If the Prime Minister is truly concerned about India’s image in the world, he needs to be seen as a leader who cares about the protection of human rights, not as someone who sees them as an excuse to malign him.
In a week when the son of a Bollywood superstar spent Dussehra in jail without being formally charged with a crime, it was surreal to hear the Prime Minister lecture us about how human rights activists are using this issue to ‘malign’ India. It is a real issue, Prime Minister. Clearly more real than you think. Aryan Khan’s daddy is rich and can afford the best lawyers. But our jails are filled with hundreds of thousands of young men who spend months and years in jail simply because they cannot afford the price of Indian justice.
Most Indians, including your columnist, baulk at the price lawyers charge for an appearance in court. So that most important of human rights, the right to justice, remains unavailable to nearly all Indians. It is this and the absence of other rights, that are taken for granted in democratic countries, that make India look bad. Not the noise made by human rights activists.
The Prime Minister expounded on his human rights misgivings at the 28th anniversary of the National Human Rights Commission. He said it was dangerous for democracy when human rights are ‘selectively targeted’. Then he said something that was both intriguing and worrying. Human rights mattered only to people who already had the basics of life.
He said, “A poor person who has to seek a recommendation to get a gas connection gets dignity when the connection reaches him through the Ujjwala Yojana.” Here I agree with Mr Modi. If what he meant was that poverty is the worst violation of human rights, I am in full agreement. Where I part company with him is when he says that human rights do not matter to people who live in extreme poverty.
Has he totally forgotten the Emergency? Has he forgotten that the reason why Indira Gandhi and son lost their own seats in 1977 was because ordinary, very poor Indians felt that their rights had been taken from them when their men were carted off to be sterilized and when their homes were bulldozed to smithereens because Sanjay Gandhi wanted to beautify Delhi? Had these two policies not defined the Emergency in northern India, it is possible that Indira Gandhi would have won. We must not forget that in 1977 she won in the southern states where Sanjay’s policies of family planning and ‘resettlement’ did not exist.
Human rights may not matter to the average Chinese because China has never been a democratic country. They matter very much in India because the roots of democracy have deep roots and if Mr Modi is angry about the ‘bad image’ that India has got, he has himself to blame. Since he became Prime Minister, he has shown that his government has no qualms about keeping students, dissidents, comedians and journalists in jail simply because they disagreed with his policies.
When a judge in a Delhi court released some young people who have been in jail for more than a year without charges or a trial, he passed strictures against the Delhi Police for not doing their job well. Last week he was transferred to a lower court.
When it comes to using preventive detention laws as a weapon, the Prime Minister’s favourite Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, has gone ahead of him by not just jailing people who disagree with him but confiscating their properties as well. Some of the people who lost their properties were those who saw the Citizenship Amendment Act as discriminatory and took to the streets to protest. In view of the horrific incident on the Singhu border I hesitate to mention farmers, but they have been treated as criminals in both Uttar Pradesh and Haryana before last week’s horror.
In Modi’s ‘new India’, Bollywood is viewed as a den of vice. It has been under attack since last year when a young woman’s life was destroyed because her boyfriend, Sushant Singh Rajput, committed suicide. When they could not pin murder, robbery and abetment to suicide on Rhea Chakraborty, both she and her brother were jailed by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) for purchasing and consuming banned substances. After spending some weeks in jail, they were quietly released.
Aryan Khan could be in deeper trouble because the NCB is now trying to make the case that he had links with international drug traffickers. Has it occurred to the sleuths of this hyperactive bureau that international drug traffickers would try to stay as far away from the son of a Bollywood superstar as possible to keep attention away from their nefarious activities?
Last week, a spokesman of the NCB said that when it came to offences related to drugs, the laws of justice were reversed. Aryan is presumed guilty till he can prove his innocence. When I tweeted about the absurdity of this, I was immediately attacked by venomous trolls who said that I should know that this was a law made in Rajiv Gandhi’s time.
Well, it is time for it to be changed. If the Prime Minister is truly concerned about India’s image in the world, he needs to be seen as a leader who cares about the protection of human rights, not as someone who sees them as an excuse to malign him. Human rights are more important in democratic countries than almost anything else for the simple reason that without sacrosanct human rights, there is no democracy.