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Super Emergency? 'Pity the nation, oh pity the people, Who allow their rights to erode'

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
Few will forget that infamous night of June 25/26, 1975 when emergency was declared in India. No right-thinking Indian will ‘celebrate’ that event as one marks its 45th anniversary. There will be some muted voices perhaps, who will attempt to justify its imposition. There will certainly be no lover of Democracy who will count among them. Abrogating, denying or even suspending the Constitutional rights and freedoms guaranteed to the citizens of a country is a non-negotiable and not acceptable. 
The emergency lasted for twenty-one months up to 21 March 1977, when thankfully it was withdrawn and the rights and freedoms of citizens were restored. The period of emergency was certainly a dark chapter in the history of India. A Chapter which will never be forgotten; and of course, the country saying in unison ‘Never Again’.
Lets fast forward to 25/26 June 2020: that’s today! There is no emergency officially proclaimed; but the sad and tragic reality is that India today is being throttled by a Super Undeclared Emergency – which is on every front, far worse than the emergency of 45 years ago! There is no doubt about that. 

Economy in doldrums

Economically, the country is in shambles: the GDP is an all-time low; unemployment is on an all-time high; the few rich continue to become scandalously richer whilst the poor are pushed into dehumanizing poverty; the gap between the rich and poor is widening at a criminal pace. The Government has been increasing the price of fuel (diesel, petrol and gas) almost every day.
A few days ago, the respected US rating agency Moody's downgraded India's sovereign rating to ‘Baa3’, the lowest grade. It thereby joined Standard and Poor and Fitch, which had already relegated India to the bottom rung in this regard. Explaining their decision, Moody's said: 
"While today's action is taken in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it was not driven by the impact of the pandemic. Rather, the pandemic amplifies vulnerabilities in India's credit profile that were present and building prior to the shock, and which motivated the assignment of a negative outlook last year." 
Inflation has touched incredible heights! Important public sector companies (like the LIC and Air India) are on the verge of being sold out and several banks have either collapsed or about to do so! The Government has thrown all caution to the winds, and immorally been utilizing the precious monetary reserves of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
Demonetization brought in the ‘moolah’ for the ruling regime but destroyed livelihood and lives of millions. Financial scams and scandals are the order of the day! Crony capitalism rules the roost! Corruption is mainstreamed and blatant. The Government has amassed huge amounts of money in the PMCares Fund but refuses to be transparent about it!  
The social sector is in the doldrums. The education system is gradually being eroded. There is a definite pattern emerging towards the nationalisation of education. 

Human rights, justice

On August 5, 2019, Articles 370 and 35A, with regard to Kashmir, were unconstitutionally abrogated; inspite of protests from all sections of society, the Kashmiris continue to live in one big prison, several months after that abrogation! 25 June marks 326 days of #KashmirCaged! The recent ‘conflicts’ and ‘tensions’ with China, Nepal and Pakistan clearly demonstrate that the country is also bereft of leadership!
Those in power and their goons, spew venom on others, through their hate speeches. Mainstream media (both print and electronic) is sold out; freedom of speech and expression is virtually a thing of the past! Several Journalists, writers and authors who have taken a stand for truth and justice are at the receiving end of a vengeful system. 
A few days ago, well-known journalist Supriya Sharma from ‘Scroll.in’ was booked in connection with an article she published on 8 June, entitled ‘In Varanasi village adopted by Prime Minister Modi, people went hungry during the lockdown’.
Apparently one of those who were interviewed from village Domari has now changed her statement. On the other hand, those so-called journalists who spew venom and spread hate and falsehood all belonging to what is today regarded as ‘godi media’, can literally get away with murder.
Lynching has become the ‘new normal’. A 14-year old Christian boy was lynched to death in Odisha a few days ago. Minorities (particularly Muslims and Christians) are consistently targeted and denigrated and often even attacked. Recently, there was a tragic death of an elephant in Kerala; a Minister of the ruling regime stoked the communal flames by mischievously situating the death in a Muslim dominated district of the State.
On June 24, the online portal ‘The Print’ had a telling article “Indians who made Covid ‘Muslim virus’ after Tablighi Jamaat are cheering Odisha’s Rath Yatra’, revealing how double-standards are legitimised by the ruling regime and how minorities are conveniently demonised. Recent US Reports highlight lack of ‘Freedom of Religion’ in India.
Those who take a stand for human rights, justice, peace and pluralism, have false cases foisted on them, they are denigrated, attacked and even killed! Several human rights defenders, particularly in the Bhima- Koregaon case are languishing in over-crowded jails.
Young students who have had the courage to take on the Government with regard to the anti-Constitutional ‘Citizenship Amendment Act’(CAA) have sent to jail. Stalwarts of Democracy like Harsh Mander and Yogendra Yadav have false cases foisted on them and are even charge-sheeted. NGOs are systematically throttled through legislation which stifle their effective functioning.
Major independent and Constitutional authorities (like the Election Commission) of the country have been rendered impotent; they behave like caged parrots or have to bow to the whims and fancies of their political masters. The judiciary, even the highest court of the land, has become pliant.
The fact that a former Chief Justice of India could accept membership in the Rajya Sabha speaks volumes of the new low to which the judiciary has reached. Some of the recent judgements that have come out even from the apex court make one shudder at the blatant partiality and obvious miscarriage of justice.
Every effort is being made to change the essence and spirit of our Constitution! India has touched rock bottom, on every international evaluation/index on various economic, social and political parameters. The ‘Global Hunger Index’ report for 2019 places India to 102 out 117 countries surveyed. 

Autocratization

A new report, prepared by a top Swedish institute studying liberal democracy, has observed that there has been a sharp “dive in press freedom along with increasing repression of civil society in India associated with the current Hindu-nationalist regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
The report places India among the top 10 countries that “have autocratized the most”. Other countries that have been identified for rolling towards autocracy are -- Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Serbia, Brazil, Mali, Thailand, Nicaragua and Zambia. Titled ‘Autocratization Surges – Resistance Grows: Democracy Report 2020’, produced by the Produced by the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg, it ranks India 90th in Liberal Democracy Index (LDI) among 179 countries.
In spite of what the country is going through in every sphere, the Government in December 2019 had the insensitivity to introduce the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Population Register (NPR) at an all-India level and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). All three are patently discriminatory, divisive and draconian and which most believe, go against the grain and spirit of India’s Constitution and democratic framework.
The CAA, the NPR and the NRC are bound to have a serious and detrimental impact on the poor, the excluded, the minorities and other vulnerable groups like the Adivasis and Dalits. The exercise is also a very clear strategy toward the establishment of a ‘Hindutva Rashtra’.
Because of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, there is some respite to the nationwide protests; however, till 24 March, millions of citizens, from every walk of life, were out on the streets, in every corner of the country. They were protesting and demanding that this anti-people law and related measures, be withdrawn unconditionally and immediately.
Young and old, students and their professors, social activists and other eminent citizens, the rural folk and the suave urbans, are all protesting in an unprecedented show of strength and solidarity, never seen before in post independent India! Several powerful statements and excellent articles by leading global thinkers are already in the public domain.
Ever since the nationwide lockdown was announced three months ago, a humanitarian crisis unprecedented in India’s modern history, has severely disrupted the lives of India’s migrant workers. Millions of migrants have found themselves stranded without food, cash, and shelter, trying to get home. 
They have been subjected to violation of their fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 and often to severe police harassment on interstate borders. Many have reportedly died as a result of the lockdown, due to exhaustion en route home, starvation, suicides, police excesses, illnesses, and rail and road accidents.
As per reliable sources, as many as 667 non-Covid deaths have occurred across the country; 205 of these have occurred among migrant workers en route on foot, and 114 due to starvation and financial distress. As of this moment, the government of India does not seem to have any estimates on the total number of people stranded and/or en route home across the country nationally as revealed in a recent RTI.
Resistance to Undeclared Emergency, if it is to succeed, has to provide constructive solutions in best interests of vast majority. Will we awake?
The working class has suffered enough during this pandemic. Besides, the Government denying them public transportation for almost two months to return home, they were also denied wages when their establishments were closed during the lockdown. The Government seemed to desperately have wanted to keep them back at their ‘workplace’ so that they could be available as soon as the lockdown to work once again at the mercy of their employer.
What the Government did not visualize was that they would have the grit and determination to walk back home. There are the terrible pictures and footage of them walking miles back to their native place, inspite of the Government’s denial of the same in the Supreme Court more than a month earlier. 

Environmental destruction

In the midst of the pandemic, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has apparently given a green signal to more than forty projects without the mandatory environmental clearances. Most of these projects favour their rich crony capitalist friends literally giving them a license to loot, plunder and rape the environment and much more! Our precious biodiversity and our fragile ecosystems are being destroyed.
The Government today has clearly gone on a downward spiral: doing everything they can to destroy the environment: the Western Ghats and the Aravalli Hills; the building of a dam in Dibang; the selling of coal mines to private companies and much more.
The draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 condemns everything that it is supposed to represent and dilutes existing environmental regulations that help protect & safeguard our environment. Once it passes (the deadline is 30 June) it will lead to irreparable damages to our vital landscapes & biodiversity and particularly on the lives and livelihood of our Adivasis, indigenous people and other forest dwellers.
The draft EIA notification 2020 proposes to:
  • legitimise violations by those who start projects without environment clearance,
  • weaken the democratic public consultation process 
  • reduce the compliance requirements on the part of project proponents/promoters, 
  • increase the number of projects that do not require an EIA process 
Thus, opening up new escape routes for environmental violators & enabling "development" at the cost of the very source of our lives. 

Dehumanised state

It is clear that we live in a state of ‘Super Undeclared Emergency’; in the veil of democracy, there is an obvious dictatorship ingrained in the Hindutva ideology; there is the destruction of the social fabric which is pluralistic and enshrined in the values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity; and above all, the brutal subjugation of several groups which include the minorities and the marginalised, the Dalits and the Adivasis, the excluded and other vulnerable sections of society.
For the last five years India, under the regime of Narendra Modi, has been going through, what many have called the Silent or Undeclared Emergency. However, the situation in reality is much worse than what happened almost half a century ago.
The Indian state is today far more powerful and dehumanized than it has ever been, fascist ideology looms large over all facets of our lives while intolerance, violence and intimidation have completely replaced national discourse. The centralization of all power in the hands of the ‘Supreme Leader’, and a small coterie of people around him, has become a grave threat to Indian democracy itself.
The total subversion of democratic institutions like judiciary and media, the persecution of political opponents and policies favouring the very rich have become the norm. The routine violation of Constitutionally guaranteed rights and autonomy of state governments pose an existential threat to the federal structure of the Indian Republic today. The dismal fate of Kashmir, following the abrogation of Article 370, is a portend of what is in store for all Indian states in the days ahead.
The routine violence against Muslims and Christians, Dalits and Adivasis, often through the use of brutal lynch mobs and torture by police has risen dramatically under the current government. The policies of ‘one culture, one language, one country’ as part of the Hindutva agenda and denial of the right of people to eat or wear what they want, have undermined the great diversity and very soul of India.
If the Emergency of 1975 was bad, what Indian citizens are going through now in 2020 is a thousand times worse. And if the historic resistance to dictatorship then resulted in a great transformation, it is the task of Indians today to take inspiration and launch a vigorous campaign to oppose the Super Emergency imposed on the nation.
All this will call for great sacrifices and effort of course but then, no form of dictatorship is acceptable to the people of India. There is no future for the Republic of India except on the path of a truly federal, socially just and secular democracy. This is the time for all of us to pledge that ‘Democracy Matters!”. 
However, there is also an urgent need to go beyond merely rhetorical challenges to build organisations of the Indian people, solve immediate problems directly where possible – no matter how small the intervention. The resistance to the Super Emergency, if it is to succeed, has to provide constructive solutions that are in the best interests of the vast majority of our citizens:
  • Demand your elected representatives to convene the Indian parliament immediately to restore democratic functioning in the country
  • Call for the immediate release of all political dissidents and those locked up on false charges in Indian prisons 
  • Join the #YaadKaroSamvidhan campaign against the arrests of students and activists peacefully protesting the CAA, NPR and NRC policies and educate the public about these policies 
  • Demand minimum income guarantees for workers, farmers, the urban and rural poor 
  • Demand implementation of completely free healthcare for all Covid-19 patients in both public and private hospitals 
  • Volunteer for public health work to help overcome the Covid-19 epidemic 
  • Use all forms of art and media, including social media, to express your resistance 
  • Start Food Banks to fight hunger 
  • Organise or take part in blood donation camps 
  • Organise film festivals on the theme of democracy 
  • Learn about and promote India’s pluralist culture and traditions of communal harmony 
  • Begin a business and create jobs. Contribute to the creation of jobs in this period of growing unemployment
  • Start a movement for the ecological revival of your area 
  • Make Self Help Groups involving all communities 
  • Translate the works of Ambedkar, Periyar, Gandhi, Tagore and Bhagat Singh as also any materials on the above issues related to the Super Emergency and circulate them widely 
We are surely living in ‘dark times.’ One cannot help but revisit the incisive poem ‘Pity the Nation’, written more than twelve years ago, by the well-known American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (based on a similar work written earlier by the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran): 
"Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerers
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
With force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
Who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away
my country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!”
In these times of the ‘Super Undeclared Emergency’ in India, these words ring tragically true! But will we awake?
---
*Human rights and peace activist/writer

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