Some Points to Ponder for the Organisers and Activists of the Democratic Rights Movement
Keynote paper presented in the Third Arvind Memorial Seminar
Looking from a quantitative perspective, an observer can express satisfaction that there are more than two dozen organisations throughout the country which raise their voice over the civil liberties and democratic rights related issues. It is also true that a substantial number of reports and articles get published and petitions are filed in the High Courts and Supreme Court regarding the incidents of the police repression and the oppression of the political prisoners , the role of Hindutva forces and the government machinery in the communal riots and genocide, caste and gender atrocities, bonded labour, child labour, incidents related to the laborers not getting their lawful rights and more than half century old semi-fascist kind of indirect military rule over the people of Kashmir and North Eastern India. However, going beyond numbers, when we examine the balance sheet as to what extent the democratic rights movement in the last 30-35 years has impacted the fabric of state, society and culture, to what extent it has made the masses aware and active for securing their democratic rights by uplifting their democratic consciousness and to what extent it has taken the form of a mass movement by preparing its broad social base, we feel a bit disappointed.
Common people of a particular area or a particular profession get to know about the existence of the democratic rights movement when a team of democratic rights activists approach them for some investigation. People view these intellectuals as gentlemen or ladies coming from the capital cities or metropolitan centres who raise voice in support of their rights or who protest against the draconian laws and state repression and oppression. The educated and to some extent awakened middle class people view the democratic rights movement as a movement of enlightened persons who publish reports, file petitions, send investigation teams, run signature campaigns and submit memoranda. The section of middle-class influenced by state sponsored jingoism and the Hindutva ideology view the democratic right movement as the second line of defense of the so called “left-wing” terrorism, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism or the so called “anti-national” separatists of Jammu-Kashmir and North Eastern India.
Besides, there are those democratic right organisations which, in a sectarian manner, function as frontal organisations of some leftist organisation. For them, the issue of democratic rights remains confined to the protest against the repressive actions of state against few political organisations. It is indeed a sectarian trend that the scope of democratic right movements is often confined to the campaigns against the repression of political movements, campaign to free prisoners and protest against the slapping of various draconian laws. Such activities are undoubtedly very important, but the task of democratic rights movement cannot be reduced to them only. The issue here is not just of the political right of struggle and resistance; rather it is that of the democratic and civil rights of the masses. Unless all the issues concerning the civil and democratic rights of the masses are made the ground of agitation and propaganda and until people are awakened and mobilised on these issues, the reputation and structure of the democratic right movement will continue to be that of a movement of urban intellectuals who undertake only such activities as touring, issuing reports, submitting memoranda, running signature campaigns and filing petitions.
What could be the root of the problem? Perhaps the question of democratic right is not viewed by placing it in the socio-economic and political structural framework; or in other words it is often not conceptualised properly or it is viewed from an ad-hoc, narrow utilitarian and pragmatic outlook.
The civil rights movement of 1960s in USA, France and some other western European countries had reached its zenith amidst the mixed wave of the movements of blacks against the racial discrimination, feminist movement of middle class women against male chauvinism, students’ movement, anti-war movement, trade union movement and protest music movement. It was an era of widespread disillusionment in the west due to transformation of economic crisis into political crisis and the shrinking of the bourgeois democratic space. At the same time it was also the era of rising tide of fierce national liberation wars in the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America which was also deeply influencing the people in the western countries. It is a quite different story as to how the western government machineries co-opted these revolts later on and how they lost the momentum. But it is a fact of history that civil rights movement in the west of that era was an exciting mass movement in the true sense of the term. In China, during the revolution, Civil Rights League, under the leadership of Madam Soong Ching-Ling (wife of Sun Yat-sen) had developed substantial support-base among the urban population. At that time the circumstances over there were such that the tyrant and autocratic character of the Kuomintang government had been exposed and the task at hand was to convince the masses that they could win the democratic rights only under a people’s democratic governance system. The illusion of bourgeois democracy was non-existent there.
In India, the background of the civil and democratic rights movement was entirely different. In the 1970s, particularly the experience of the emergency era helped to enhance the strength and momentum of the democratic rights movement as an inevitable necessity. Subsequently, during the later decades, the civil rights movement engaged itself in the ritualistic activities such as investigation reports, memoranda, petition against the repressive state machinery and the repression of political opposition. What was born with pragmatism got stuck in the whirlwind of routinism, tokenism and ritualism. Therefore it is our clear and firm belief that today the democratic rights movement needs to be conceptualised afresh on the basis of the analysis of the structure of Indian state, social fabric and the neo-liberal economic policies. We wish to briefly put forward our view point in this regard.
(1) The democratic and civil rights movement will have to be taken to the masses (the main section of which obviously consists of the toiling population in urban and rural areas) by extending it beyond the limited sphere of urban intellectuals and the routine activities of ‘memorandum-plea-petition’. It will have to be transformed into a broad mass movement. It is indeed the toiling masses who have to face the violation and abridgement of the democratic rights more than the educated well to do people. The reach of the constitutional remedies is confined to the enlightened elites (At times its crumbs reach the common people through the public interest petition of some NGO or some individual). The limited civil liberties and democratic rights which the constitution provides to a common man get entangled in the cobwebs of courts and even if a portion of it trickles down from there, it gets lost in the pockets of and files of the officials and clerks of government offices and the inspectors and constables of police stations. Hence, it becomes the quintessential task of the democratic right movement to educate, mobilise and organise the masses on the issue of civil liberties and democratic rights through all possible means. A prolonged phase of propaganda and agitation on these issues needs to be carried out.
(2) It is only by educating the common people about the functioning and structure of the state that they can be informed about why is it that the civil liberties and democratic rights declared loudly in the constitution bear no meaning to them! Only a small section of even the educated population today is aware of the fact that the constituent assembly which passed the constitution — the guiding basic treatise of the Indian democracy— was not elected on the basis of universal adult franchise. So, the foundation itself lacked in democracy. Through a comparative analysis any one can figure out that, to a large extent, the constitution is nothing but a modified and enhanced version of the colonial era’s Government of India Act 1935. In fact Nehru promised in November 1946 that after independence, a second constituent assembly would be elected on the basis of universal adult franchise. Should we not ask as to what happened to that promise? It also needs to be noted that whatever civil liberties and democratic rights the constitution provides, can be abridged (through amendment) using the provisions present in the constitution itself. A fact of even greater importance is that in most of the cases the constitutional rights are rendered ineffective by the legal system whose core structure remains the same as that in the colonial era. And even if something is achieved from the legal system, the corrupt and incompetent bureaucratic system and tyrant and autocratic police system eat it out without leaving any trace. The poor in India have to bribe the officials and clerks at every step even for basic amenities; the police loots them on the street like thugs and pickpockets and beats them like goons. In the prisons, the prisoners languish like animals. Death in police custody and fake encounters on the street are the order of the day. Under-trials spend their lifetime in prisons. There are 30 million cases pending before the courts. Of late the extent of corruption in the lower judiciary has matched to that in the police and now the malaise of corruption has infected even the top echelons of it. The leaders of electoral parties are mostly either themselves brokers, goons and debauched criminals or play the vote-bank politics by using such elements and fill their coffers with black money. All these issues are connected with the democratic rights of the people. All of them are systemic in nature. They are related to the huge oppressive structure of the state machinery which renders the constitutional promises of the fundamental civil and democratic rights into almost a lollypop of hollow words. Under these circumstances, doesn’t it become an urgent fundamental task of the democratic rights movement to educate the masses about the tyrant and autocratic nature of the state power, its structure and modus operandi and give them a concrete program to organise them on the issues of democratic rights? In our view, it is the task of a democratic movement having broad mass base to raise the demand of the election of a new constituent assembly on the basis of universal adult franchise and a real democratic constitution; it must raise the demands of reconstitution of the colonial legal system, police administration, jail manual and the bureaucracy and ensure austere, frugal, transparent and accountable life style of the politicians and bureaucrats by reconstituting the extravagant and corrupt parliamentary and government machinery. And the question is not just of changing the colonial structure of the legal system. There is a long history of despotic draconian laws which have been framed one after another at both the centre and state level since independence. There are many such laws which are still in existence; the most notorious among them being the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. The masses will have to be mobilised on the demand of repealing all such draconian laws. These are the fundamental issues connected with the democratic rights of the masses at large which can be used as launching pad for transforming the democratic right movement into a broad mass movement.
(3) Somebody can raise a question that this way the program of democratic rights movement would become the program of a revolution and its scope would be too broad and excessively political. Our answer would be that the question of democratic rights in itself is a political one which is often narrowed down. Secondly, some people may hold the opinion that since the Indian (or for that matter any other) bourgeois system can neither do its complete structural overhauling nor can it give the people their democratic rights, hence to raise this demand would turn the program of the democratic rights movement into one of the radical social revolution. But the majority of the population ranging from common man to the intellectual community are not yet radicalised and revolutionised to this extent. They would be prepared to be mobilised on all the above demands but would not agree that without transforming the existing socio-economic structure in revolutionary manner, the people cannot win the real democratic rights. This section of population would participate in the democratic rights movement in the hope of achieving democracy and civil liberties from the existing system and it has every right to do so. If the existing system would not be able to give them the real democratic right, its real character would stand exposed before this section of population as well and this fight for democracy and freedom would automatically become part of the radical program of revolution. To summarise, the manifesto of a democratic rights movement is not a declaration of a radical social revolution. It does not impose the goal of revolution on the participant populace from above. Its scope is confined to the struggle for the demands of democratic rights and civil liberties which were promised by the philosophers of the enlightenment era and the classical theoreticians of democracy with the slogan of ‘liberty-equality-fraternity’ and which are accepted by the constitutions of all the bourgeois democracies at least on paper (or at least they do not deny them). While fighting for these rights, organised people’s power even manages to gain some democratic space and civil liberties by exerting pressure on the state and thereby recognises the strength of its organised power. People organise their struggle of the fundamental rights on even higher plane on the basis of whatever democratic space and the advance democratic consciousness they achieve through their organised struggles. At the same time, if in the process they begin to see and understand the limitations of this system through their experience and begin to breach the barriers of the system it would be the experience based decision of the sovereign power of the people. But if a democratic rights organisation makes a-priori declaration that since the bourgeois democracy cannot give the people the real democracy, hence the struggle for democratic rights can only mean the struggle for the revolutionary transformation of the system, it would be tantamount to sectarianism and vanguardism which imposes upon people something which is much ahead of their consciousness and which ignores the possibilities of learning through the struggle within the confines of the bourgeois legal system. Such sectarian vanguardist tendencies would shrink the scope of the united front of the democratic rights movement and would prove to be immensely harmful.
(4) It is extremely important to organise resistance against the repression of political movements and the movement to release political prisoners and no one can deny its significance. Those who do not have faith in this system and who wage an armed struggle against it (be it with the broad based people’s participation or in form of “left wing” terrorist deviation), cannot be considered murderers, criminals or anti-social. They too have the right to get constitutional remedy and legal remedy. They cannot be killed in a fake encounter; they cannot be tried by slapping false charges and they cannot be tortured in a torture chamber. Even the Supreme Court has clearly stated that no case of terrorism or sedition can be slapped on those who in principle believe in armed revolution, who talk about it, who keep the literature of a banned organisation, who support such an organisation or even those who are its members. Only if someone is directly involved in a terrorist activity or an armed struggle against the state, a case can be made. Even in such a situation it must be remembered that those who wage direct armed struggle against the state owing to their political ideology or commitments are not criminals. We have to admit this even if we disagree with their political thoughts and modus operandi. In such a situation, instead of making them accused under some criminal section, they must be conferred the status of prisoners of war and the relevant provisions of the concerned international convention must be followed. Insofar as the colonial law of sedition (section 124 A of IPC) is concerned, its blatantly anti-democratic nature has been a matter of discussion in recent times. We can agree on nothing less than repeal of this provision. While talking about the democratic rights of those who wage armed resistance against the state, we also wish to clarify our stand that if the innocent common people become victim of an act of terror and if a party struggling against the state uses the killing of a captured or kidnapped government functionary as a strategy of resistance (killing someone in a war like situation is another matter), any democratic rights movement will vehemently oppose it in no uncertain terms. Though, from the perspective of the democratic rights movement, the main and essential aspect remains that the government’s war against terror is in effect a terrorist war of the government against the people.
Sufficient facts have been published revealing the truth that in Chhattisgarh, the main issue is not that of crushing the Maoist resistance but that of forcible dispossession of the local tribal population and crushing their resistance with the aim of giving free hand to the trans-national giants and Indian capitalist sharks to plunder the precious and immeasurable mineral wealth. It was under such circumstances that the Maoist resistance grew. The views of the Supreme Court on the issue of arming a small section of the local population in the form of Salwa Judum and as SPOs and Koya Commandos against the larger common population, by the government, has confirmed the reality of a war being waged by the government against the people . The facts regarding the funding by some leading corporate houses to Salwa Judum have come to light earlier as well. Now the government is laying the ground for the next round of bloody struggle. Raman Singh government has recently allotted a 750 square kilometers area near the Narayanpur district headquarter in the Mad region to army where one battalion each from Assam and Bihar regiments would be trained in counter insurgency and jungle warfare. It is obvious that after Kashmir and North-East, the army is preparing for a brutal war against the exploited and oppressed population of the poorest region of the country. It would not be surprising if in course of time the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is clamped in Bastar as well. But the army can wage an undeclared war even without it which would be tantamount to a war against the entire local tribal population and not just against the Maoist. Be it Chhattisgarh or Lalgarh, the government’s war against people in the guise of war against terror and the state repression have been a burning question for quite some time now. Its stretch and intensity is set to increase in future. Our main purpose, here, is to underline the fact that if the democratic rights movement is not transformed into a broad mass movement through intense and organised, sustained and prolonged activities of propaganda and agitation, if no attempt is made to expand its social base by taking it out of the cocoon of the enlightened intellectuals, it would not be possible to bring to the notice of the common people, the incidents of state repression and state terrorism taking place in one or another part of the country, and to galvanise mass resistance on these issues. Some portions of the reports of the democratic rights organisations might be published here and there but the majority of the populace would continue to comprehend the issue in the same manner as presented by the government and the mainstream media. Another related point we wish to put forward is that, while it is certainly the basic and important duty of the democratic rights organisation to protest against the repression of the political movements, to raise the question of democratic rights of the political opponents of the government and the political prisoners and to protest against false cases, fake encounters, custodial torture and draconian laws, the scope of their activities, however, cannot be narrowed down to these issues only. Along with the resistance of all kinds of repression and oppression of the people, groups and organisations fighting for the rights of the people both from within and outside the purview of this system, the democratic rights movement will have to give the fight for civil liberties and democratic rights of masses a central place on their agenda. Only then it would be able to acquire the form of a broad mass movement. So far, the democratic rights movement in our country has been unable to do so and not surprisingly it has been reduced to a passive kind of movement of the ‘politically aware urban intellectuals’ whose task is confined to sending investigation teams, preparing reports, filing petitions, issuing statements, submitting memoranda and holding ritualistic dharna and demonstrations.
(5) There is another related aspect which needs to be pondered. It might be a bitter truth but it cannot be rejected outrightly. The other day I was talking to a labour activist. He was of the opinion that, while the issues of arrest and repression and oppression of the intellectual supporters and sympathisers having better social status and the people of the middle class background who are active in the political movements are raised vociferously, when it comes to the arrest and repression and oppression of the activists and supporters belonging to lower class background and the repression and oppression of the common masses, it is not made an issue with the same vigour. In much the same way when there is a talk of democratic rights in the context of displacement and dispossession, the demands of better compensation for the owner farmers are raised emphatically while the voice of share croppers, landed labourers and other rural proletariat who are deprived of employment is pushed to sideline. Undoubtedly the mainstream media and merchants of the electoral politics do play the main role in this but we will have to objectively examine whether some kind of class bias has emerged in the democratic rights movement owing to its confinement to passive radicalism?
(6) During the last two decades, there has been a continuous decay and disintegration in even the remaining power and effectiveness of the democratic rights movement. Its cause can be traced in the “historical betrayal of the well-to-do Indian middle class”. The core base of the democratic rights movement has historically been confined to the radical democratic section of the urban middle class (which includes university professors, advocates, media personnel and few freelance professionals). A large section of this urban middle class has become a partner in getting the fruits of the rapid capitalist development in the last couple of decades, its status has gone up and its living standard has improved, its distance from the populace which constitutes 77% of the population which lives on Rs 20 a day has increased and it has now become part of a minority privileged consumer class. Its own democratic rights are, to a large extent, protected within the existing socio-political structure and it no longer has much sympathy with the movements against price rise, for employment and education and health etc. or on the issue of working hours etc. These well-off intellectuals are from the section of the Indian middle class which has turned into a defector by breaking away from the old historical continuity of fighting along with the masses for freedom and rights. At the most their participation and interest is confined to the NGO brand reformist activities and their stand is passive-radical and ritualistic even on the issue of civil liberties and democratic rights. For many, the democratic rights movement is either a business or a stale routine work inspired from moral pulls. Among the intellectuals who live the well-to-do middle class lifestyle, only a small section is active in the democratic rights movement with a genuine concern and commitment. Under such a situation, it is obvious that in order to transform the democratic rights movement into a militant mass movement, we have no other option but to repose our faith in the new generation of radical intellectuals coming from the lower middle class which, like the toiling masses, has been pushed to corner of uncertainty and insecurity in the current era of neo-liberalism and which is condemned to live a life much similar to theirs. The issue of civil liberties and democratic rights is as much a burning and living issue for them as it is for the rural and urban masses. When the process of the organisation of the democratic rights movement on a broad mass base will pick up, the organic intellectual elements will come forward even from the toiling masses and will play the leading role.
(7) The capitalist democracy evolved in theory and practice along with the origin and development of industrial capitalism. The boundaries of the bourgeois democracy shrank along with the increasing dominance of the finance capitalism (during the 20th century – the century of imperialism) and totalitarian autocratic rule surfaced in various forms. Fascism appeared as the most reactionary representative political trend of the finance capital and today fascist elements and tendencies are present in various forms throughout the world. Of even greater importance is the fact that in the current era of globalisation (which is being termed as the era of the decisive victory of the finance capital), the dividing line between the capitalist democracy and the fascist-semi fascist autocratic rule is often found to be completely blurred. Even the former Indian president R. Venkatraman had once admitted that an authoritarian regime would be required to implement the neo-liberal economic policies in unhindered manner. The point is abundantly clear. In the era of neo-liberalism which prevails since last two decades, even the little remaining space of democracy has been rapidly shrinking; the government has been increasingly pulling its hand from its social responsibilities and the all round grip of the market forces in social life has deprived the common people of even the basic necessities of life. The outcomes of the neo-liberalism which are coming to light in the form of large scale retrenchment of workers, increasing unemployment, rendering the labour laws irrelevant, pushing the amenities such as education and health out of reach of the common people by privatizing them and displacing them from their land and settlement without providing them any alternative livelihood etc., are bound to result into social explosions sooner or later. The state machinery will have to compulsorily adopt naked despotic and repressive forms in order to deal with them. In response to this process, the democratic rights movement will have to be organised on a wider mass platform and all sections of people who are getting dispossessed and who are fed up will have to be organised in the form of a shared and broad mass movement.
(8) The question of the democratic rights is connected not with the state machinery alone. It is closely related to the social fabric as well. Let us have a look at this issue in the context of Indian society. We live in a post-colonial agrarian society where the capitalist relations, institutions and values have not come to existence by undergoing a historical process of renaissance-enlightenment-revolution. In the two hundred years of colonial rule and even during the subsequent period of half a century, the capitalist development has taken place at a gradual and slow pace. Consequently, democracy and rationality hardly exists in the socio-cultural values-belief-institutions-relations. The pre-capitalist despotic autocracy exists in the entire fabric of the society side by side with the modern capitalist “barbarism”. Various forms of repression, inequality and humiliating segregation exists not only in the state-citizen interface but also in the relationships among the citizens. The lofty claims of the constitution and law do not prevent the ‘Khap’, ‘Gotra’ and caste Panchayats to kill those who dare to do inter caste, inter-‘gotra’ and inter-religious marriages. The number of various forms of oppression of women – ranging from domestic violence to the humiliation on the street, has been on the upswing along with the so called development. Notwithstanding the legal ban, the incidents of female foeticide and child marriage are quite common. Same is the case with the barbaric incidents of Dalit oppression. Religious and caste based superstitions and prejudices have also played an important role in providing a social base to communal fascism along with the undemocratic social forces. The curious bond which has come to be formed between the new evils of the capitalist society and the pre-capitalist old evils is a big obstacle in the path of forging broad mass unity against the despotic repressive state machinery. Without waging a broad and militant socio-cultural campaign against the barbaric casteist and male chauvinistic values and institutions and religious superstitions and prejudices, any talk of civil liberties and democratic rights bears no meaning. The democratic rights movement will also have to target the socio-cultural despotism apart from state despotism. Without a process of breaking the cultural-social-ideological hegemony, the masses cannot be convinced about the rationale of the resistance against state repression. From this perspective, it can be stated that the democratic rights movement should not be reduced to only a defensive kind of rights protection movement; rather it should be organised as a broad militant social movement. Along with waging a sustained campaign against the undemocratic character of the constitution, legal system and the entire state machinery, the democratic rights organisations will have to boldly raise their voice against the undemocratic character of the socio-cultural structure. Unless the people’s consciousness is aroused against the numerous undemocratic social values and institutions, they cannot be prepared even for the struggle against the state power.
(9) If the rulers admit that India is a democratic republic, it is their utmost duty to provide the people the basic necessities of life. It is a burning question as to why is it that a country where millionaires and billionaires are increasing at the fastest rate in the world, where about 100 million urban upper middle class population is living at the same level as that of the upper middle class of Europe and America, is placed at the lowest pedestal insofar as the human development index is concerned; why is it that half of its population is suffering from malnutrition; 18 crore population is homeless and three fourth of the population is deprived of even the basic health care facility? Even if we do not go in detailed analysis, mere look at some common facts is sufficient to prove that the neo-liberal policies on which all the electoral parties have consensus are barbaric, anti-people policies. When price rise, unemployment, displacement, dispossession, starvation, farmers’ suicide etc. put pressure on the boundaries of the system, some promises for ritualistic reforms are made, the process of enactment of laws begins; but these few so called welfare works are totally inadequate, there are many loopholes in these laws ( government’s “poverty line” should better be called as “starvation line”) and even these limited reforms cannot be fully implemented without bringing about fundamental change in the bureaucratic machinery. Various economists and political analysts have written a lot on this topic. It is not possible, in this essay, to delve into the intricacies. In short it can be stated that the neo-liberal policies are depriving people even the basic necessities of life even while erecting minarets of luxury and building islands of prosperity amid the ocean of extreme misery of masses and are shrinking even the remaining democratic space in the political and social life. Every citizen of the country should get nutritious food, comfortable residence, health care, equal education and right to livelihood as a fundamental constitutional right. Clearly a nationwide movement on these issues cannot be organised at the drop of a hat. To make people realise about their basic democratic rights, itself, is a prolonged task of propaganda and education. It is indeed a prolonged task to convince people in the light of logic and facts that in view of the level of development of the productive forces and the produced social resources, it is easily possible for the Indian government to be able to do this. It is indeed a prolonged task to make people realise that a united population can get many important democratic rights by putting organised pressure on the government. But if a task requires prolonged efforts, it does not mean that it is impossible. Even a long journey has to be started by taking a small step. In today’s time, only the democratic rights movement can be that umbrella under which different classes of people can fight for their basic democratic rights. Undoubtedly it would not be possible only through general propaganda and the activities of educating people. The democratic rights activists will have to organise people at the grass root level on the issues of the mismanagement of public health facilities, corruption in the public distribution system, wages of the MNREGA labourers, uprootment of people, forcible displacement and dispossession, pitiable condition of the government schools and police atrocities etc., and then the local struggles will have to be given a wider perspective through a sustained propaganda. It is our belief that the democratic rights movement will have to weave the fabric of a new politics through people’s power at the grassroot level on the basic issues of day to day life. We will have to adopt several forms of mass movements such as mass ‘satyagrah’, encircling and occupying premises, civil disobedience movement, no taxation, boycott of the electoral leaders while making the basic democratic rights of nutritious food, housing, health, education etc into issues and taking up the issues of police repression, displacements, forcible dispossession etc. In this process newer public platform and institution can come into existence like Lok Panchyat, public councils, public monitoring committees etc. which could give expression to the collective initiative and decision making power of the people and also the leadership of the movement can thus be brought into the scrutiny of the people. In this way the democratic rights movement can be transformed into a nationwide movement of developing the democratic institutions from below. The real democratic institutions do not emerge from constitutions and law books; rather they are based on the initiative of the broad masses and originate and evolve in the process of people’s movements.
(10) While emphasizing on the need for making the democratic rights movement effective against the communal fascism and particularly religious fundamentalism of Hindutva variety also, we would stress upon the fact that without people’s mobilisation and mass initiative, such forces cannot be effectively dealt with. The legal battle against such forces on the issues of Ayodhya episode and the Gujarat genocide is undoubtedly an important front but there are clear limitations of this legal front. The effective battle against the Hindutvaites cannot be fought just by organizing some ritualistic events such as candle light procession, some cultural programs of ‘Nirgun’ and ‘sufi’ singers etc. It is not possible here to go into the detailed analysis, but several analysts have derived these conclusions : (1) The religious fundamentalist stream has been existing in the Indian political landscape for a long time and will continue to exist even after getting defeated in elections, (2) The ruling classes would wish to keep it alive in a controlled manner in order to digress the mass movements and for breaking the mass unity just like a chained wild dog, (3) In the post-colonial, agrarian Indian society having undemocratic urban middle class, the expansion of the social base of the religious fundamentalism was already conducive; now the economic fundamentalism which is being imposed in the name of neo-liberalism is strengthening the religious fundamentalism in a spontaneous manner. Such forces are benefitting from the shrinking democratic space. The political forces which organise the movements of poor and workers could not give them a wider political structural perspective and hence they failed to mobilise them even against communalism. It is not within the scope of this paper to present their critique. The failure of the socio-cultural movement and the unfinished project of the bourgeois democracy in India has also been one of the reasons which helps the Hindutva forces to expand their social base. Confining ourselves within the framework of the democratic rights movement, we wish to assert that an intense action of bold propaganda against the communal fascism needs to be carried out among the masses. Our first hand experience reveals that while fighting against the repressive machinery of administration and owners, when the workers see the real character and face of the Hindutvaite leaders, their voice against them automatically gathers pitch and then it becomes easier to expose the politics of religious fundamentalism. Secondly, religious fundamentalism can be effectively tackled if sustained militant social campaigns are organised against communalism and social prejudices along with organizing the toiling masses on the issues of basic democratic rights. A handful of secular intellectuals cannot effectively deal with the Hindutva ideology merely through intellectual, cultural and legal actions. A substantial social base of the communal elements has been among the petty-owners of urban and rural areas, people of lower middle class having low level of conscious-ness, labour elites, frustrated middle class youth and the lumpen proletariat which can be broken only in the process of integrating them with the wider masses.
(11) Another big question is that of brutal military repression and oppression by central government against the peripheral nationalities. Due to jingoistic propaganda by the government and the mainstream media, it has been deeply entrenched into the psyche of a large section of the educated population that all the forces which are active in Jammu and Kashmir and the North Eastern states are separatist in nature. But there are no discussions on the history of North-East during colonial era. When and how was the Macmohan Line drawn, how old is the demand of independence of Nagas, How they were betrayed by the government of independent India, how Manipur was treacherously merged into India, when did the territory of Arunachal Pradesh became part of India, how Sikkim was merged into India without any referendum, what is the history of the revolts of Mizo and other ethnic nationalities and their internal contradictions; all these are neither found in the text books of history and political science nor in print and electronic media. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act which is perhaps the most draconian laws in India is operational in the North-Eastern states right since 1958. So long as this law is in force, there is no meaning of civil rights in the North-East and essentially a military rule like situation prevails over there. During the last decade, owing to the civil rights movements and the fast by Irom Sharmila, some reports of the barbaric atrocities of the army has managed to reach common people in India; otherwise earlier they had no information about the real situation. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is in operation in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990. The reports of army’s atrocities on the civilians are no more a secret. Very few people are aware that there was a contract according to which the final decision on the merger of Jammu & Kashmir with India was to be taken on the basis of a plebiscite. The merger which took place in 1947 was provisional. There was an agreement to give autonomy to Kashmir on all the affairs except foreign affairs, defence and money circulation and it was given special status as per article 370 of the constitution. The acts of central government, beginning with breaking the promise of holding plebiscite and then dismissing the elected government of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 to the policies till the 1980s, helped to increase the alienation of the people of Kashmir. It resulted into a massive people’s uprising followed by an armed struggle. After 1990, ever since the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been in operation, a situation akin to military rule prevails over there. More than 60,000 people have been killed at the hands of armed forces and 7000 are missing. Earlier, the organisations demanding self determination and independence were having a secular reputation, but the alienation created due to the military repression and reaction has provided opportunity to the religious fundamentalists and pro-Pakistan separatist groups to deepen their roots in the last two decades. It is not possible to go into the details of the situation in Jammu & Kashmir and North-East, nor is it our purpose here. Here we wish to raise two issues. The first one is the immediate demand to not only withdraw the barbaric despotic law like Armed Forces ( Special Powers) Act from Jammu & Kashmir and North Eastern states but to repeal all such draconian laws which give power to the army and para-military forces to crush the civil liberties and democratic rights of ordinary citizens. The democratic rights movement needs to give special emphasis to this issue; the people need to be informed about the ground realities of North-East and Jammu-Kashmir. The second issue is of long term importance and a bit complex and challenging as well. A democratic rights movement cannot hesitate to boldly face the jingoistic propaganda carried out by the rulers and particularly the right wing fundamentalists and advocate the right of self determination of the various nationalities emphatically. If a state power keeps the people of a particular region under its command using force, a genuine democratic rights movement will certainly oppose this. It is our responsibility to inform people about the history and current reality of North-East and Jammu-Kashmir. If we raise the issue of democratic rights of the people of these regions, then in the short run we may have to face the wrath of the jingoistic prejudices, but if we raise the issues of the basic rights of the broad masses and make them issues of mass movements in a sustained manner, it is possible to convince people to listen and to free themselves of all jingoistic prejudices and to take the side of truth.
(12) It would certainly be an arduous and prolonged process to expand the scope of the program of the democratic rights movement and to include all the rights of masses and to develop it as a broad, militant mass movement. Along with this process, we will have to accomplish some other immediate tasks. As we stated in the beginning, there are dozens of small and big democratic rights organisations. They have been raising their voices against the state repression and oppression, draconian laws and the activities of religious fundamentalists in a sustained manner. These scattered voices, if raised together, at least on the agreed issues of a common minimum agreement, are bound to have profound impact. In the current era of the neo-liberalism, the repressive character of the state is increasingly getting more and more brutal. Under these circumstances, as an immediate task, it is extremely important that all the democratic rights organisations raise their voice in unison on the issues of repression of mass movements, sedition law, AFSPA, Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and other draconian laws, large scale displacement and dispossession etc. There may be some principled differences between the democratic rights organisations, the scope of their activities might vary and there may be some local democratic rights forums for the local issues, but there must be a countrywide united front on the basis of a common minimum program. It is not only extremely important but possible as well.
Several points are sought to be covered in this paper and hence perhaps some undue elaboration has also crept in. I apologise for this.
To sum up, I have tried to emphasise on three central issues:
Firstly, The democratic rights movement will have to be organised as a mass movement with a broad social base instead of a movement of intellectuals with democratic consciousness. The basic democratic rights of the masses will have to be brought on the agenda of this struggle.
Secondly, Apart from resisting state repression, carrying out the mass awareness campaigns against the social institutions-values-beliefs which impinge upon the democratic rights of the people should also be one of the tasks of democratic rights movement. So, the character of the democratic rights movement must be a broad and militant social movement.
Thirdly, It is an urgent task today to begin the process of uniting the scattered forces of the democratic rights movement at the national level in order to build an effective resistance to the increasingly repressive attitude of state. While the process of the first two tasks would be prolonged one, the task of forging a united front of all the democratic rights organisation in the country based on a common minimum program should be taken up without any delay.
(Translated from Hindi: Anand Singh)