International Day of Democracy Analysing the practice of democratic rights in India | By Tasneem Shafiq

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International Day of Democracy Analysing the practice of democratic rights in India

EVERY democratic state protects its citizens’ right to take part in the government of their country, directly or through freely chosen representatives, the right to equal access to public service and other basic human rights.

The International Day of Democracy is celebrated all around the globe on 15th September every year.

It was established through a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in 2007, encouraging governments to strengthen and consolidate democracy.

As we celebrate this day, it is pertinent to look into the gap between theory and practice of democratic laws in the world’s largest democracy, India.

The Constitution of India guarantees six fundamental rights to the citizens: right to equality, right to freedom of expression, right against exploitation, right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights and right to constitutional remedies.

Surprisingly, most of these democratic rights have been practiced only by the majority (Hindu) population.

Narendra Modi government has promoted their definition of Hindu culture by enhancing the legal protections of cows, by opening up the state to the RSS, rewriting the history of the country, harassing secularists, reducing the number of NGOs operating in the country and their ability to function.

Minorities are stigmatized and targets of repeated campaigns led by the Sangh Parivar (RSS) in its fight against conversions, love jihad, and land jihad and cow protection operations.

These campaigns translated into intimidation as well as violence, and even the lynchings of religious minorities.

Hindu vigilantism has become more systematic by expanding into new areas of moral policing, such as the disruption of Muslim prayers in public places and left minorities no respite under the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Regime.

Before the BJP came to power, Hindu vigilantes used to fear police reprisals for their actions.

Since 2014, these groups have been protected (even sponsored and guided) by Sangh Parivar leaders elected to office on the BJP ticket.

The RSS’s main task is different in nature. Their goal is to conquer not state power but minds and to impose cultural and social practices rather than laws to maintain Hindu supremacy.

The Sangh Parivar tries to propagate and impose its views through persuasion and coercion.

RSS prioritizes reforming society and the collective psyche, the Savarkarites believe in direct political action, including violent means.

Online vigilantes have now transitioned into politics. It is evident from the way a famous Hindu nationalist troll, Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, was elevated to the post of BJP’s spokesperson.

Hijab ban in India violates the constitutional right of freedom of religion which is conferred upon people, including Muslims, under article 25(1) of the Indian Constitution.

It states, “All are equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.

” They call themselves a secular democracy but the citizens’ rights are only limited to theory.

The world’s largest democracy has failed to provide security to its citizens. In 2020, BJP government introduced a stringent media policy with new guidelines on media accreditation.

It empowered them to determine what constitutes “fake news”. Self-censorship also prevails among journalists in India, with local newspapers refraining from reporting on unjustified arrests due to fear of reprisal and cuts to government-funded advertisements

Reporting in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir has become so difficult that dozens of Kashmiri journalists have fled the valley, fearing they will be the government’s next targets.

The Indian government has arrested many journalists and shut down the Kashmir Press Club in January 2022.

The arrests and harassment of Kashmiri journalists follow the resurgence of BJP in 2014, following the election of Narendra Modi.

Intent on converting India from a secular democracy to a Hindu rashtra, the BJP-led government has worked to extend its dominance over Muslim-majority Kashmir through heavy militarization and arbitrary detentions and crackdowns on freedom of expression.

By targeting the local press, the government seeks to tighten its control over the narrative surrounding its human rights abuses.

In 2017, the government began targeting journalists under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities PreventionAct (UAPA), which carries harsh bail provisions.

Legal harassment, threats, home raids, physical attacks, on the journalists and their family members have become the new norm in India-occupied Kashmir.

About 22 Kashmiri journalists appeared on the no-fly list in September 2021, according to The Wire.

Indian reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries, with some being subjected to so-called “provisional” detention for several years.

Kamran Yousuf was the first Kashmiri journalist detained under UAPA, in September 2017. Sultan was arrested in August 2018, after he published an article in the Kashmir Narrator on Burhan Wani.

He was granted bail but was illegally held by police for 5 days before being re-arrested under the Public Safety Act.

Sajad Gul, a trainee reporter at online news portal “The Kashmir Walla” was arrested for only tweeting a video of a protest.

After the unilateral revocation of Kashmir’s special autonomy status in August 2019, Kashmiri journalists faced significant obstacles when authorities imposed an internet shutdown and communications blackout.

4G access was not officially restored until February 2021. According to the digital blackout monitoring website Internet Shutdown in authorities have shut down the internet in various areas of Kashmir at least 25 times in 2022.

Freedom of expression and right to practice religion is given to the Hindus in India while minorities go through torture which is against democratic and secular values.

India has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media with an average of 3-4 journalists killed each year in connection with their work.

Dozens of activists and journalists are arrested and tortured for reporting against the government.

Journalists in India are exposed to all kinds of physical violence including police violence, ambushes by political activists and deadly reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt local officials.

—The writer has remained associated with the Institute for Strategic Studies and ISPR

 

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