Issue :   
October 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         October 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:October' 2018


Debate, dissent lifeblood of Hinduism & Democracy

Jagdish N Singh

Swami Vivekananda The month of September is always special to spiritually enlightened Indians with a sense of history. We recall the legendary Swami Vivekananda’s description of ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Nation’ (India) at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago (September 11- 27, 1893). At this Congress, Vivekananda took pride in belonging to a nation which “has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.” He referred to Hinduism as “the mother of religions,” and the “Hindu people” as “of all classes and sects.”
Vivekananda prided himself to belong to a religion that teaches “both tolerance and universal acceptance.” He said, “Hindus believe in ‘universal toleration’ and ‘accept all religions as true.’ To substantiate this truth about Hinduism he quoted a Hindu hymn: "As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee." He referred to the doctrine preached in the Gita: "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me."
He lamented “ sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism” had long “ filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood.” He wished the convention would prove to be “ the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen.”
He warned unity would not come by “the triumph of any one of the religions and the destruction of the others.” He suggested “each( religious follower) must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.” He observed , “holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character.” He urged followers of all faiths to "Help and not fight" with each other and work for "Assimilation and not Destruction," "Harmony and Peace and not Dissension."
I, however, wonder if we have measured up to the ideals and expectations of Vivekananda in post-colonial India. Our rulers at the Centre as well as in the States have been passive in handling the incidents of communal violence across the country in the recent decades . They have hardly been fair also to writers and thinkers who do not toe their lines .
Recently, there was a nationwide crackdown on some famous rights activists. Pune police commissioner K Venkatesham reportedly said that they were arrested on “the basis of evidence collected.” The police had evidence to believe the activists were “instigating violence against security forces.” The accused had links with banned organisations like CPI (Maoist). They were suspected of “links with terrorist organisations” too.
A general impression across the public spectrum goes that the police are harassing the activists just to please their political masters. Our intelligence and security agencies have seldom been professional and fair . Top officials often prefer to do what suits their political masters. In the present case they might have fabricated a thesis to target the concerned activists, for they have been critical of the current government’s policies and programmes.
There is a near consensus among non-partisan analysts that the Government must take appropriate steps to prevent any such impression from gaining ground . The culture of debate and dissent is the life blood of any democracy and its constitution. The Modi government must let it flourish . It must put in place autonomous intelligence and security agencies to do the needful .
Besides, the Government and the Opposition both must come together to define afresh the term ‘sedition’ in our democratic polity today. It cannot be defined the way it was during pre-democratic eras . In democracy sedition should mean action against the interest of the nation and its people. It is time to scrap Section 124-A of our Penal Code . It was enacted under colonial rule. This provision was used to suppress our freedom struggle. There is no justification for such a clause to continue in India today. Under this Section , strong criticism against government policies and personalities, slogans voicing disapprobation of leaders and stinging depictions of an unresponsive or insensitive regime can be treated as ‘seditious.’

Homosexuality natural

The Supreme court In a landmark judgment , a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has decriminalised homosexuality and prayed to the community of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer across the country to forgive history for subjecting them to “brutal” suppression. The Bench has rightly held that the criminalisation of private consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code violates the right of the LGBTQ community to “equal citizenship and equal protection of laws.”
Knowledgeable sources say it would be naïve to treat homosexuality antithetical to the order of nature. Homosexual behaviour exists in all species. The apex court’s judgment has expanded the frontiers of personal freedom and liberated the idea of individual rights from the pressure of public opinion. Constitutional morality will now have precedence over any particular view of social morality. This judgment will help sexual minorities ‘confront the closet’ and realise their rights. Over 100 million Indians (in the LGBT Community) now may sense a new life .

State of education gloomy

Democracy is simply inconceivable without public education and vigilance. But have our successive governments ever cared ? Our Government has long declared the right to education a fundamental right. It has also passed the Right To Education Act. The RTE Act provides for the availability of a school at a distance of one km from the residence of the child at the primary level and three km at the upper primary one . But all this seems to be on mere paper alone . An authentic study says out-of-school children in the age group( 6-18) are more than 4.5 crore in the country. This is 16.1 per cent of the children in this age group. In big States such as Odisha, this percentage is 20.6%, Uttar Pradesh 21.4%, Gujarat 19.1%, Bihar 18.6%, Madhya Pradesh 18.6%, Rajasthan 18.4% and West Bengal 16.8%. The study finds the proportion of out-of-school children is higher in rural India (17.2%) than in urban India (13.1%). In rural areas, the proportion of out-of-school girls (18.3%) is higher than of boys (16.3%). The proportion of the out-ofschool children from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) is the highest in the country. This is followed by Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Among religious groups, the proportion of Muslims is as high as 24.1% in rural areas and 24.7% in urban areas. The study confirms that out-of-school children come mostly from low-income, landless and marginal families. Over 99.34% of the families, from which out-of-school children come, are either landless or marginal.

Attaining new heights

James N. Mattis, Mike Pompeo, Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman Relations between New Delhi and Washington have attained a new high. Knowledgeable sources say American Secretaries of State and Defence Michael R. Pompeo and James N. Mattis had a very meaningful 2+2 dialogue with their Indian counterparts Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi last month. . The dialogue led to the signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). Now New Delhi has already concluded three of the four foundational agreements with Washington. India signed the General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002 and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016. The COMCASA will allow the U.S. to transfer specialised equipment for encrypted communications for U.S.-origin platforms like C-17, C-130 and P-8I aircraft. Besides , at their Delhi dialogue the two sides called on Pakistan to stop terrorist strikes on ‘other countries’ . They urged for maritime freedom in the Indo-Pacific region. They discussed trade issues, cooperation on fighting terrorism, advancing “a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region” and promoting sustainable “debt-financing” in the region. However, New Delhi has not yet received a clear-cut assurance on the Generalised System of Preferences. American officials want India to increase imports of American oil and gas as well as aircraft in order to wipe out the trade surplus India enjoys. The U.S. also wants India to “zero out” oil imports from Iran by November this year.