According to a news report, a mob of MNS “activists” broke into the residence of a Ghatkopar (Mumbai north) citizen and thrashed him in front of his family. His crime? He posted an online opinion about Raj Thackeray that the MNS stalwarts deemed to be offensive. To compound the comedy of errors, the police arrested – get this – not the perpetrators of the violence, but the victim of their aggression.
I can’t decide what I find more distressing – the fact that MNS vigilantes broke into a private citizen’s home without a warrant or probable cause; or that the police arrested the victim of the assault. Are we still deluding ourselves that we are living in a free and fair democracy where freedom of speech is enshrined in the constitution; and where the police are supposed to work in the interests of the common man and not of the people in power? What was the victim’s crime; that he voiced his opinion on the leader of a political party?
I have very limited knowledge of the law, but I believe defamation is a civil matter to be decided in court. Here, it seems, the police have taken it upon themselves to be judge, jury and executioner. Sadly, this type of behavior has become the rule, rather than the exception.
In another travesty of justice, a Muslim man in Assam, who had been selling beef in the local market for over 30 years, was badly beaten and sadistically force-fed pork by a group of hooligans masquerading as champions of Hindutva, in a blatant attempt to cause him agonizing mental trauma in addition to physical harm. The irony is that the sale of beef is perfectly legal in Assam. Obviously, that technicality meant nothing to the perpetrators, who seem emboldened by the prevailing atmosphere of a perceived Hindu superiority in this country.
Rightly or wrongly, these mobs feel secure in the belief that the party in power – though not actively condoning their zealotry – is content to turn a blind eye. Whose country is it anyway, right?
In a recent speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to transform India into a developed nation if he is re-elected. Really? Development entails more than building bullet trains, or shooting down a satellite in space. It involves building up the moral fibre of a nation’s citizens and its leaders, so that they can absorb criticism. It involves developing the character and gumption to demand one’s rights and freedoms – and to stand up to bullies. It demands accountability from the authorities when they forget that their job is to serve the people and not their political masters; and from our leaders when they stray outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour. It seems that we have a very long way to go.
Firoze Hirjikaka is a retired civil engineer and freelance writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org