When human dignity is not the privilege of a few

Updated: Oct 31 2005, 05:55am hrs
India empowered must mean, first and foremost, empowering the people of India. Yes, my idea of India always begins with we, the people and my definition of the people always begins with the working people and the oppressed. I think it is important to emphasise this at the outset because the people are often counted last or not counted at all. Large sections of them have been rendered invisiblethey are probably counted only once in ten years when the nation counts all its survivors.

When starvation deaths mount in the same proportion as foodgrains rot in FCI godowns and the powers that be smugly trivialise and dismiss these deaths, the word empowerment only adds insult to injury.

The starvation deaths and peasant suicides spawned by the pro-market economic reforms have had their small revenge. They have forced a change of government and shattered the mega myth of India shining, leaving the official doctrine of economic reforms desperately looking for a human mask. Alongside disinvestment and FDI, the new government has been compelled to pay at least some lip-service to the need for providing employment guarantee to the growing army of Indias rural jobless. Yet the hullabaloo over the issue of finding the funds for even the most limited and diluted form of employment guarantee scheme legislated recently clearly shows that the official notion of empowerment still remains far removed from the basic agenda of livelihood.

Experience shows that just as real economic prosperity hardly trickles down through the market mechanism, real power too hardly travels down the corridors of information. Experience also shows that information can play an instrumental role only when it is inspired by the emancipatory vision of freedom, justice and progress. Indeed, India empowered must put an emphatic end to the crude reality of feudal oppression and patriarchal domination.

In India empowered, human dignity must cease to be an elitist, patriarchal or brahminical privilege and become an integral feature of everybodys everyday life. An empowered India must display much greater confidence and maturity in running its own domestic affairs. The gifts of nature and the heritages of history must find safe and careful custody.

Such a state of affairs obviously presupposes a conducive and credible institutional environment in contrast to the criminal-politician-bureaucrat-police nexus that is fast becoming the common generic or genetic description of the dominant political mode in the country. India empowered needs a judiciary that protects the peoples rights and liberties and does not advise rape victims to marry their rapists or decree the Communist Manifesto as terrorist literature! We need a bureaucracy free from the colonial hangover of the brown sahib syndrome, comprising committed public servants and not corrupt bosses and babus.

And most importantly, we need a really vibrant and vigilant fourth estate possessing the courage to defend the people and the truth in the face of the allurements and intimidations of state power. Last but not the least, India empowered must play a more courageous and dynamic role in the international arena. We must never hanker after a superpower tag or an imperialist certificate of good conduct. On the contrary, we must be able to stand up and lead the international campaign against every instance of imperialist arm-twisting and aggression. The point is not to embellish the existing power structure that discounts and even decimates the people, but engineer a new structure that respects the people as its designers, makers and masters. If this is what history calls a revolution, India certainly needs one.

(Our special India Empowered stories and columns are available at www.indiaempowered.com)