The Economic Times
12,248.2567.9
Stock Analysis, IPO, Mutual Funds, Bonds & More

View: What the Hyderabad encounter tells us about the state of India's democracy

The rape and murder of a young woman in Hyderabad was gruesome enough. The response of the state, of rounding up four presumed culprits and bumping them off in a so-called encounter, was no less appalling. The response of many, particularly those in public life, who gleefully cheered the police action, is indeed horrific.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Dec 07, 2019, 11.27 PM IST
0Comments
Agencies
Hyderabad encounter
People hail extra-judicial reprisals when the law proves dysfunctional — so goes another line of justification.
A distant goal — on the barely visible other side of a treacherous climb along a path filled with potholes, snakes and rusted spikes. Indian democracy looks a bit like that, after the recent killings in Hyderabad.

The rape and murder of a young woman in Hyderabad was gruesome enough. The response of the state, of rounding up four presumed culprits and bumping them off in a so-called encounter, was no less appalling. The response of many, particularly those in public life, who gleefully cheered the police action, is indeed horrific. Indians have to be careful while washing their skin with deep-cleansing lotions: these might peel off the entirety of the democratic sensibility they have managed to accumulate since Independence and all the markers of civilisation that set modern humans apart from savages.

Democracy is the rule of the people, by the people and for the people. That is a glib definition, sufficient for a summary that also serves as a rhetorical flourish. When the people in question are not homogeneous, but differentiated, in terms of income and education, social status and stratification, faith and ritual, and language, region and ethnicity, that definition is a mere starting point for a journey across uncharted terrain.

Democracy differentiates itself from majoritarianism by virtue of certain individual and group rights it commits itself to. The will of a temporary majority cannot breach those rights. To secure those rights, certain institutions and institutional mechanisms are integral to democracy. Due process is what we call setting those institutions and mechanisms in motion.

In Hyderabad, the four accused were killed without the benefit of due process. “No person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of a law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence,” says Article 20 of the Constitution.

“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law,” says Article 21. Two fundamental rights were blatantly violated by the state in Hyderabad.

When a member of Parliament, having sworn allegiance to the Constitution, calls for rapists to be lynched, she commits perjury, admits to lack of faith in the legal system and in democracy.

But what of the victim, why don’t you talk about the rights of the poor girl who was so brutally killed, ask some people. Of course, those who committed the crime against the young woman deserve all the punishment that could be inflicted under the law. But first, it must be established that these four were, indeed, the ones who committed the crime.

The police have a habit of making quick arrests when the public outcry is loud against a heinous crime. Often, the accused stay in jail for a decade or so and get acquitted. The police get some relief from public anger, so what if some young men lose their youth behind bars for no reason other than that they were convenient for the police to arrest.

People hail extra-judicial reprisals when the law proves dysfunctional — so goes another line of justification. Two separate rape victims from Unnao being fatally attacked by their rapists or their agents while on their way to proceedings against the rapists is clear evidence of such legal dysfunction. But is the solution to give up the law and hope for redemption — either from caped crusaders who deliver vigilante justice or from law enforcers who breach the law at will?

The right to equality is yet another fundamental right. Equality can be uplifting, decidedly. But do you want equality with those unfortunate souls who are picked up by the police and locked up for crimes the police are under pressure to solve but lack the needed competence to? Clearly not. If you still want to celebrate the working of death squads, you believe not in equality but in social hierarchy: of different groups with differential rights, mentally ensconcing yourself within the elite lot immune to such arbitrary violence at the hands of the state.

When the rule of law matters no more, who takes the hit can be entirely arbitrary. Who is in power changes, so does who is in the line of fire.

India has a democratic Constitution, thanks to the political leadership at the time of Independence. Indian society lags far behind the Constitution, with a sensibility tempered by the segmented solidarity of religion, caste and region. To transcend primordial urges that valorise vengeance over justice and immediate gratification over the slow but sure working of institutional mechanisms, people must identify themselves with the larger collective that has agency in democracy, that is, the people of India. But when politics turns sectarian, such identification crumbles.

Lynch mobs and those baying for the blood of those accused of crimes but with unproven culpability, are signs of the strains on India’s as yet fledgling democratic project.

Also Read

NHRC takes cognisance of Hyderabad encounter, orders probe

Andhra CM has a word of praise for Hyderabad ‘encounter’

Hyderabad encounter: For the four rape accused life ended where it all started

Are we heading towards society of lawlessness? Ex-CJI over rape-murder incidents, Hyderabad encounter

Comments
Add Your Comments
Commenting feature is disabled in your country/region.

Other useful Links


Copyright © 2020 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service