Hong Kong, China — Other than the fact that the government of India supports the Palestinian cause, there is no apparent connection between an ordinary Indian and a person living in the Gaza Strip. Yet for some Indian politicians, like Prakash Karat, it is important to bring this issue to the attention of Indian citizens.
Karat, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, has taken the trouble to enlighten the inquisitive Indian mind with his reflections on the Israeli invasion of Gaza and its implications for India.
In a statement released last week through the party weekly, People’s Democracy, Karat shed tears for the Palestinians. He accused the political parties in India – obviously with the exception of his party – of being politically bankrupt. In the article he accused the Congress Party and the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party of an alliance with “imperialist” Western forces.
However, when state governments led by his party forcefully evicted farmers from their lands to create special economic zones for foreign entities in Kerala and West Bengal, Karat looked the other way.
The British-educated Karat is not worried about the alarming number of extrajudicial executions carried out by the Border Security Force stationed in West Bengal along the Indo-Bangladesh border. Probably he is busy defending Pinarayi Vijayan, his party colleague in Kerala, who is facing bribery charges. Vijayan, the state general secretary of the CPI-M, is accused of misappropriating public funds to the tune of US$7.5 million.
In India, most people are preoccupied with their own problems. For example, an estimated 622 million Indians, who account for nearly 55 percent of the population, earn less than US$1.50 a day. For these 622 million individuals, finding their daily meal is their immediate concern.
Another 150 million Indians who live in slums have no source of clean drinking water or sanitation facilities. It is estimated that 53 percent of children in India suffer from malnutrition and related sicknesses. The percentage of the population living in extreme poverty and facing malnutrition is the highest in the world – higher than some countries in sub-Saharan Africa where no stable government exists.
The fact that a democracy like India is underperforming to such an extent, with living conditions worse than those in some Sub-Saharan states, means there is something awfully wrong with the government, past and present.
It starts with the Indian Parliament, where one-third of the parliamentarians are facing charges of rape, murder, corruption or other serious crimes. The seat of democracy, the Parliament, has thus become a repository of criminals. The fact that such people remain in power reveals two things – that there is no effective rule of law in the country, and that the ordinary electorate remains illiterate.
The rule-of-law regime has become defunct in the country in the past few decades. The law in India works for those who can afford to buy it. The rule of law is sold in police stations, courts and legislatures, and in brothels across the country. In a country where police officers, politicians and their henchmen run most of the brothels, it is natural for these outlets to have a status equal to that of the legislature.
Corruption in public life is so open and apparent that it is no more perceived as evil. On the contrary, it is considered an essential requirement to get things done in the country. To register a birth or death; to file a complaint with the police or get a telephone connection; to admit a child to school or get treatment at a government hospital; to book a train ticket or obtain bail from the court, all require a “lubricant” in the appropriate place. Corruption is the seminal cord that links the police, the politician and the ordinary person in India.
In addition to brothels and similar institutions in the country where “justice” is sold and deals negotiated, police stations play the important role of collection houses for bribes, as well as public relations offices for politicians. If by mistake the police act against the whims of the ruling political party, their stations are attacked and officers assaulted.
In the past six months there were at least seven such incidents in Kerala state alone. When officers arrested some cadres of the CPI-M, the ruling party of the state that Karat represents, other party cadres attacked the police station and released the detainees.
Courts, the judicial process and the rule of law are meaningless words when it comes to protecting political interests. It is the same throughout the country. In the state of Uttar Pradesh it is the Bahujan Samaj Party, in Gujarat the Bharatiya Janata Party and in Assam the Congress Party.
Politicians appropriately reward police officers for their political slavery. For example, the director general of police in West Bengal, Anup Bhushan Vohra, in December 2008 asked his officers to assault ordinary people with the definite intention of breaking their bones. Vohara made his statement in public, addressing his subordinate officers on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.
Vohara continues as the chief of police in that state. No police officer in most of the “imperialist” countries that Karat so opposes would continue one day in their post after making such a speech, encouraging subordinates to violate the law. There are obviously a few things to be learned from the imperialist side of the world. But unfortunately, India’s politicians may not welcome such lessons, which challenge their corrupt way of life.
For politicians in India to continue their corrupt ways, people must remain poor, torture must be encouraged and practiced in police stations, courts must not function properly and the electorate must remain divided into Hindus, Christians and Muslims, maintaining their caste hierarchies no matter which religion they follow. Poverty must thrive so that few people have the strength to challenge the slavery imposed by landlords and local politicians who steal the life and honor from the poor.
So it is important that Indians be informed about the Israeli action in Gaza. They must condemn it, since they cannot condemn the situation in their own country for fear of challenging politicians like Karat.
If the people were to reflect on their own living conditions it would expose the empty rhetoric of the politicians and challenge the corrupt bureaucracy. So it is important for politicians in India to preoccupy the average Indian mind by filling it with irrelevant world affairs.
As for Israel, it must continue invading its neighbor, for that will provide Indian politicians a subject to be concerned about.
(Bijo Francis is a human rights lawyer currently working with the Asian Legal Resource Center in Hong Kong. He is responsible for the South Asia desk at the center. Francis has practiced law for more than a decade and holds an advanced master’s degree in human rights law.)