Uncivil silence of civil society
In Parwan province, north of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, a gunman shoots a woman dead to the delight of wild crowd. Taliban had held her guilty of ‘adultery’ in a Kangaroo court. More or less at the same time and at the same distance from India’s capital, New Delhi, a Muslim village in UP gives women the Taliban-type diktat not to go to the market without escort, not to use mobile phones and not to have a love marriage. In this case, there is no protest and even politicians prefer to keep quiet. Instead, a Khap, a combination of 35 panchayats, endorses the furman (order) while the Supreme Court wants some action against the Khap.
Something more shocking and scandalous happens at Guwahati, where a 17-year-old girl is molested in public. A local television channel telecasts the incident the whole day long. The editor and the reporter of the channel resign when their complicity becomes public. The police is late to act and so is Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi. The National Commission for Women tarries behind at Delhi until the media points a finger at its indifference. The senior superintendent of police is merely transferred after the demand by the academicians.
Not long ago, girls in Pune were asked by the self-appointed custodians of morality not to wear jeans. In Mumbai, a similar force forbids women from going to the bars. In Assam, a legislative assembly woman is beaten mercilessly because she marries a Muslim. A nine-year-old girl is killed when a member winning the corporation election fires at random to celebrate his victory.
All these incidents may seem unconnected and taking place far from Afghanistan. Still they have the same pattern of irresponsibility and the same ruthlessness that has distinguished Taliban from other terrorists. The former want to register their cruelty beyond comparison.
Indian civil society, the thinking segment of the nation, remains quiet. There is no evidence of its unhappiness, much less any demonstration. People shrug their shoulders and put the entire blame on the government. The elite does not mention such incidents in their drawing rooms lest they should spoil the mood of over-dressed, over-fed class. The media reports some incidents but does not pursue them except Arnab Goswami, who is relentless in exposing such horrors and dwelling on them.
By announcing that it is against the cricket series between India and Pakistan this December, the Shiv Sena has again shown its same old bias. This organisation is like any other set of fundamentalists who are out to pollute the atmosphere of amity. Some similar organisations and individuals may adversely react to resuming India-Pakistan cricketing ties. Retired players on both sides should voice their protest against those who are trying to sabotage the series that may make even the Pakistani authorities sit up and ponder over the court’s rejection of the judicial commission’s report on 26/11. The tragedy is that the right thinking people choose to keep quiet and leave everything to the government which has its own policies.
The question that the Indians have to ask themselves is: Has civil society become effete because it is afraid of being targeted or is it a victim of the Taliban-type culture where the people has effaced the thin line between right and wrong, moral and immoral? Whatever the answer, the fundamentalists cannot escape the blame. They are brainwashing young men in the name of religion and they are the ones who, in turn, are hijacking the society. Even those who feel that there is victimisation of women or the marginalised, they keep quiet lest they should become unpopular in the eyes of fundamentalists. They do not dare to join issue with either a maulvi, a pandit or a granthi. Civil society all over the world represents the nation’s conscience. True, it is invariably lost in its own doubts, ifs and buts, but it does assert itself at times. They are the ones who have to call a spade a spade. If they do not — and invariably they don’t — they harm the cause and encourage the wrong-doers. Their silence is the loss of society.
I have seen that civil society, over the years, has become insensitive. Even the slightest wrong used to lead to a furore but now it does not care as if cruelty has become part of living. When pushed or cajoled, a segment of society expresses itself but it goes back to its inactivity and slumber when it should be in the field all the time. Martin Luther King has said, “The day you see the truth being challenged and you do not speak out is the day when you begin to die.”
This is probably too high an expectation in a society which is too absorbed in making money by hook or by crook. Yet it is the duty of every person to preserve the fundamental values of a democratic society. He or she must display a degree of vigilance and willingness to sacrifice. Without the awareness of what is right and a desire to act according to what is right, there may be no realisation of what is wrong. The role by human rights activists is commendable. Thousands of them are working at the grassroots level throughout the country and facing the wrath of extremists on the one hand and the repressive authorities on the other. The successes of activists may be limited compared to their failures but the nation should be grateful to them because civil society is complacent and the government-sponsored bodies are on the side of the political party which appoints them. The truth has strayed from the path of righteousness. The activists alone are trying to retrieve the situation but with very little success. Civil society has to get its act together and speak out to be counted.
The writer is a senior Indian journalist.