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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 32, August 2, 2014

Colonial Hangover, Hindutva, Police Reforms

Saturday 2 August 2014, by Kuldip Nayar

Imagine renowned poet Rabindranath Tagore seeking admission to the Calcutta Club, a preserve of the British, and getting rejected. Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the legendary Urdu poet, receiving a similar treatment at Lahore’s Punjab Club in Pakistan, and Nazrul Islam at the Dhaka Club. In all these cases, the public outrage would have been difficult to assuage.

The White rulers saw to it that the leading clubs in a country where they had ruled remained an exclusive place for them and their elitist friends. Refusal to allow non-Whites into these clubs was a part of apartheid. Posh clubs would have a billboard at the entrance, saying: Dogs and Indians are not allowed. Shocking it may sound, but the White rulers enjoyed humiliating dark Indians, apart from heaping on them other indignities.

The upper stratum of society which rubbed shoulders with the Whites and lived more or less in the Western-style was given entry straightway. Therefore, it was not surprising to find the same members of the society replacing the Whites and making clubs exclusively for their use. The club managements prescribed the Western-style dress code essential and banned local dress within the premises.

A club in Chennai went to the extent of banning dhoti consequently. A Madras High Court judge wearing dhoti was refused entry. There was an outcry when this happened. Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa called the act an “insult” to Tamil culture. The AIADMK chief promised to see a quick law is passed to put an end to such a practice. The CM has also promised prompt action against the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) in Chepauk, which had denied admission to Justice D. Hariparanthaman and two other guests, ostensibly for violating the dress code of the club.

Members and their guests are expected to be well-dressed, which for men is usually interpreted as Western attire. “The way of tying the dhoti in Tamil Nadu style may leave it to a number of aspects of exposure. Many clubs cite this as a reason for not allowing guests in dhotis,” a member of the Madras Club said. However, in a State where most politicians prefer a dhoti and a white shirt over the Western attire, charges of indecent exposure have backfired. R. Gandhi, 77, a senior advocate who was turned away along with Justice Haripar-anthaman, said it was an “arbitrary reaction” by the club’s staff against respectable men “in their natural dress”.

People in South-East Asia, however democratic in their temperament, are enamoured of authority. Clubs may be the relics of the British rule but they represent power. That is the reason why clubs of the past are kept as they were, although they do not fit into India’s reality of austere living.

Authoritarian police is another relic which has been retained, with more powers to silence the opponents. It was an investiture ceremony where top police officials were being honoured for the outstanding service they had rendered to trace and punish those who had committed excesses during the Emergency. In the midst of the ceremony, the then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, got up and ended the ceremony.

Another example is the disdain with which the Police Reforms Commission report was treated here. It confirms fears that the Shah Commission proceedings may have been destroyed. In fact, even a copy of the report is not available either in the market or in government offices. Does the Congress believe that the Emergency would disappear from history itself? At least, the Police Reforms Commission report exists, although its reco-mmendations have not been implemented because most State Chief Ministers are no less authoritarian than what Mrs Gandhi was.

The BJP feels that it can afford to give the impression of being liberal at a time when soft Hindutva has gripped even the Leftist parties. The Congress is seen steadily losing its secular credentials in the past few years despite the fact that Muslims, by and large, voted in its favour. But the biggest dilemma facing the Muslim community today is who among all parties is liberal. The radicalisation of the community is not the answer, as it is happening. This would be used as an evidence to stigmatise the community. Muslim terrorism has no chance against Hindu terrorism simply because of the numbers.

I realise that some Muslims out of desperation have taken to violence. But this is the path Hindu militant organisations like the Bajrang Dal, Ram Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad want the community to take. The guilt of these organisations has been proved from the bomb blasts at Malegaon, Ajmer and Hyderabad. Initially, the suspicion was on Muslims—as is the police practice—and the Muslim youth were picked up.

At Hyderabad, they were beaten by the police. But a detailed investigation revealed a Hindu hand. Had there been accountability, such chauvinist deeds by the police would not have taken place. Young men have been arrested when law courts have found that there is no evidence against them. Who made the mistake? Who is responsible for illegal arrests? He should be punished if the impression that the Muslim youth were picked up without any rhyme or reason is to be removed.

A commission had also been appointed under the chairmanship of the former Chief Justice of India, J. S. Verma, to suggest changes in rape laws and the quantum of punishment. The students have asked for death penalty or chemical castration. Yet it is strange that the government acted only under pressure. The authorities pressed the panic button because for many days all roads leading to India Gate were closed and even water cannons were used to push back the agitating students behind the barricades the police had erected. The lathi-charge was uncalled for and widely condemned.

The biggest support to the politicians is the police which is supposed to maintain law and order. The force has to be purged of sycophants and sluggish elements. But for that to happen, the police has to be made independent so that it is free of pressure from politicians. The worst example is in Punjab and Haryana where the police force has become a private army of the Chief Ministers.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com