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Stories from “too democratic” India

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Mr. Mahathir Mohamad, erstwhile prime minister of Malayasia, harped on his favourite topic some time ago,
reported Livemint:

Although democracy is the best form of government, it doesn’t make for easy governance, said Mahathir, who ruled Malaysia, one of South-East Asia’s fastest growing economies in the early 1990s, for more than two decades.

Initially, India’s socialist leanings came in the way of its economic growth, but since it adopted market reforms in 1991 its progress has been slow due to its democratic practices, Mahathir said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi.

When Russia changed its economic and political system, its reforms were so radical and implemented so fast that it led to upheavals that stymied economic growth. China, on the other hand, was more careful and this resulted in rapid economic growth, Mahathir said.

“If India is not too democratic, it will be like China in terms of development,” he said.

A democratic republic is a government of the people for themselves. There are stories from all over the country each day which seem to indicate that this is not what we have: there are fires in hospitals, repeated bomb-blasts in our cities, and attempts by the government to censor the web. But among these are even more horrifying stories.

The first story is from Dantewada. Outlook reported:

The Supreme Court today directed Chhattisgarh government to file an affidavit on allegations that pebbles were thrust into the private parts of alleged Maoist activist Soni Sori during police torture and asked the state to shift her from a jail in Dantewada to Raipur Central prison.

“He has to answer. There are very serious allegations,” a bench of justices Altamas Kabir and S S Nijjar said while referring to the affidavit of Sori that the alleged torture was perpetrated at the behest of Dantewada SP Amit Garg.

The apex court passed the direction after examining the recovered foreign object and the medical report placed before it by a special team of NRS Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata.

Sori, a tribal teacher, had filed a petition alleging she was tortured in police custody after her arrest from Delhi.

The second is a famous ongoing story from Manipur. This is from Guernica:

Only images and fragments of stories trickle out from the prison ward in Imphal, capital of the Indian state of Manipur, where Irom Sharmila has been in solitary confinement since November 2000. Very few reporters, photographers, or filmmakers manage to pass the bureaucratic and physical barriers that keep her incarcerated. Photographer Gauri Gill wrote: “I had the feeling I was in the presence of someone so gentle, so alive to injustice and suffering, that she would not be able to survive the world… Through our ninety-minute interview, she was unfailingly kind to the guards, the hospital attendants, and the doctors who came and went.” Sharmila asked the documentary filmmaker Kavita Joshi for a copy of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, as she has no access to books, newspapers, or the Internet. She still writes poetry, which her supporters circulate online.

The 39-year-old Sharmila has been fasting for eleven years to demand the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which has been in effect in her home state of Manipur since 1958. AFSPA gives the Indian military absolute powers of search, seizure, arrest, and the use of deadly force, and provides impunity to military personnel accused of abuses against the civilian population. It is the foundation of a regime of military terror that has overshadowed daily life in Manipur, and other border states in the northeast—the triangle of land between Bangladesh, Burma, and China that is only connected to the Indian diamond by a narrow corridor to West Bengal—and in Kashmir. The Indian government has interpreted Sharmila’s fast as a suicide attempt, for which the maximum sentence is a one-year jail term. Each year for the past eleven years, she has been arrested, kept in a security ward, and force-fed a mixture of vitamins and nutrients twice a day through a nose tube. At the end of each year, she is released, and then arrested the next day. Her physical frame and strength are diminished to alarming levels, but her resolve is not.

Sharmila began her fast in 2000, in response to a massacre in the town of Malom, where Indian soldiers gunned down ten civilians. A roadside mine exploded as an Indian army patrol drove by, and as revenge, the soldiers opened fire indiscriminately. The people killed were waiting at a bus stop, working in the fields, and passing by. Such incidents, and the crackdowns that follow to stifle protest, have become routine. Sharmila was in Malom that day preparing for a peace rally. In a 2006 interview, she told filmmaker Joshi: “I had gone there to attend a meeting. The meeting was towards planning a peace rally that would be held in a few days. I was very shocked to see the dead bodies on the front pages of the newspapers. That strengthened me to step on this very threshold of death. Because there was no other means to stop further violations by the armed forces against innocent people. I thought then that the peace rally would be meaningless for me, unless I were to do something to change the situation.”

The stories are not only from the hinterland; the third story is from Delhi. NDTV reported:

he Delhi Police on Friday refused to take responsibility for the violence at the Ramlila Maidan during Baba Ramdev’s fast and told the Supreme Court that the crisis was created by the yoga guru’s “irresponsible behaviour”.

The Supreme Court is hearing a suo motu petition on the alleged police violence at Baba Ramdev’s anti-corruption gathering on June 4.

“He has to take responsibility,” Delhi Police counsel Harish Salve told the court.

“Whatever happened was unpleasant and unfortunate. But who precipitated it,” asked Mr Salve.

Mr Salve told the court that when the police went to the Ramlila Maidan at night and asked the gathering to vacate by the morning, Baba Ramdev jumped on to the dais and gave a speech instigating the people present at the venue.

The police action had come when Baba Ramdev was on a hunger strike, demanding that the government act faster and more vigorously to bring back black money or undeclared income stashed by Indians in foreign bank accounts.

A lathi charge by the police after Baba Ramdev jumped off the stage and melted into the crowd had injured about 70 people. One of them, Rajbala, was admitted to hospital with several spinal injuries. She succumbed to her injuries [died] on September 26.


Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

December 10, 2011 at 4:20 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] text of an open letter written by 200 eminent persons to the supreme court of India on the case of Soni Sori, a schoolteacher who has been sexually tortured in police custody: As citizens, we look to you, Honourable Judges of the highest court of law in our land, to […]

    Soni Sori « Karela Fry

    January 29, 2012 at 6:58 pm

  2. […] to remember this in an India where writers are censored or banned and ordinary protesters are jailed and tortured. Advertisement GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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