The price of prosperity
|(Photo Credit: Orijit Sen)
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sincerely believed in its 'India Shining' slogan, but the Indian voters failed to find much merit in this lofty claim. Yet voters opted for the gung-ho chant of 'Jai ho!' adopted by the Indian National Congress in the parliamentary elections of 2009. Fundamentally, both calls are variations of the same self-congratulatory theme.
While Sen challenged the state and was sentenced for it, across the border in Punjab province, Governor Salman Taseer's own bodyguard gunned him down with the calculated calm of an executioner. Taseer had taken up an equally weighty challenge: to sever the judiciary from religion. Whether the secular Muslim and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader would have succeeded in undermining the fundamental premise of his state is now a moot point, after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani has unequivocally ruled out any change in the country's infamous blasphemy laws.
During the last week of December, a district court decided that Sen was guilty of sedition for helping the Maoists in their fight against the state. The global outcry over the patent injustice of the Indian penal system in this case will probably win Sen a reprieve in the end, but it should be pointed out that every grassroots activist cannot hope to elicit a statement of support from the likes of Noam Chomsky and Amartya Sen. Activists will in future have to think twice before crossing the arbitrary line of acceptable conduct drawn by the security forces. In that sense, the media attention that the case has attracted has served its purpose.
Part of the explanation for the continuity of sedition laws in India or the legal relevance of sacrilege in Pakistan has to be found in the failure of their leaders to live up to the promises made during the Independence movement. Hindu as well as Muslim Indians wanted freedom, but they are shown the trophy of being a superpower while they remain trapped in the circle of poverty, ignorance and institutionalised inequality. A section of Indian Muslims had struggled for the right to lead lives of dignity in an independent country, as they feared that they would have to suffer humiliation under Hindu domination in independent India. They are being asked to keep faith in the sovereignty of god and wait until judgement day for redemption, as the state they had wished for is transformed into a theological entity.