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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 48, November 22, 2014

Focus of National Attention

Saturday 22 November 2014, by SC


Several incidents of the last few days have become the focus of national attention.

The first was the Chhattisgarh tragedy. Laproscopic tubectomy carried out for sterilisation of 83 women at a camp in Pendari village of Takhatpur block in the State’s Bilaspur district on November 8 led to the death of 11 women while 69 others were severely affected, some of them critically, In a separate incident at another sterilisation camp in Guarella in the same district on November 10 one woman died while 12 others were in a critical condition. An inquiry has been ordered into these incidents. But, as The Hindu has aptly pointed out,

... rules will continue to be flouted and deaths will be the order of the day as long as the lethal combination of pressure to meet sterilisation targets, “compensation” amounts given to women and payment to doctors on the basis of numbers are in place. Making it worse is the undivided attention the government has been giving to strilisation as a means of achieving by 2020 the Millennium Development Goal on reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adoloscent health.

Yet, while the single doctor and health worker, who carried out the procedures on the women in both the camps, have been suspended, neither the CM of the State (quite a prominent BJP leader) nor the Health Minister have even offered to step down; rather they have refused to do so. That’s governance with a difference of the Modi-Shah-led BJP for you!

In sharp contrast the Army’s General Court Martial on November 13 sentenced five of its personnel, including two officers, to life imprisonment for staging the killing of three Kashmiri civilians in the Macchil area of Kupwara district in the Valley in 2010 and branding them as foreign militants in order to garner rewards and remuneration. The personnel, who included a Colonel (the unit’s commanding officer) and a Captain, belonged to the 4 Rajputana Rifles and they had staged what was a clear case of fake encounter. The sentence, doubtless exemplary, comes in the wake of renewed indignation in the Valley over the killing by soldiers of two young boys and there are expectations that this could act as a deterrent against such operations. Some sections of the media have pointed out that while the outcome of this case has had a positive effect in J&K in terms refurbishing the Army’s image in the Valley, the latter would be able to build more trust with the people there if the Pathribal fake encounter case (in which a Brigadier, a Lieutenant Colonel, two Majors and a Subedar of the 7 Rashtriya Rifles were involved) is reopened—it was closed on the ground of lack of evidence.

These incidents apart, what has shaken even the national Capital is the tragic stand-off between the security forces and followers of the self-styled godman, ‘jagat guru’ Sant Rampal, outside his Satlok Ashram at Haryana’s Barwala, Hisar. Eventually, after pitched battles around the whole area, Rampal was arrested from his den last night but it was also found that inside the ashram five women and an infant were dead. The violent clashes between the two sides (the police and “Baba’s commandos”, officially known as the Rashtriya Samaj Sewa Samiti) have left 200 injured.

For nearly a fortnight Rampal was defying the judiciary—he is wanted in a murder case—and the police botched up the operation to detain him being taken aback by the ferocity of the resistance as his “commandos” used gunfire while keeping petrol bombs and acid pouches ready in reply to the water cannons, teargas shells and lathis of the police. (But the latter turned their ire on journalists covering the incident and several of them were injured and their equipment, that is, cameras, damaged provoking angry protests.) Many questions have been raised in view of this incident but the Khattar Government of Haryana, which has finally slapped the charge of sedition against the godman, must be held squarely accountable. As The Indian Express has justifiably asked,

How could a cult be allowed to so flagrantly mock the rule of law and taunt the state?

The PM’s Eastern sojourn further promoted his global image no doubt. And the Congress’ own observance of Nehu’s 125th birth anniversary (through a meeting and an international conference in the Capital—that brought together representatives of all major secular parties) was widely noticed. Nevertheless, the impact of the aforementioned incidents on the national scene is no less significant.

Novermber 20 S.C.

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