There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.
– Mahatma Gandhi
For context, let me first take you through some significant developments and events that have taken place in India over the past few days:
- In one of the most visual forms of opposition in the Rajya Sabha ever, many parliamentarians opposed the passing of three farm Bills and the unscrupulous manner and method of voting undertaken by the government. The Opposition staged a walk out, organised a dharna under the statue of Mahatma Gandhi and decided to stage a sit-in protest against the unethical manner in which these Bills – which have been heavily criticised for being pro-corporate and anti-farmer – were hastily passed and signed into law.
- Farmers across India have also been up in arms against the farm Bills. Though the Bills purportedly grant unprecedented autonomy to farmers, the farm Bills may potentially bring about a paradigm shift to the agrarian economy. All the same, farmers, who will be most affected, are not being allowed to voice their dissent – there have even been videos and news reports of right-wing groups indulging in violence against protesting farmers.
- Nobel Peace Prize recipient Amnesty International shut its operations in India and let go of about 150 employees. The government froze Amnesty India’s accounts in early September, stating that Amnesty had not been granted FCRA approval and that various applications made by the human rights organisation had been repeatedly denied. However, the government has declined to detail which legal provisions have been allegedly contravened and in what manner.
- The summer of 2020, marred by many violent, unabashed, brutal and horrific assaults on women in the state of Uttar Pradesh, ended with the tragic death of a young Dalit woman in Hathras. After being denied the filing of an official FIR, and battling to survive in a Delhi hospital, the victim finally succumbed to her injuries. In the early hours of September 30, policemen took the victim’s body and cremated it without allowing her family to take her home one last time as they had pleaded. Appallingly, the police did not even permit the family to perform last rites or to even bid farewell to the victim.
- On September 30, news channels further segued to the verdict in the Babri Masjid demolition case, whereby the accused persons have all been acquitted by the special CBI court, referencing a lack of conclusive evidence against the accused and not acknowledging the statements of thousands of witnesses as well as photographic and video evidence. Among the accused were former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, former Union ministers Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti and former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh. According to the court, the monument was brought down by impulsive “anti-social” elements, but the accused were not involved. It is as yet unknown as to whether the CBI will appeal against the verdict.
- And lastly, India stands at nearly 65 lakh official cases of the novel coronavirus as I write this sentence.
Peace, truth, non-violence, justice, Mahatma Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri – we enter the month of October with the overarching understanding of these sentiments. For many of us, October 2 is perhaps as important in reliving the legacy of India as August 15.
But the air is a little different this October.
A heightened sense of injustice looms. Mahatma Gandhi believed that there are unjust laws as there are unjust men. Law, often by nature of its accessibility or lack thereof, can be misconstrued and manipulated into being a privilege.
Clearly, justice and its deliverance have become suspect in India. Manifold jokes are thrown around the decades-long delays in judicial proceedings and unsatisfactory conclusions, especially due to a “lack of evidence”. Contrary to the popular adage that justice must not only be done but must also seem to be done, it is being manipulated as a shoulder to fire the gun desecrating the values enshrined in the constitution.
Also read: My Ambivalent Relationship With Gandhi
It is being used to side-line farmers from being provided a livelihood they are active stakeholders in; it is being used to dismantle an organisation that works for the betterment of human rights; it is being used to establish that one of the most significantly polarising events ‘New India’ has witnessed was a crime without a perpetrator; it is being used to deny dignity and peace to a Dalit woman who was raped and murdered.
In effect, the events rip apart every single idea that the Father of our Nation espoused. Gandhi’s version of justice was multi-pronged – it spoke about discourse, vis a vis satyagraha; it spoke about resisting authoritarianism through Henry David Thoreau’s doctrine of non-cooperation; it spoke about peace and non-violence; and it spoke about the need of platforms to exercise these tenets.
Situationally, we now find ourselves drawing battle lines from which there is no retreat. However, we must remember that Mahatma said:
“A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”
Shiralie Chaturvedi is a writer who loves Murakami and Seth; indie cinema and bands; cries listening to patriotic songs, and is happiest at home with her loved ones.
Featured image: A worker cleans the Mahatma Gandhi statue at Marina beach, Chennai, October 1, 2020. Photo: PTI