‘The state has to be checked by civil society’ – Trust us to do it, say the left-liberals

I won’t rant against communist wolves in sheep’s clothing – and this is what left-liberals really are. I’d rather readers simply read this interview to know how these people ply their trade; day in and day out.

– Namaste

‘The state has to be checked by civil society’

19 October 2009, 12:00am IST

Political scientist Ghanshyam Shah was on the jury that heard presentations on ‘What it means to be a Muslim in India today’, a conference organised by Anhad in New Delhi last week. He tells Jyoti Punwani why he is both depressed and hopeful after the meet:

What impressions did you come away with?

Depressing. I felt a sense of helplessness. To be a Muslim in contemporary India is to face constant fear and insecurity, discrimination and humiliation. You have to prove your patriotism every now and then. Rule of law, the soul of a democratic civilised society, is frequently violated by the state, more so in the case of the deprived and dispossessed. This is irrespective of the party in power, be it the Congress, the BSP or BJP; and even CPM as in the case of Lalgarh.

Had you expected this?

Not to this extent. I somehow believed that violation of the rule of law is an aberration, confined to certain states. Now i learnt that it is widespread and frequent; it’s almost being legitimised. Fake encounters in which the officers have wilfully killed the alleged ‘accused’ are legitimised by a few political leaders. More shocking, such officers are celebrated by self-styled, non-partisan ‘intelligentsia’ in places like Gujarat; ironically for ‘peace’ and ‘security’…

From your long experience of studying communal violence, do you retain hope in the state acting against such violence?

Yes, despite the fact that the situation has worsened since the 1960s. What is the way out? The alternative is anarchy and tyranny; perhaps the rule of might. I do not put complete faith in the state on any matter. I am not statist. The state, an inevitable institution to govern society, has to be constantly pressurised, checked and monitored by civil society.

You have recommended the prosecution of policemen who have lodged false cases against innocent Muslims. Will any government ever act against policemen for acts of communal prejudice?

Your fear may be valid. But i do not give up hope. The issue is not of mere prejudice. We demand punishment to those officers whom the Supreme Court’s Special Investigation Team finds guilty of tampering with evidence and who have deliberately misused their authority to persecute innocent citizens. If the government and Supreme Court do not listen to these demands, we — all those who believe in a democratic just social order — have to raise our voice again and again. This is a basic principle of liberal democracy.

At the meet, the minority affairs minister spoke of his helplessness.

Despite helplessness and constraints, the minority affairs minister can play an important role in building pressure on the decision-makers. However, our demands are to the prime minister, home minister, law minister — the government and the judiciary, to take steps towards redressal of the victims’ grievances. They are needed to fight against ‘terror’ and also to build a just society.


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