That self-styled godman, the messenger of God, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, is now in jail hopefully for 20 years.
His followers who unleashed mayhem on August 25, after he was pronounced guilty of rape, burning Panchkula and devouring 36 lives have retreated to their homes.
His Dera Sacha Sauda, until the previous day was such a happening place, now wears a desolate look with uncertain future. His incarceration has emboldened people to come out and tell the tales of horror that they witnessed but never spoken about for fear of their life. Yes, they now say that anyone falling from grace of this baba would be simply done to death.
At least, a few hundred were allegedly killed in the dera at Singh’s orders. Rapes, they say were common, 90 per cent of 300 odd sadhvis in the dera having suffered it repeatedly. The judge of the CBI court, Jagdeep Singh is rightly commended by one and all for remaining unfazed by over 200,000 Singh-followers who had gathered at Panchkula. India thus could flaunt a feather in her cap about the rule of law, and that no one, howsoever, powerful he/she may be can escape the clutches of law. All has ended so well.
But to think a little the other way around. Does putting this monster into jail for 20 years cure the trauma his victims suffered? And they were not only those two who came out and stood their stead through the 15 year long gruelling trial.
Does it bring back the many who were murdered without any trace by this criminal fraudster? It is said that he has castrated hundreds of youth and made them impotent so as to bind them to his dera as slaves. Will they get their lost selves back?
Will those 36 people who lost their lives because of him in the recent violence come back? The punishment in law just serves as a deterrent and never as reparation of the loss the victims suffer. Moreover, the criminal justice system is blind to the root cause of the crime. It is supposed to rely on evidence and in effect on just the apparent cause, not the real cause that engenders it and sustains it.
Take for instance the much discussed criminal conduct of the state machinery in Haryana in allowing thousands of the dera followers to collect in Panchkula. It did not require intelligence to recognise that the numbers could cause trouble, irrespective of the nature of the judgement.
It was not negligence and hence innocent, it was clear complicity with the rapist, an actual assurance to him that the BJP government was with him. There was a huge deployment of police and security personnel to create a scene in favour of a petty rapist. Whatever happened was just the natural fall out.
For 3-4 days it was a veritable tamasha that stunned the country with this naked impunity of the Haryana government but also the central government. For, even the latter watched and contributed by cancelling trains, planes, etc. It was all meant to faze the judge when they failed to manage the withdrawal of the case as promised to Singh.
When the upright judge pronounced him guilty of the rapes, mayhem broke out. The police became bystanders, and only when it became clear that the inaction would boomerang that the cops were permitted to act. But by then the damage was done; public property worth crores of rupees was destroyed, over 270 people were injured and as many as 36 people had lost their lives.
Who but the Harayana government duly supported by central government was directly responsible for this? Can CM Khattar and PM Modi not be tried for this abominable crime—the mayhem, murders, and the worst, breach of public trust?
Despite the scathing criticism of the Punjab and Haryana High Court of the Chief Minister and even the Prime Minister, they ignored the countrywide public outrage over their shameful conduct, they did not feel the need to salvage the situation and haughtily kept claiming that the government had acted prudently.
As a matter of fact, it was clear that it was entirely a government-prompted show. After everything was done and anybody could imagine that nothing would happen thereafter another act of drama in impunity was enacted. A normal alert and imposition of Section 144 could have been good enough but the government dramatized it with huge mobilization of the police and the Army in and around Panchkula, Sirsa, Rohtak and many other places as preparation for pronouncement of sentence on Monday. It, of course, patted its back for controlling the situation. Crores of rupees were thus wasted over a rapist’s trial.
There is no institution to judge such impropriety of governments and hold them accountable for blatant waste of public resources. Kudos to the judiciary in this entire episode, the CBI judge and the high court of Haryana and Punjab, who did their duty, as an example for others. They deserve salute of this country for reassuring that all is indeed not over. The recent conduct of judiciary (privacy judgement) has really restored the dwindling confidence of people in that institution.
The larger question is not to be forgotten, which is what and who creates and promotes these godmen at the first place. When the directive principles of state policy in the Constitution mandate the governments to promote rational and scientific outlook in people, how are these babas allowed to build their empires?
Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s case is no exception; before him there were scores of them: Asaram (rapes and murders), Rampal (rapes and murders), Nithyananda Swami (caught in a sex romp with an actress), JayendraSaraswathiSwamigal (arrested on charge of murdering a temple manager, Sankararaman), Swami Premananda of Tiruchirapally ashram, Swami Sadachari (in jail for running a brothel), IchchadhariSant Swami BhimanandJiMaharaj of Chitrakoot (jailed for running a prostitution racket), Gnyanachaitanya (spent 14 years in jail for committing three murders), just to list relatively the more infamous ones. Making it apparent that all these fraudsters are seasonsed criminals. And their grip over their empire is so tight, and ties with the powers so strong that it is very rarely that something leaks to the outside world, and is pursued to the logical end. As in the current case where the rapist has been found guilty and jailed.
At the root of this menace of godmen (and godwomen) lies the genre of politics in the country. These people serve multiple interests of politicians. They consolidate vote blocks, they act as laundry for their black money, they blind people from seeing the reality, they provide a makeover for criminal acts of politicians, and so on.
Therefore, all politicians except perhaps for the Communist parties, are seen hobnobbing with these godmen and godwomen, that in turn boosts their market. All the prominent babas are patronized by politicians especially the top ones.
While all parties are involved in this game, the BJP has an ideological affinity with them because they are taken as the ambassadors of their hindu culture. Asaram who is cooling his heels in a Rajasthan jail since August 2013 for the charge of raping a 16 year school girl early that year was a favourite of the Gujarat BJP politicians who today control the country’s political establishment.
Sri SriRavishankar’s exploits in the World Cultural Festival last year are fresh in memory. While the National Green Tribunal (NGT) was against the idea of holding this gigantic festival on the Yamuna floodplains in New Delhi, it was allowed because PM Narendra Modi was to attend its inaugural ceremony. The expert panel estimated the cost of damage to the floodplains at Rs 42 crores and time required at 10 years, which the godman dismissed and had the temerity to counter charge the government and NGT for causing it.
In the dera episode, despite the trial of Gurmeet Ram Rahim for as serious a charge as rape of teenage girls, PM Modi and all BJP politicians had visited him and paid their respect. As per his adopted daughter Honeypreet Kaur, he felt cheated because during the last elections the BJP had promised him that the case would be managed.
The BJP not only supports these babas, but also has all sadhus and sadhvis as its MPs, MLAs, ministers and even chief minister. One of them, SakshiMaharaj, an MP, brazenly defended the rapist Singh and blamed the judge for the mayhem in Panchkula on August 25.
Baba Ramdev, who doubles as the head of the FMCG behemoth PatanjaliAyurved, aRs 10,561 crores company, came out in defence of the baba community. Ramdev himself is the biggest beneficiary of the BJP’s scandalous support to his controversial venture. Babas remain saintly souls only until skeletons begin to tumble out of their chests.
If we dig still deeper, we may find our brand of secularism and the election system, to be at its root. The post-colonial rulers shrewdly avoided secularism –the firewall between religion and politics–in the Constitution and adopted this weird dharmanirapekshata (State treating all religions equally), which by default inevitably meant capitulating to the majority religion, which is what the State has been doing.
Contrary to the impression that Indian Constitution is secular, there is no such word in the Constitution, except for the Preamble in which it was inserted during the Emergency. In any case, Preamble is the vision of the Constitution and not its operative part.
If real secularism had been adopted then, the rise of the communal forces would not have been possible. Another instrument is the adoption of the first-past-the-post type of election system, arguably the most unsuitable system for a country like India, a cauldron of deep drawn identities based on castes, religions, races, ethnicities, languages, etc. intersecting each other.
It is a system that guarantees perpetuation of class rule. The menace of the so called ‘vote bank’ politics that political parties accuse each other of, is verily due to it. There was an alternative in the form of proportional representation system (PR system), that could be customized to suit our specific requirement. But it is scarcely even spoken abou, even after we experience the monumental failure of Indian democracy.
Are we going to deal with the disease or just treat the symptoms?
The white man’s burden
By Shahzad Chaudhry
When Samuel Huntington first published his thesis of ‘The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order’ in 1996, he was laughed upon.
It was thought that he was making a case for the ‘white world’ to have another enemy as big as Hitler’s Germany or the Communist Soviet Union which could give reason for it to continue to spend money on retaining its military domination of the world. That Islam, which Huntington referred to as the other side of the civilizational divide, could be one such adversary. He failed to indicate the means to such an inevitable clash still quite wrapped in conventional applications.
By 1989, capitalist democracy had vanquished pre-WWI Imperialism, post-WWI Fascism and post-WWII Communism. Towards the end of WWII, the likely victors gathered the world at Bretton Woods to sign them on to a plan to institute a global order which would run on the Western model of a ‘capitalist economy’ and a ‘democratic political system’ ensuring the ‘West’s’ centrality in a reinstituted world order. Having overcome all, it aimed to paint the world in its own colour. Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist, sealed that stage of finality in the political evolution of the world with his book ‘The End of History and the Last Man’, published in 1992. It is probable that Huntington countered Fukuyama’s thesis through his ‘Clash of Civilisations’ riposte. Fukuyama seemed exuberant while Huntington, initially dismissed, now seems prophetic.
Soon after, in 1998, a German professor at the University of Bremen, Dieter Senghaas, wrote ‘The Clash within Civilisations’ expanding on what Huntington had proffered and building on how such intercultural conflicts may germinate within civilisations, and the means to manage such conflicts. Keep in mind, the Al-Qaeda by then was a reality and had manifested itself with attacks on some of the US interests in Africa. The years between 1998 and 2008 was a period of an exclusive and entrenched conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere of an ongoing war between those who fought in the name of Islam and the Western civilisation.
Economic depression in 2008 brought home another reality. The capitalist system suddenly seemed to have run its course. Economists like Thomas Piketty and George Soros brought home the inadequacies of capitalism which had engendered another critical divide within societies between the 99 percent ‘have-nots’ and the one percent ‘have-all(s)’. Society stood starkly divided on the upward-mobility and prosperity scale. In the US, such deprivation became more noticeable in ‘non-college going whites’, mostly belonging to rural mid-western communities. These over time became the locales where the Church and white supremacists held sway.
Europe’s societies met another consequence with similar results, with the fragmentation of the family system when fewer people got ‘regularly’ married and even fewer gave birth to children. Soon the aged and the less productive outnumbered those who could sustain them. Retaining economies with required growth inevitably needed labour which had to be imported from where such resource was in abundance. Imperatives of an economy meant inviting people of alien cultures which gave birth to multiculturalism.
The phenomenon was initially enriching but later created a crisis of identity among the natives when their cultural ethos mutated or at the very least co-existed. In the US, meanwhile, urban America moved on gorging on the richness of such multiculturalism, while rural America was left to sulk with a sense of isolation and irrelevance.
People who had migrated not only found jobs for being better qualified and more creative and thus productive, they also replaced lazy locals who neither were equipped for the kind of jobs that the information and technology based economy could offer nor were keen to match their skills to move up the ladder. They had given up on college too even as students from all over the world populated their world class universities. What you got were prosperous, hard-working and productive émigrés establishing their cultures, and natives that were unskilled, uneducated and unemployed – isolated within their own habitats bordering on reverse ghettoisation. In Europe, the migrants populated city centres in massive collectivism. Such disaggregation was only consequential.
A creeping sense of alienation and irrelevance soon became a sentiment of hate. Politicians sensed the opportunity and cashed in on it as they moved for the kill. President Trump recently questioned the right of such naturalised citizens to sit in the US Congress. His exact words were more searing. Undoubtedly then, Brenton Tarrant, the monster of the Christchurch killings, hailed Trump as the leader of a resurgent White Power. White power isn’t new; it has existed before in the shape of the Ku-Klux-Klan in the US and the Skinheads of the UK who employed racial hatred and bigotry as their currency.
Restraints of law and a sense of shared stakes borne out of prosperity in rapidly progressing economies subsumed the white supremacists’ fears into acceptable levels of inclusivity – till free-market and laissez faire economics betrayed its partial gains for a selected few. Jobs went to those who could win those corporate profits, and these weren’t the left-behind natives. This brought up latent hate.
Right-wing politics around nationalism in Western societies became the anchor around which such hate has bloomed. It has since become mutually supportive for both sides as an electorate fired by such racial passion raises a leadership which in turn supports exclusivity. The sentiment is now so pervasive that someone as successful and as emblematic of inclusive and integrated societies like Angela Merkel finds it difficult to continue in politics. Brexit in many ways is an effort to rediscover such exclusionary existence.
What must be the way out of this horrible episode of hate and bigotry as evinced in Christchurch? Or may have the making of it in so many events of similar nature spread all over Western societies? Two fundamental separations will need to be created. One, that crime too has internationalised on the back of globalised politics, economics and multiculturalism spawned by the two. It finds succour from the same protocols of connectivity which gave us an interconnected world. Cooperative mechanisms must monitor such association for timely interdiction.
Two, a sentiment of hate or reprisal must be disaggregated and dealt with remedial interventions for the different stages leading to such an eventuality. Politics may stop using hate as currency. A system of democratic governance needs to be revisited; it must revert to be more inclusive.
An economic order which can address the shortcomings of the present form of capitalism needs immediate attention. What can make the current shape of capitalism more empathetic and inclusive? Is the Chinese order the answer or will the Islamic economic model ultimately tend to the poor and the deprived? It is time to get back to Bretton Woods or Davos or Jeddah and Dubai to seek the answers before we become fodder for the next series of hate wars. It is time to replace the challenge of a clash with a dialogue between civilisations. Jacinda Ardern has showed us the way.
Poor Nation, Rich Army
By TAHA SIDDIQUI
On March 23, Pakistan will celebrate its Republic Day with the same “zeal and fervor” as it does every year. As usual, the Pakistani military will come out in full force, with joint parades by the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy. The ostentatious marches will include a display of Pakistan’s nuclear-capable missile system, an air show, and gun salutes to local and international dignitaries present for the occasion.
The extravaganza is always broadcast live on local television channels, set to the fanfare of new propaganda songs produced especially for the event by the military’s media wing. It is rare for the public to question these theatrics—but doing so is more urgent than ever.
Pakistan is going through some serious financial turmoil. Over the last few months, Prime Minister Imran Khan has crisscrossed the globe in search of aid to shore up the economy. Before one recent trip, he even acknowledged the country’s desperation for foreign money. Meanwhile, the country’s finance minister, Asad Umar, has been busy negotiating a new bailout package with the International Monetary Fund—Pakistan has been in the care of the IMF for 22 years out of the last 30. Inflation is at a four-year high, reaching over 8 percent, and Islamabad believes that it could tick even higher.
One-third of Pakistan’s population lives under the poverty line, and the country is ranked at 150 out of 189 countries in the latest United Nations Human Development Index.
Although Pakistan’s recent economic woes are troubling, the country has faced similar pressures for years. One-third of its population lives under the poverty line, and the country is ranked at 150 out of 189 countries in the latest United Nations Human Development Index. The national debt stands at around $100 billion, while its foreign exchange reserves are a meagre $15 billion. The value of the Pakistani rupee, one of the worst-performing currencies in Asia, has dropped 31 percent since 2017.
Yet anyone watching the parade on March 23 may believe that all is well. And they certainly won’t get the impression that the military is, in fact, behind many of the country’s economic problems. But after debt servicing, the military is Pakistan’s biggest economic burden. Already, over 20 percent of the annual budget officially goes to the military, but the armed forces have been pushing for more every year. Just in the last budget cycle, it won a 20 percent hike in its yearly allocation. The actual expense of the military is even higher, but it is hidden by moving some of the expenses to other budget lines. The parliament neither seriously debates the military budget nor subjects its spending to audit. By contrast, the country spends less than 5 percent of GDP on social services like education and health care, well below the regional average.
The military mainly protects itself by keeping the threat of India alive. The two nuclear-armed neighbours have been in conflict since the partition of South Asia in 1947. The militaries have fought four wars, with three of them over Kashmir valley. Even though Pakistan initiated these conflicts, it has told the public that it was only countering Indian aggression. In recent years, Pakistan has avoided a direct war, perhaps because it lost all previous ones. But it relies on militant groups based in Pakistan to keep tensions alive. This February offered a glimpse of such dynamics at play. In turn, the Pakistani Army gets the perfect excuse for its oversized burden on the country’s economy. Like a mafia protection racket, the military creates its own demand.
But it is not just the military’s budget that is eating away at the resources of a country that it has directly ruled for half of Pakistan’s 72 years of existence. Today, the armed forces’ empire has expanded well beyond its traditional role in security. It runs about 50 commercial entities. The military’s main business arm, the Fauji Foundation, has seen enormous growth. According to Bloomberg, its assets grew 78 percent between 2011 and 2015, and it has annual income over $1.5 billion. The military-backed organization has stakes in real estate, food, and the communications industry.
It appears that the business wing of the military is expanding even more under the Khan government. Khan’s critics allege that the military backed his candidacy and now, in return, enjoys relative freedom to do what it wants. There is plenty of evidence to back those claims.
Reuters recently reported that the Pakistani Army is moving into another lucrative industry: mining and oil exploration. Khan’s government is reportedly facilitating the arrangements by giving the military preferential treatment during negotiations.
Do Muslim Lives Even Matter?
Just as the world was coming to terms with the horror of the attack on Muslims worshipping at two mosques at Christchurch in New Zealand, I was trying to understand the indignation that my young friend, Shah Alam, felt after news broke of Babu Bajrangi being granted bail by the Supreme Court.
What Shah Alam is trying to discern is the inability of the Supreme Court to comprehend the feeling of insecurity and vulnerability that this development would instil, not only amongst those who were Bajrangi’s direct victims but also amongst the Muslim population from Gujarat and across India. They were seeing a criminal accused of the worst crimes against humanity being granted freedom.
So can the attacks in New Zealand be treated as a crime against humanity? After all, the victims were Muslims as well, living in a particular colony, very small in number, if you compare them with the number of Muslims living elsewhere, even in Gujarat?
It is then questioned why Muslims like Shah Alam, safely ensconced in cities like New Delhi, are distressed? What is their locus standi in this case? How are they affected by Babu Bajarangi’s crimes? Are they not stretching it a bit too far?
By raising such technical objections, Bajarangi’s crimes are sought to be localised. But those raising such questions forget that the message of the Gujarat pogroms was not only intended for those physically trapped in the fire, but for all the Muslims in India – what happened in Gujarat can happen anywhere.
A young Muslim student of my university told me that someone recently subjected him to a catchphrase, “2002 phir se (2002 again)”. When confronted, the fellow student chuckled and explained that it was in reference to Modi’s re-election again, just like the people of Gujarat had returned him to power in 2002. The desire travels so far, in space and time, and yet we, who are not Muslims, tend to ignore it.
I need not go into the exploits of Babu Bajrangi, which were a part of the campaign which ultimately catapulted Narendra Modi to power.
Babu Bajrangi, foolish enough to brag about his “heroism”, was only one of the perpetrators. There were other, more shrewd, more lethal, offenders who didn’t even let their kurta get soiled by the blood of Muslims.
But maybe Babu Bajrangi was not foolish at all. Because his big talk about violence did not repel people from violence, it only drew them towards it. They experience a certain sadistic pleasure in sharing the brutality that they did not have the gratification to commit themselves. They consume and relish it. This is what they wanted to be done.
When we see the mass murderer involved in the Christchurch massacre, live streaming his act, or when we learn that the brutality on Afrazul at Rajsamad was videotaped by the steady hands of a 14-year-old, we know that Babu was not a fool at all!
The 11 men outside the special TADA courtroom in Nashik soon after they were acquitted of all charges. Credit: Special arrangement
Reading Shah Alam and the relief that old age and infirmity brought to Babu Bajrangi, my mind went to a different kind of relief, to a different type of people. This time it is Muslims who got a reprieve from the courts. Jamil Ahmed Khan, Mohammed Yunus, Yusuf Khan, Wasim Asif, Ayyub Ismail Khan, Shaikh Shafi, Farukh Ahmad Khan, Abdul Qader Habibi, Syed Ashfaq Mir, Mumtaz Murtuza Mir and Mohammed Haroon Ansari, all charged with sedition and conspiring to wage a war against the nation and plan violence against Hindus, in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, were finally acquitted of the charges.
It took only 25 years for them to walk to freedom. Freedom, still dear and yet so bleak a word, or feeling for them. 25 years is too small a period for a nation, but in the life of a mortal human, it is a huge void. To make sense of life without or with these 25 years is hard.
I will not go into their stories. I don’t want tears. Because I know that there are eyes which would remain dry even after listening to the stories of horror that they went through. There would be stony souls who would say this is a small price for keeping the nation safe.
To think that grieving is now a partisan act in our country, is a sad state of affairs.
I turn the pages of the manuscript of the book of stories, recorded by Manisha and Alimullah of the wrongs, atrocities and injustices done to Riyaz Ahmad Mohammad Ramzan, Syed Wasim Haider, Irshad Ali, Abrar Ahmad, Rajjab Ali, Dr. Fargo Anwar, Nurool Huda, Waris Sheikh, Mohammad Ilyas, Amanullah Ansari,Mohammad Husain Fazli, Ahmad Dar, Rahmana Yusuf Farooqui, Abdul Muneen who went to different jails of India. All of them were suspected terrorists. They had to sacrifice 10 to 15 years of their individual lives to make the nation feel secure.
I recall the downcast eyes and feeble voices of those young men who were released after losing 7 to 15 years of their lives to the Indian jails only because the police in India thought that for each bomb blast only Muslims can be suspected. And our courts share their feeling. My memory fails to recall their names but I can still feel the loneliness that cut them from us. It has been more than 10 years since the public hearing at Hyderabad where I met them, their mothers and grandfathers and heard them talking about the devastation that befallen them in the name of the nation and witnessed their shaking hands trying to put together the broken pieces of their lives.
As I write these lines, I hear the story of the arrest and killing of Gurfan Alam and Taslim Ansari by the police in Motihari in Bihar. While washing their bodies, their kin found marks of nails hammered into them. An FIR – sans the name of any suspect – has been registered, we are assured by the top cop of Bihar.
Just as when I was trying to understand the unnecessary fuss that Shah Alam was making over a humane gesture by the Supreme Court, I learnt that the Gujarat government is not allowing the prosecution of police officers D.G. Vanjara and N.K. Amin in the fake encounter case of Ishrat Jahan and three others in 2004.
What can the poor CBI do and what can the courts do if the governments think that the accused were, in fact, serving a just cause? Why should that make the Muslims of India feel vulnerable?
What has poor Babu Bajrangi to do with all this? How are all these events connected?
(Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University. Source: thewire.in)
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