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Silent spectators no less complicit in crimes against humanity

Words, even barbed ones, have lost their power to shock. ‘Shocking the conscience of the nation’ has become a well-worn cliché.

Published: 17th October 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th October 2021 08:57 AM   |  A+A-

Villagers watch a burnt car which ran over and killed farmers on Sunday, at Tikonia village in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh

Villagers watch a burnt car which ran over and killed farmers on Sunday, at Tikonia village in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh. (Photo | AP)

Words, even barbed ones, have lost their power to shock. 'Shocking the conscience of the nation' has become a well-worn cliché. Tears have dried in millions of eyes that have impotently witnessed corpses of COVID victims being disposed of with no regard for dignity in death.

Wails of lament are stifled by brute force deployed by arrogant rulers who now think that horns blaring out classical ragas, instrumental rendering of film, or folk music will help drown the distressing cries. But, all of us who remain silent are complicit in crimes against humanity no less. Lakhimpur Kheri leaves us with no choice. 

Eyewitnesses can't be always trusted and in many cases involving the rich and the powerful turn hostile. The videos can be discredited as doctored and when all else fails, a scapegoat can be sacrificed or a sensitive case closed after an alleged accused is eliminated in an incredible encounter with the police. We have watched this serial horror (reality) show so many times in UP - and elsewhere - that we are numb to nauseating images of power-drunk drivers crushing (literally) peaceful protestors.

As a sensitive grief-stricken ex-diplomat has commented, this was no Lone Wolf Attack by a mentally unstable person but has the undeniable signature of a well-hatched conspiracy.

What makes the whole affair stink to high heavens is that the alleged perpetrator is the son of the MoS for Home Affairs in the Central Government who had himself a few days ago made a provocative speech against the protesting farmers threatening them with dire consequences if they didn't heed to his warning. How can the helpless victims and their families believe that the investigations will be free and fair?

Even before the tongue-tied UP police had begun investigations the minister had absolved his son of all guilt and boasted that if needed he could produce a thousand, no less, affidavits to reinforce the alibi that he wasn’t present at the site. Thank god that after an initial delay, the Supreme Court has taken suo moto cognisance of the matter and the UP government has been compelled to ‘stir into action’. 

How one wishes that the ordinary citizen’s faith in the higher judiciary was unalloyed! The apex court itself has issued confusing orders or made observations that have been extremely intriguing. In some cases, the honourable judges have patently misinterpreted the constitutional provisions.

A bench has recently opined that the right to peacefully protest isn't an unfettered right (stating the obvious as all rights can be 'reasonably restricted') and the farmers can’t continue protesting when they have petitioned the Supreme Court. To say the least, this is sowing the seeds of a disturbing jurisprudence. If reasonable restrictions are to limit fundamental rights, it’s for the executive and/or legislature to do so.

The courts can’t appropriate this power. True, the Constitution has designated the SC as the interpreter of the Constitution; it doesn't translate into absolutist claims to infallibility. In the case cited, their honourable lordships seem to have overlooked the decisions of a larger bench of the court that should have restrained them.

An eminent young jurist whose opinions have in past been cited by the Supreme Court has termed the developments chillingly as the return of the Humpty Dumpty Courts. We wait and watch, hope against hope that justice will be done; deterrent punishment swiftly meted out etc. But the clouds are too dark for the sliver of the silver lining to survive.

The investigating agencies - the police, CBI, Enforcement Directorate, the raiding squads of NDPS, NIA - all have lost credibility as supine officers have allowed themselves to become tools of persecution. No longer Caged Parrots, these are Birds of Prey, red in tooth and claw, trained to swoop and maim opponents of those in power.

The affair of Aryan Khan, son of Shah Rukh Khan, has once again highlighted not only the drug menace but utter disregard of due process and rule of law. Once again, it’s necessary to enter a caveat. Innocence or guilt of a celebrity son of a celebrity father is not the issue. What is distressing is the manner of the raid and ongoing investigation.  

The usually voluble PM's silence about these matters is thundering. The Fat Cat Corporates seem to be doing very well even behind the bars. The Singh brothers, who sunk the Ranbaxy legacy, and the father and son of the Unitech family have conducted business as usual siphoning money via offshore companies. 

Modiji may once again exhort his compatriots to light millions of lamps, "Diya Jalao!" being the rallying cry. Let the light vanquish the darkness that imperils our existence. Tamaso ma jyotirgamay can be traced back to India’s Vedic past.

But when national icons like a Bharat Ratna tumble out of Pandora's Box what one hears is not what is well-meaningly pronounced. Don't blame those outside the teeming crowd of cult followers, the bhaktas who have heard "Jiya Jalao!" 

(The writer is a former professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University can be contacted at pushpeshpant@gmail.com)



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