A broad scan of the issues that have crowded the national debates in the last three months in India
There is never a dull moment in India. The media channels and social media continuously keep buzzing with several issues of concern. Even before one issue settles the other gains momentum and makes us forget the previous issue that has not been resolved. These issues are far too broad to be categorized.
For example, the female wrestlers of India went on a protest against the chairperson of the Indian Wrestling Federation. They came out with severe allegations such as sexual assaults on female wrestlers, misbehaving with a minor wrestler, and so on.
The wrestlers who came out had won accolades for India in the Olympics and other world championships. They protested for nearly three months. The media took note of it and gave the movement some momentum. The person accused is a six-time member of the parliament. A man who clearly with muscle and political power was unnerved by the protests. Social activists and some sportsmen came out in support of the protesters, but the government kept silent and refused to act against this man.
The women of the ruling party (BJP) who usually come out with their shrill voices to defend their party and its deeds to protect women remained silent. The reporters accosted the minister for Cultural Affairs and asked her about the issue, she decided to sprint away from the media without a single word. The minister for Women Development did not utter a single word against the accused. The champion wrestlers then decided to take all their hard-earned precious medals and dump it in the Yamuna River.
A country and its leadership that celebrated their victory when they brought home the only Olympic glories to a medal starved India was now betraying and backstabbing them by not even acknowledging the wrong doings.
The wrestlers exposed the under belly of the sport and its leadership. While they received a broad support of the people the government refused to act on the accused. The wrestlers were violently removed from the protest site and arrested. The social media and the troll gurus had the audacity to morph the pictures of the wrestlers and portray them happily sitting in police custody inside the vans that were used to transport them.
While this drama was unfolding the Prime Minister of India was opening a brand-new parliament house located only a couple of kilometers away from the protest site. The opening ceremony involved a clearly scripted theatrical performance by the prime minister.
Surrounded by Hindu Seers especially from South India, he marched with the scepter in his hand, accompanied by the Speaker of the House. The temple of democracy was opened without the president of India being invited. The opposition parties boycotted the inauguration as they were unhappy with the arrangements, the mythological décor that was inside and the sheer expenses that it consumed.
The worst part was that they saw the parliament house opened on the birthday of Sarvakar, a patron of the Hindutva ideology. His role in the freedom struggle is quite controversial as he begged for his freedom and swore allegiance to the British as an exchange for his freedom.
While the television debates were still full of this news, there was trouble in the northeastern state of Manipur. The government had announced an affirmative action policy for the dominant nontribal community of the Meiteis. Manipur is unique in many ways. It is a state with a valley surrounded by hills.
The majority community of the Meiteis inhabit the valley while the tribes Kukis and Nagas in particular inhabit the hills. The Meiteis had little access to the hills while the Kukis and Nagas, though a minority had access to the valley. The land rights were quite contested in the hills with the mix of cultural heritage of all the people. They considered the hills as abodes of gods and claim their right to heritage.
The announcement of the extension of privileges to the Meitei-community brought in a lot of resentment. It sparked off violence from all angles. Till date over 250 people have been murdered, several churches destroyed or desecrated and over 50,000 people displaced.
The relentless violence continued for nearly two months. The central government remined a mere spectator, the Prime Minister has not uttered a single word till date, despite the fact the issue gaining global prominence. Even the European parliament was planning to have a discussion on it.
This incident has affected Manipur severely. The children were out of school for nearly two months, there has been enormous loss to life and property. Some people don’t know if their relatives are dead or alive as they fled the scene of conflict in a panic.
While the issue continues to simmer, the central government started inviting suggestions for the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). India has a criminal procedure code and a civil procedure code. This consists of personal laws and customary laws that are specific to religions and cultures.
For example, monogamy is what the law prescribes but in the case of certain tribes’ polygamy is permitted. The proposal to promote a UCC at this time seems mischievous. At the outset it appears as a tremendous idea that will usher equality and equity, but a detailed analytical understanding reveals a dangerous road map.
It will be used as a weapon to target communities and mete out punishments that go against the very grain of the Constitution. The government has invited suggestions/opinions from the civil society. This once again has the shifted the discussion and debates. The fear of homogenization and further discrimination that will threaten religious identities, customs and practices has crept in once again.
The rights-based groups have now been debating the key areas that will be impacted by this. There is a clear feeling of insecurity among the marginalized and vulnerable groups. The thinking is that the UCC is being bought to be debated with the 2024 elections in mind.
An observation of the issues in the past few months’ points to a clear diversion tactics. When one issue gathers storm, another issue is introduced. The focus automatically shifts with the frenetic media coverage. This way no issue can hog the limelight for long. Diversion from focus is like an escape hatchet.
PS: The man who assaulted the wrestlers, Brij Bushan Singh, was finally charge-sheeted after many months of struggle and public outcry.
Ashok Gladston Xavier
Ashok Gladstone Xavier is associate professor in social work at Loyola College, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India