destroy non-Muslims. These facts are reinforced by the rising cases of rave parties. The incidents of religious hatred in the domain of art and culture, programs that seek to cast aspersions on other religions, the business strategies like halal food, major real estate deals at inflated prices, parallel telephone exchange, armory shops are all part of larger scheming.

Five years earlier, the Hadiya case brought this issue to light. Many secular fronts and liberal thinkers wrote that it was an imagined story by right wing organizations. As things moved, and courts took cognizance of the matter, things became more transparent. National Investigation Agency (NIA) found the involvement of a team who are involved in the process of conversion of Hindu and Christian girls to Islam.

Jihad is an Arabic word, which is closely associated with Islam and its history. Jihad literally means making a determined effort to oppose something or achieve an ideal or a noble goal. However, with the rise of extremism in many countries, it is now being used rather negatively to denote the use of violence. The word ‘Love Jihad’ is a rather recent development. This manifestation of Jihad means using love and sex to convert people to Islam or establishing dominance over them. Love Jihad or Romeo Jihad is a process under which young Muslim boys and men target young girls for conversion into Islam by pretending as real lovers. In December, 2009, Justice KT Sankaran of Kerala High Court found indications of forceful conversions.

The radical Islamist organization Popular Front of India (PFI) has deep roots in Kerala. After the ban on Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), a radical Islamist organization namely National Democratic Front (NDF) was formed. Simultaneously Abdul Nassar Madani launched a Muslim outfit called Islamic Seva Sangh (ISS). The PFI is an umbrella organization of various political and non-political entities and trusts like Campus Front of India, All India Imam Council Confederation of Human Rights Organization. According to a Home Ministry dossier, the PFI has around 60,000 regular members and 85,000 sympathizers in Kerala. Sathya Sarani Islamic Dawa Institute, a mysterious Islamic coversion centre also comes under the PFI.

MODERNITY AND ISLAMIC RADICALIZATION

Post-Independence India acquired a unique conceptualization of modernity. The marriage of a Hindu girl with Muslim boy was considered a great leap of modernity. The Nehruvian socialists in the name of secularism corroborated and were planted in campuses. To a large extent, the divisive agenda worked. It was more systematic because Kerala was under the political system of Left, or the Congress, or both combined. The change of political system at the center took it seriously. The issue was picked up by RSS. Many leaders of the organization went to Northern parts of Kerala and highlighted the matter with the Home Ministry. Ultimately the ISIS recruitments and radicalization caught the attention of the nation.

FACTORS OF RADICALIZATION

Kerala is not a poor state. The mushrooming of Islamic organizations narrates a different story. Youth of Kerala have been migrating to Gulf and other Islamic countries. Many of them move to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and several other countries. The funds from Saudi Arabia started flowing in. The funds were systematically used to wean the minds of youth. Over period of time, some of the northern districts of Kerala adapted the lifestyles of Arabs. Girls started wearing Arab dress code with burqa. Schools and colleges mushroomed with bearded males. TV evangelists like Zakir Naik became the most popular figure in the state. These were the early signals of radicalization of a state which was doing much better than any state of the country. In all cases, Muslim youths are radicalized by the educated class of Muslims such as Islamic clerics, Islamist editors, and mosque leaders. Hindu and Christians cannot open their shops during Ramzan. Charitable and black money pumped in Kerala in a major way, and mosques and churches are receiving lots of it. All NGOs of Islamists organizations have links with political parties.

They enjoy influences and power over them. On similar lines, Popular Front of India, (PFI) has been taking over control of mosques and some Muslims under its umbrella.

RADICALIZATION THROUGH ORGANIZATIONS

The Mujahid movement preaches a puritan version of Islam and opposes Sufi practices. It is from their corpus of ideas that grew the radical Islamist group National Development Front (NFD), now known as PFI which has roots in the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) a banned militant group which seceded from the Jamaat-e-Islami. By 1980 the Kerala branch of SIMI had declared slogans such as ‘destroy nationalism, reinstate caliphate’. Newspapers like Madhyamam, which is published by the Jammat-e-Islami, are radicalizing Muslim youngsters— radicalization proposing to establish an Islamic state. They create hate wave against the Hindu culture, and there is an attempt to wean away Muslim youngsters from local society.

COCKTAIL OF COMMUNISTS AND JIHADIS

Marxists are also rationalizing Islamic extremism. Marxism thrives on poverty. But Kerala is not poor. In Muslim dominated regions like Kozhikode, Malappuram and Kasargod, there is sign of Arabic culture percolating down. Keralite restaurants advertise Arabic foods. Northern Kerala looks like a mini-Pakistan. Dattatreya Hosabale, General Secretary of RSS said, “There is definitely some nexus between Jihadi terrorists operating in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala and the Communist Party of India (Marxisit) cadres”.

The same logic was endorsed by a historian. Tarek Fatah, author of Pakistani origin, once said “The alliance between Islamist and Leftists-Sharia’h-Bolshevism is a dangerous threat to free speech and democracy”.

ITS POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS

There are reports of Maoists joining hands with Jihadis. The experiment of alliances between CPI (M) and the Jihadis in Kerala succeed in forming a counter against the nationalist forces, its impact will be disastrous not only for India but for the entire world. The outfits have links with the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizbul Mujahedeen. PFI has network with National Development Front (Kerala), Manitha Neethi Pasarai (Tamil Nadu), Karnatka Forum for dignity (Karnatka), and all organizations with radical ideology. Several other organizations splashed in other states like Peace Educational Foundation (Kerala), Jamait ul Muflihaat (Hyderabad), Discover Islam Education Trust (Bengaluru), Tauheed Educational Trust (Bihar), Islamic Research and Dawah Centre (Mumbai), Islamic Information Centre (Mumbai) have emerged during the last few years, which have provided direct access to indoctrination materials.

Nonetheless, the declaration by the Bishop is a reality. It has been said time and again that Kerala is slipping into the hands of terror groups. Love Jihad is a tool. The aim is to strengthen Islamic terror groups, meandering along with Maoist forces. Since the Indian subcontinent is facing the heat of Taliban occupying the driving seat in Afghanistan and flagging off Islamic terror signals, these issues will have larger implications. Therefore, between Kerala and Kashmir, there is a link.

The recent revelation by Bishop must be taken seriously by the state government. If it does not, the center must make a solid move to contain it.

Satish Kumar is Professor of Political Science at IGNOU, New Delhi. The views expressed here are his personal.

Jihad is an Arabic word, which is closely associated with Islam and its history. Jihad literally means making a determined effort to oppose something or achieve an ideal or a noble goal. However, with the rise of extremism in many countries, it is now being used rather negatively to denote the use of violence.

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