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Raj Kumar Makkad (Adv P & H High Court Chandigarh)     10 December 2009


It's that day of the year when we doff our caps to human rights and ceremoniously pretend to be civilised. It's International Human Rights Day. We nod and speechify, wrapped snugly in the cosy comfort of tokenism that protects so well from cold logic and chilling facts. Meanwhile, all kinds of human rights violations continue — both dramatic and endemic. We don't even notice.

Much has been written about the violation of human rights by the Army and the police, about extra-judicial killings, custodial deaths, torture as a tool of investigation. We have risen in fierce protest against the lumpenisation of society and politics, the hooliganism that kills human rights. Valiant activism has certainly improved our human rights situation, but mainly for well-identified, ruthless crimes. Violations with an impressive nametag. Like: "Name: Sohrabuddin's Encounter Killing; Designation: Top Crime (State-sponsored Murder)". But there are countless violations of human and civil rights that we don't recognise.

It's just the way we are. We beat the wife; we neglect the daughter's health and education (but we give equally to the son and daughter — what goes into his education we save for her marriage!); we magnanimously give Dalits jobs, but as janitors and cleaners. We encounter and shrug off such hidden violations of human and civil rights every day. What is normal to us can be very abnormal to the society.

Take for example the ruckus in Parliament this week during the debate over the Liberhan Report. Congress MP Beni Prasad Varma referred to former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee as "neech" — or "lowly". This was silly, offensive and unnecessary. The BJP was up in a flassh, screaming their guts out for an apology. Mr Varma expressed regret. But the BJP would not let the debate continue. They howled and hollered through the one-hour-long statement of the Union home minister P. Chidamabaram, drowning out the government's reply to the Liberhan Commission's Report on the Babri Masjid demolition with shrill screams and even slogans of "Jai Shri Ram!" Apparently, paper balls were thrown at the home minister. Senior BJP MPs like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj proudly declared that their leader had been insulted so they would not allow Parliament to function. The home minister apologised, the offensive remark was expunged from the records, but the BJP was insatiable. The apologies were not good enough. Now the Prime Minister, just back from Russia, has apologised elaborately. Let's see if that satisfies the rowdies.

We don't find anything gravely wrong with this. At best, we cluck and smirk and say we are like this only. MPs cast decency to the winds, continuously interrupt speeches in the highest debating space in the country and disrupt proceedings that cost crores in taxpayers' money.

The BJP seems to specialise in this rowdy conduct in Parliament. We remember the pathetic scene on live national television last year when the BJP marched to the well of the House and refused to let Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reply to the no confidence motion against him. We remember the Prime Minister's gentle attempts to deliver the speech, Speaker Somnath Chatterjee's exasperation and the indecent screaming of the BJP members. The nation was not allowed to hear what the Prime Minister had to say even on such a historic day, when the government seemed likely to fall.

In actual terms, this violates free speech, which is the freedom to speak without censorship or limitation. When our parliamentarians don't allow their colleagues to speak, they violate this fundamental human right. They also break several other rules of parliamentary behaviour, because of which they can — and should — be punished. But nothing happens.

"You are working overtime to finish democracy!" said Somnath Chatterjee, then Lok Sabha Speaker, demanding decorum in Parliament. Later, he referred some MPs to the privileges committee for disrupting proceedings. It set a precedent but didn't work. The petulant MPs, members of the BJP and its allies, complained loudly, then coyly sat with finger on their lips in the House. After a week of suspense, our elected representatives promised to behave and Mr Chatterjee let them off.

The wildly gesticulating lunatics screaming and rushing about in the Lok Sabha and periodically clustering around a helpless Speaker that you see on live television are supposed to represent you and me. Seeing our chosen representatives perform in Parliament doesn't inspire confidence. And their complete disinterest in debate and disrespect for rules and basic decency makes you seriously wonder about our democracy.
Intimidation, with its country cousin social censorship, destroys democratic freedoms. We see it in the vandalism and goondagiri against artists, authors, libraries, film theatres, even media houses. Take offence at anything at all, and destroy whatever you can. It is appalling that this attack on our freedom of speech continues not just on the streets but also in Parliament. And no one is held accountable.

Surely the rulebook gives the Speaker some power to control disruptive MPs who are a blot on democracy? Frogmarching them out of the House would be a start. By not making MPs accountable, even when we can see who these rowdies are and have them all on camera, by allowing the whole nation to see that such lowly conduct is acceptable in the highest assembly of lawmakers, we are encouraging everyone to disregard the rule of law.

Like charity, democratic freedoms also begin at home. We need to learn to respect human and civil rights in the House first before we can even pretend to stand up for them elsewhere.


 1 Replies

Anil Agrawal (Retired)     12 December 2009

 One more human right.

Rights activist slams violence

MUMBAI: The issues of famine, war and genocide formed the crux of human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen's speech at a seminar organised by St 


Xavier's on Friday. A paediatrician from Chhattisgarh, Sen was imprisoned for two years on grounds of being a Naxal sympathiser. "Anyone who questions the government is called a Maoist sympathiser,'' he said, adding that he condemned all violence. Sen said 45% of children and 33% of adults in India were malnourished-a situation he described as a "famine walking by our side.'' 

Describing his stint in jail, Sen said there should be a sign at the entrance saying `Abandon Hope All You Who Enter Here'.

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