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Where is the Democracy in India?

by Pieter Friedrich, OFMI advisor

1. Democracy
Today, in recognition of India’s 68th Independence Day, I want to talk about democracy, about equality, about liberty, about prosperity, and about peace.

The independence of any people from colonial shackles is an event deserving fervent celebration, but achieving independence is, unfortunately, not necessarily synonymous with achieving liberty, as historian Clarence Carson explains:

“It sometimes happens that a colonial revolt will result in both national independence and increased protections of individual liberty. It happened in America in the 1770s and 1780s. But it hardly follows that one will lead to the other. In the 20th century, there have been colonial revolutions in many lands. Often, they have been promoted and defended under the banner of freedom. In fact, 20th century revolutions have usually resulted in one party rule, dictatorship, and tyranny, even those that did achieve national independence. However desirable national independence may be, it is something quite different and separable from freedom.” [1]

The foundation of any true democracy is the free practice and propagation of religion without interference by the State. This is why, for instance, the very first amendment of the United States Constitution protects religious liberty. James Madison, called the “Father of the Constitution” and considered chief architect of the Bill of Rights (among which rights are the First Amendment), wrote:

“We are teaching the world the great truth that governments do better without kings and nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that religion flourishes in greater purity without, than with, the aid of Government.” [2]

That is, it was the considered opinion of the author of the world’s oldest written constitution that religion is more likely to be practiced free of force or fraud when the State has nothing to do with it. He did not stand alone in holding to this principle. John Adams, second president of the United States, put it thus: “Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion.” [3]
When they do meddle with religion, national governments often justify it in terms of a perceived necessity to prevent “antinational sentiment,” to protect people from “force or fraud,” or to somehow test the sincerity of a person’s beliefs. Yet, as Thomas Jefferson, author of the U.S. Declaration of Independencestated: “The opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty.” [4]

So we come to considering how India fares as it celebrates achieving national independence.

In February 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared: “My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.” [5]

That sounds pretty good. If all you heard was that soundbite, you might be convinced. But we need to seek a little more information. What does Modi mean when he talks about “freedom of faith”? Let’s look deeper.

One of his earliest acts after being elected Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat was to pass the so-called “Religious Freedom Act of 2003.”

This act says that if you want to switch your religion, you first have to ask permission from the government. The act says this is to prevent “forcible” conversions, but it says force includes talking about divine displeasure. That means that if I told a Gujarati that I believe “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,” a saying of Solomon taught by both Christians and Muslims worldwide, then I can face up to four years in prison and a 100,000 rupee fine.

Modi’s cabinet ministers and senior members of party, the BJP, have repeatedly demanded this be made a national law. In December 2014, arguing the necessity of the national government meddling in religion, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said: “To check conversion, I think an anti-conversion law needs to be framed. All political parties should think about this.” [6]

Yet, in February of this year, Modi also said: “We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext, and I strongly condemn such violence.” [7]

That sounds pretty good, too. Another soundbite. Let’s look deeper.

In 2002, six months after becoming Chief Minister, Modi’s government in Gujarat sponsored a genocide against minorities, about which the U.S. State Department reported:

“Hindu mobs killed 1,200-2,500 Muslims, forced 100,000 people to flee, and destroyed homes. Christians were also killed and injured, and many churches were destroyed. India’s National Human Rights Commission found evidence of premeditated killing by members of Hindu nationalist groups, complicity by state government officials, and police inaction.” [8]

The State Department also said: “Police reportedly told Muslim victims, ‘we don’t have orders to help you.’ It was reported that assailants frequently chanted ‘the police are with us.’” [9] Additionally, Human Rights Watch reported the attacks were “planned in advance and organized with extensive participation of the police and state government officials.” [10]

Many members of Modi’s own administration have also spilled the beans. In 2007, Gujarati MLA Haresh Bhatt, one of those who led murderous mobs to massacre Muslims, was caught on hidden camera saying: “Modi told me I’ll give you three days. Do whatever you want, you will not be touched.” [11]

For ten years, Modi was banned from entering the United States because of his involvement in the 2002 Gujarat Genocide.

Twelve years after the genocide, however, he became Prime Minister of India.

If Modi speaks of religious liberty, but defines it as State regulation of religion, is there democracy? If Modi speaks of rejecting violence against religion, but sponsors a genocide against religious minorities, is there democracy? Where is the democracy?

2. Equality
Meanwhile, peaceful protesters like 83-year-old hunger-striker Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa face repeated arrest for peacefully practicing democratic dissent.

In 1986, Surat Singh Khalsa was working for the freedom of the Sikh people by helping organize protest rallies. He was at a rally outside the Punjab Legislative Assembly when police, without provocation, opened fire on peaceful and unarmed protesters. Khalsa was wounded in the leg.

Khalsa was protesting the Indian State’s systemic discrimination against Sikhs. Maybe you have seen a Sikh before? They are very recognizable. Initiated Sikhs wear turbans and so stand out in a crowd which, unfortunately, can also make them easy targets for persecution. Human rights organization Ensaaf reports:

“From 1984 to 1995, Indian security forces engaged in systematic human rights violations in the state of Punjab, India…. leading to a dramatic increase in disappearances and extrajudicial executions…. Although all Punjabi Sikhs were vulnerable to disappearance and killing, police especially targeted Amritdharis (initiated Sikhs), those who were politically active with the Akali Dal parties, and families and friends of alleged militants.” [12]

This period of genocide began in June 1984 when the Indian Army invaded the Sikh Golden Temple to kill politically outspoken Sikh community leaders. They also killed thousands of pilgrims who were caught in the crossfire of the attack that was launched at the height of a major Sikh festival.

Then, in November 1984, the Indian State sponsored further genocide against Sikhs in the country’s capital city, New Delhi. Members of Parliament, city officials, and political party leaders took to the streets to slaughter Sikhs in the most ghastly and brutal ways possible — gang-raping the women, burning people alive, dismembering them.

This genocide is a major cause of Sikh immigration to the United States, where they found refuge and true freedom.

But were these Members of Parliament who led genocidal gangs ever punished? They were promoted to cabinet positions. The sick irony is the positions in which they were placed. Kamal Nath was made Minister for Urban Development. Jagdish Tytler was made Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs.

Meanwhile, dozens of Sikh leaders who were arrested decades ago for protesting the Indian State’s genocide have finished their court-appointed sentences, are eligible for release, but remain imprisoned.

Yet early release is readily given to murderous police officers convicted of disappearances, torture, and murder. People convicted to life in prison for orchestrating the Gujarat Genocide — those like Minister Maya Kodnani and activist Babu Bajrangi — get bail after just a few years behind bars. [13] And, in Punjab, adding injury to the insult is that the current Director General of Police is Sumedh Saini, a man who, when he was appointed to that position, was still facing a criminal trial for abducting and killing three people in 1994. [14] Saini built his career by leading death squads in the 1990s, a dark history expounded on the Floor of Representatives in 1995 by Congressman Dan Burton:

“Over 41,000 cash bounties were paid to police in Punjab for extrajudicial killings of Sikhs between 1991 and 1993. That was 41,000 people. Murdered…. This is not me talking. Read Amnesty International. Read the International Red Cross.” [15]

Sikhs suffer genocide, are victimized by death squads, and are arrested for peacefully protesting these atrocities. Modi sponsors a genocide, passes laws criminalizing religious liberty, and he is made Prime Minister. Where is the equality?

3. Liberty
In January 2015, human rights activist Sukhman Dhami wrote:

“Whether it’s mass graves in Kashmir, mass cremations in Punjab, razing villages in Chhattisgarh, or rampant torture, India has refused to confront and redress atrocities perpetrated by its security forces. Just four years ago, the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission uncovered nearly 3,000 bodies in numerous unmarked mass graves….

“These mass graves mirror the pattern of mass cremations uncovered in Punjab, where security forces secretly cremated thousands of bodies to hide evidence of their crimes committed during the counter-insurgency operations in the 1980s and 90s.” [16]

These victims are the produce of the Indian State’s death squads, but the State punishes the human rights activists who expose evil.

Jaswant Singh Khalra was murdered by Indian police in 1995 for uncovering and reporting that police death squads were secretly rounding up Sikh men in the Punjab, imprisoning them off the books, torturing them, killing them, and then quietly cremating their bodies at local cremation grounds.

In Amritsar alone, Jaswant identified the names of 2,097 Sikhs who were secretly cremated after being murdered by a police death squad. [17]

Amritsar is just one of thirteen districts in the Punjab.

The Indian State admits it killed Jaswant Singh Khalra in the exact same manner as the sufferers of the secret genocide he exposed, but it took sixteen years before it upheld the convictions of six low-level officers involved in his abduction, torture and murder.

In 1996, Jalil Andrabi was murdered by Indian soldiers for documenting mass disappearances in Kashmir.

Before his murder, while visiting Geneva, Switzerland, he warned the United Nations: “More than 40,000 people have been killed, which includes all — old men and children, women, sick and infirm.” [18]

Twenty days after his disappearance, Jalil’s body was discovered in a river — he was stuffed inside a sack, his hands were tied behind his back, his eyes were gouged out, his body was covered in wounds indicating torture, and he had been shot in the head.

Again, it was an agent of the Indian State who was to blame for murdering this peaceful human rights activist. An investigation identified Major Avtar Singh. But he could not be found, because he inexplicably managed to flee the country, taking refuge in North America, where he ultimately committed suicide.

Meanwhile, India refuses to sign the UN Convention Against Torture. The use of torture is employed as a daily tool by police. A study of 9 out of India’s 30 states conducted by watchdog group “People’s Watch” calculated that India’s security forces torture 1.8 million people every year. [19]

Laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act — the AFSPA — allow Indian security forces to shoot to kill upon mere suspicion, arrest without probable cause other than suspicion, and search and seize without warrant. The law grants total immunity from prosecution. Human Rights Watch calls it “a tool of state abuse, oppression, and discrimination.” [20]

Surat Singh Khalsa is on hunger-strike since January 2015 to demand freedom for political prisoners. Irom Sharmila, called the “Iron Lady of Manipur,” has been on hunger-strike since the year 2000 to protest the AFSPA after Indian security forces used the law to get away with massacring 10 civilians waiting at a bus stop. [21] And yet, with so much blood on its hands, the Indian State wants a national law requiring people to receive government permission before changing their religion.

So, we must ask, where is the liberty?

4. Prosperity
When Modi became Prime Minister, 21 of his 66 cabinet members faced criminal charges, including five people charged with rape and kidnapping and others charged with attempted murder. [22] When his party took power last year, 186 of 543 candidates who won election parliament — 34 percent — faced criminal charges, including 112 facing “serious” charges “such as murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, and crimes against women including rape and molestation.” [23]

But while the perpetrators of injustice rule the land, the common Indian has no recourse in India’s injustice system. India has the largest backlog of cases in the world. As many as 30 million cases are pending. A report estimated it would take 466 years for India to clear its backlog. [24] Countless innocent people languish in Indian prisons for decades just waiting for a trial.

Shall we touch on the issue of mass poverty? India has more poor people than any other country — one-third of the world’s poorest people live in India. [25] Up to two million Indian children die every year before their fifth birthday. [26] An Indian’s life expectancy is one of the lowest in the world, ranking 139th out of 194 countries. [27]

The most slaves in the world are to be found in India, according to the Global Slavery Report. Over 14 million Indians, especially those treated as low-caste, are chained by forced labor, debt bondage, human trafficking, forced sexual exploitation, and forced marriage. [28]

Meanwhile, one of the biggest slave-masters is the Indian State. Under the Rural Employment Guarantee Act, it hires 50 million households a year to dig proverbial ditches for $1 to $2 per day. This is India’s solution to the problem of poverty. Journalist Edward Luce puts it best: “It is difficult to see how a scheme that requires the poor to provide twelve hours or more of backbreaking physical labor for just $1 or $2 will transform their conditions.” [29]

We have heard much about the “Make in India” public relations campaign. Yet the Indian government’s solution to poverty is not to allow businesses to form and investments to be made, but to sign backroom deals with multinationals and then use the country’s security forces to implement land-grabs for the benefit of foreign corporations. As Arundhati Roy explained in 2009: “There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over the country that people are engaged in — the landless, the Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They’re pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people’s land and resources.” [30]

In India, the 99 percent are ruled by the one percent. The wealthy are the rulers who tax, enslave, and kill while they grow fat on bribes, kickbacks, and the blood of the innocent. So, we cannot help but ask, where is the prosperity?

5. Peace
As Sukhman Dhami notes:

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly half of India’s states, including states such as Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Kashmir, and Chhattisgarh, regularly experience anything from ‘civil unrest’ to outright insurgency.  The common denominator in these regions is human rights atrocities committed by the military, paramilitary, or police against minority communities.”

Yet India continues to thrust Gandhi, the so-called Mahatma, upon the rest of the world. They say he is the face of peace. Yet the Indian State pays to install his statues everywhere, including throughout North America. [32]

How did all this happen? Was it a surprise? Were there no warnings?

At India’s constitutional convention, several framers of the Constitution warned that the document was deeply flawed.

For instance, Professor Ranga from Tamil Nadu said: “Centralisation, I wish to warn this house, would only lead to Sovietisation and totalitarianism and not democracy.” [33]

Expressing similar concerns, Hukam Singh of Punjab said: “There is enough provision in our Constitution… to facilitate the development of administration into a fascist state.” In fact, the Sikh representatives from Punjab refused to sign the constitution at all. Hukam Singh said: “Let it not be misunderstood that the Sikh community has agreed to this constitution.” [34]

Dr. Ambedkar, the champion of the downtrodden people of India, is commonly credited as the author of the Constitution. The Indian State trumpets his involvement, but ignores his comments made just three years after the document was adopted. Speaking on the floor of Rajya Sabha, Ambedkar declared:

“My friends tell me that I made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody. But whatever that may be, if our people want to carry on, they must not forget that there are majorities and there are minorities, and they simply cannot ignore the minorities by saying, “Oh, no. To recognise you is to harm democracy.” I should say that the greatest harm will come by injuring the minorities.” [35]

So where does this leave us?

The first Asian ever elected to United States Congress was Dalip Singh Saund, a Californian Sikh who, speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1961, warned:

“We have been identified with the ruling classes. We have been coddling kings and dictators and protecting the status quo. The status quo for the masses of people in many lands means hunger, pestilence, and ignorance.” [36]

Today, will the governments of the world continue to coddle kings and dictators or will they speak out boldly against the status quo that has left so many suffering?

The people of India want peace.

Yet, we are compelled to ask, where is the peace?

Indeed, in modern India, where is the democracy, where is the equality, where is the liberty, where is the prosperity, and where is the peace?

1. Carson, Clarence. The Beginning of the Republic: 1775-1825 (A Basic History of the United States, Vol. 2). American Textbook Committee; 1st edition (1984). p. 2.
2. Madison, James. Letter to Edward Livingston. July 10, 1822.
3. Adams, John. Letter to Benjamin Rush. June 12, 1812.
4. Jefferson, Thomas. Bill No. 82, “A Bill For establishing religious freedom.” Virginia General Assembly. 1779.
5. Gowen, Annie. “Comment on religious tolerance by Indian leader sparks national debate.” The Washington Post. February 19, 2015.
6. “Anti-conversion law needed, Rajnath Singh says.” The Times of India. December 28, 2014.
7. “Won’t tolerate violence against any religion, promises Modi.” The Hindu. February 17, 2015.
8. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. “Annual Report 2013.” pp. 3-4.
9. U.S. Department of State. “India: International Religious Freedom Report 2005.” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
10. Human Rights Watch. “India: Gujarat Officials Took Part in Anti-Muslim Violence.” May 1, 2002.
11. “Sting on BJP, VHP men links Modi to 2002 riots.” CNN-IBN. October 25, 2007.
12. Ensaaf. “Frequently Asked Questions.”
13. Bhan, Rohit. “2002 Gujarat Riots Convict Babu Bajrangi Granted Bail for Sixth Time.” NDTV. July 23, 2015.
14. Kaur, Jaskaran. “Mother testifies against police officer Sumedh Saini.” Harvard Blogs. August 19, 2008.
15. Representative Burton (IN). Congressional Record 141: 107 (June 28, 1995) p. H6451-H6452.
16. Dhami, Sukhman. “Confront India on poor human rights record.” The Hill. January 26, 2015.
17. Human Rights Watch. “Protecting the Killers: A Policy of Impunity in Punjab, India.” October 2007.
18. Mathur, Shubh. “Impunity in India.” Guernica. February 1, 2013.
19. People’s Watch. “Torture and Impunity in India.” National Project on Preventing Torture in India. November 2008.
20. Human Rights Watch. “India: Repeal Armed Forces Special.” August 18, 2008.
21. Organization for Minorities of India. “Irom Sharmila’s Fiancé on Torture, AFSPA, and Surat Singh Khalsa.” June 12, 2015.
22. Macaskill, Andrew. “Nearly third of Indian cabinet charged with crimes, despite Modi pledge.” Reuters. November 11, 2014.
23. Bedi, Rahul. “A third of India’s newly elected MPs face criminal charges.” The Irish Times. May 20, 2014.
24. “Indian PM plea on justice backlog.” BBC News. August 17, 2009.
25. Bhowmick, Nilanjana. “India Is Home to More Poor People Than Anywhere Else on Earth.” TIME. July 17, 2014.
26. Stancati, Margherita. “Almost 5,000 Indian Children Die Daily.” The Wall Street Journal. September 13, 2012.
27. “Global Health Observatory Data Repository: Life expectancy – Data by country.” Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Statistics 2015, World Health Organization, WHO. 2015.
28. Sinha, Kounteya. “India is now the world’s slave capital: Global Slavery Index 2014.” The Times of India. November 17, 2014.
29. Luce, Edward. In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India. First Anchor Books Edition, March 2008. p. 203.
30. Roy, Arundhati. “The heart of India is under attack.” The Guardian. October 30, 2009.
31. Dhami, Sukhman.
32. Organization for Minorities of India. “Texas Town Plans to Install Statue of Religious Figure Some Call a ‘Symbol of Segregation’.” May 8, 2014.
33. Constituent Assembly of India Debates (Proceedings). Vol. VII. November 9, 1948.
34. Constituent Assembly of India Debates (Proceedings). Vol. XI. November 21, 1949.
35. Parliamentary Debates. Vol. IV, No. 7. September 2, 1953.
36. Speech of Hon. D. S. (Judge) Saund. Congressional Record. Proceedings and Debates of the 87th Congress, First Session. August 16, 1961.

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