Mainstream, VOL LIII No 14, March 28, 2015
How do we Live Down the Shame of Hashimpura?
Monday 30 March 2015
There are enough flip-flops in the Union Government’s approach to the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill. While it is determined to push the legislation through even by calling a joint session of both Houses of Parliament, as conveyed by the PM himself, other Ministers like M. Venkaiah Naidu holding the Parliamentary Affairs portfolio are still trying to appease the Opposition as also dissidents within the ruling NDA coalition by stating that they were open to considering any “well-meaning suggestions” from any quarter. But still the Modi dispensation wants to stick to its original position of passing the legislation instead of by and large retaining the 2013 Act which came into being following the widest possible consultations during the erstwhile UPA Government’s tenure. At one level it has become a prestige issue with the present government and the principal Opposition party directly confronting each other in the matter, but at another level the government’s course is guided by its resolve to pay back its benefactors (the corporates) in kind as a token of gratitude for the immense material assistance they extended to Narendra Modi and his team to secure absolute majority in Parliament in the May 2014 16th Lak Sabha elections.
Meanwhile the Supreme Court took a historic step on March 24 by striking down the draconian Section 66A of the Information Technology Act that had resulted in arrests of several persons for posting “allegedly objectionable” content on the Internet. In this context a two-judge Bench of the Apex Court has justifiably pointed out that Section 66A “arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right”. This has been widely hailed by large sections of the media as a victory for free speech as the SC ruling itself has described the section as “vague” and maintained that it had a “chilling effect on free speech” guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
At the same time the judgment has upheld the constitutional validity of the Act’s Section 69A which defines the rules and procedures for the government to block websites based on legislatively enforceable grounds. The verdict is thus comprehensive and well-balanced and hence has been welcomed by the country’s activists and netizens without ambiguity. After all, their struggle against the Act’s specific provision impinging of freedom of the media has been long and arduous.
While the Apex Court’s aforementioned judgment has been legitimately hailed, a Delhi trial court’s decision to set free 16 accused PAC personnel in the Hashimpura massacre of 1987 due to lack of evidence is a blot on India’s secular democracy. As The Hindu rightly observed,
The Hashimpura massacre of Meerut’s Muslims is an example of India’s blighted recent past when police action and composition were known to be communalised at least in States like Uttar Pradesh. Since the late 1980s, there have been many police reforms but the record in handling communal violence has been mixed. Clearly, there need to be more substantive changes in policing and the nature of the judicial process if India’s citizens from the minority community are to be reassured of the secular nature of the Indian state and the justness of its judicial system.
The question is: how do we live down the shame of Hashimpura? The question assumes more signifi-cance especially now when we have a government at the Centre whose commitment and allegiance to secular domocracy is highly suspect as sporadic attacks on minorities, notably those belonging to the Christian community, continues unabated despite public assurances against such happenings from the highest quarters of our polity.
March 26 S.C.