More and more, protests are looking like empty gestures since those against whom such protests are lodged do not seem to turn a hair,
not to speak of addressing the grievance. At best, they suspend some people or take some people into custody and then lengthen out the investigation until the initial outrage subsides and the furore dies down. There is in the nature of things nowadays no shortage of fresh causes of public distress and indignation. The buried incidents pile up into a mountain of garbage for all the shock and anger they might have caused.
Is Hathras going that way too? Certain accomplished impresarios of such public protest go out to give battle in full panoply and try to squeeze out the last drop of pain, rage and shame from the terrible incident. Perhaps out of pity for obtuse ordinary folks who might have failed to register such emotions to the nth degree of sensory and emotional register.
Will it lead to any improvement of the situation, justice for the victims and deterrence of such crime and abuse? Hardly. The spontaneous outburst of popular sympathy and outrage certainly deserve our respect. But if it ends up in sheer brilliance of showmanship, then it degenerates into a radical left exhibitionism, the obverse of the rages of radical right TV anchors. And that is what it amounts to in the end.
In fact, there is reason to believe that a degenerate state will allow that much of rebellious posturing rather than the slightest spark of street defiance. Indeed, having gauged the exact efficacy of such rhetoric over more than half a decade it has acquired the chutzpah to shrug them off with the given rituals of reaction referred to in the beginning.
Do we then call for a freezing of observation and analysis? Not at all. The public needs to be made aware, which dedicated journalists are doing. Their implications also need to be drawn out, but not drawn out indefinitely. There is need to organise and need to undertake political action by seizing upon this moment. For let us make no mistake. We have to take on an organised political power effectively to put an end to such atrocities.
It is sad that the courts are getting suborned, or such a ridiculous judgment as that the demolition of the Babri Masjid had been an unplanned event, a spontaneous combustion if you will, would not have been possible, like the proverbial mountain giving birth to a molehill. All the more reason for real political action.
To be sure, as it is getting clearer by the day, Parliament is no longer the arena for such effective action. Even the courts have at times explicitly stated that the complaints placed before them are better settled on the floor of Parliament. But it is already plain that Parliament has already been hamstrung and its progress blocked through reckless sundry subterfuges.
Elections thus are practically the only constitutional space left for resisting and overcoming such resolute throttling of rule of law. Here again the watchman arbitrarily addles the rules to queer the pitch for challenges to naked tyranny. Incredible amounts of cash and other benefits rain down on the heads of hapless voters or touts to bring about upset results. If that fails then there is the unfailing device of overnight horse-trading legitimised with signatures from the President.
Instead of thinking of outplaying such manoeuvres or outflanking them parties have been reduced to desperate street-shows simply to impress voters that they are after all on the right side. But in practice these neither convince voters nor help in redressing the wrongs in question.
The state after all is declared to be, and is actually, brought into being by the people. And it is popular energy and initiative that must be aroused creatively to respond effectively to the developing crisis. And for that to happen ALL forces who have realised (hoping they have) the grave danger to the state from the real internal enemy must without delay sink their differences and unite on a common minimum programme to overcome it.
An Urgent Matter
I am so shocked and horrified by what I heard in a live newscast that I thought it ought to be made known to the entire country. The current recipe for progress and “dabhalapment” is that you should turn every challenge into an opportunity. You hear it everywhere ringing and echoing. And this is how it is being acted upon in Assam, which with its rampant corporate loot, the brazen sale of public assets as real estate at dirt-cheap price to the favourites, the soaring prices, half-fed distraught masses, steep fall in employment and earnings, is undoubtedly India in stark miniature.
The top leaders of the ruling party are spewing foaming rhetoric about the impending “war of civilizations” and “the last stand of Assam against foreign invaders”. Their blue-eyed boys have been allowed to open Covid Care Centres and given government funds to shelter, treat and care for Covid-19 patients. And they have been busy turning this major challenge into a sumptuous opportunity.
A real-life anecdote will throw some light on this shadowy enterprise. On 4 October, a local news portal was reporting live on the condition of such centres. The anchor was obviously quite unprepared for the unpleasant surprise when he enquired about the health of one of its rural reporters who had been declared “positive”. The reporter said from the Centre at Biswanath Chariali in Sonitpur district, in a strained voice, evidently controlling a paroxysm of grief and rage, that she along with her parents had been declared positive and had been admitted to a typical Covid Care Center, and her father had died of it the day before. As for herself and her mother, they have simply been prostate for days together without any doctor visiting them. Nurses came at best once a day and did their duties perfunctorily. Medicine which were simply vitamin pills were given only when the patients coaxed and cajoled them. They have been told that her father died of pre-existing asthma, whereas they had not seen him having any asthma attack at any time. (One suspects he died of lack of oxygen at a late stage of the viral disease, and this is callously recorded as pre-existing asthma.)
Their present condition conjures another horror. Next to them were two expectant mothers who did not receive any maternity service at all at the Centre. One went into throes of labour pain and in spite of their frantic entreaties no doctor or nurse came and the woman gave birth to a baby without any medical care and the room was simply awash with blood. Fifteen minutes or so after, nurses turned up upon their urgent pleas and stonily did some cleaning but the new-born baby was left covered in blood for hours. The mother was given saline and as far as I can gather no other medicine. The reporter’s ailing mother was forced to sit on a bench for god knows how long in the veranda outside as her bed was too close to the stinking pool of blood. Their protests and complaints have had no effect. As to whether their condition has improved or got worse, they have been awaiting the results of tests for three days. The anchor of the news hour on the channel was quite put out and lamely murmured he would talk to government health department officers and the minister. The poor chap wanted to get over this quickly for all the sympathy he might have felt.
Apart from the Guwahati Medical College Hospital and the metropolitan Covid Care Center at Sorusajai stadium (which under present circumstances looks like something of a Potemkin village), most
Covid Care Centres in the state are apparently being run like this. The brisk young medical entrepreneurs, brimming with the fabled “animal spirits”, are evidently turning the present challenge into an opportunity.
I had pleaded in the middle of March that it would be a fatal blunder for the government to monopolise the national response to the pandemic and that things would be much better and brighter if genuine popular participation in the campaign were ensured. I had demanded increase in number of hospital beds manifold, stockpiling of necessary medicines, steady supply of oxygen cylinders, and rapid training of masses of voluntary paramedics when reported cases were under fifty. The Assam branch of IMA had strongly denounced use of rapid antigen tests because of its uncertainties and I supported it. This is only to show that common sense itself was enough to measure early the vast dimensions of the problem. But common sense is condemned as inexpert babbling and self-declared messiahs in government and party seize the high ground. And the people, as a pitying foreign reporter wondered decades ago, suffer their travails “in fathomless patience”.
The author is a socio-political commentator and cultural critic. The views are personal.