Amritsar Tragedy: Can Society Accept its Responsibility and Initiate Action?

by October 26, 2018 0 comments

Amritsar Tragedy A consequence of deteriorating work culture, the Amritsar tragedy is the perfect example of the deficit between people, the bureaucracy, and their representatives. It’s a big wake up call for the establishment as well.

This year the Dussehra festivities were abruptly transformed into a nation-wide gloom that engulfed everyone. The Amritsar train tragedy exposed the erosion of empathetic connect between the ruler and the ruled; between the people and their masters; the politicians and the common man. What followed in statements issued after the tragedy, by way of denial of any responsibility or accountability by the establishment and the powerful, exposed once again the nexus between politicians and the bureaucracy. Scores of families lost their sole breadwinner.

Most of those killed and injured belonged to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They were daily wage earners who had left their homes and hearth to get job. Probably the greater travesty of the situation was  reflected in the general remark that came from practically every informed citizen: “Rest assured no one would be held responsible for Amritsar tragedy.” It is an outcome of conviction arising from innumerable instances of the past. Everyone knows that human lives in this case, too, were lost only because someone was not performing his/her duty.

Take an unrelated circumstance. Human lives are regularly lost in the manual cleaning of the sewage tanks. Has anybody ever heard of a Chief Minister visiting the residence of these unfortunate people and offer an ex-gratia grant or a Government job to at least a member of the family? Do families of such persons ever get justice?

The political class runs fast to  places wherever they can get political advantage — be it communal or caste-oriented — without any hesitation and make grandiose offers of ex-gratia amounts. Every elected politician, as also those waiting to grab power, proclaim that their sole objective is just to serve the poor, weak and minorities.

The present class of politicians have their own interpretation of democracy that cuts across the boundaries of party politics. For them, it is the key that opens the gate to the seat of power. There can be no better professional pursuit than becoming an ‘elected representative of the people’.

If you have power, flout it, encash it, use it for the welfare of the family. You decide your privileges and perks, and forget about the sufferings of the people. This is nothing unexpected. Great visionary Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had the intuition to predict how things would happen after Independence. In a letter Gandhi ji wrote in 1922, he predicted how and why our people will not get happiness even if Swaraj comes to them. He identified four factors that would deny this much sought after happiness: Defects in elections, injustice, burden of administration and treachery of the rich.

These four aforementioned impediments are a stark reality before the common man today. These do not impact the privileged, powerful and resourceful. After Amritsar, the elected representatives made full-throated accusations on each other. For them, the tragedy was just one more occasion to pin down their adversaries. They projected, once again, their much-honed skill in transforming even the most inhuman tragedy into an occasion that could bring political mileage to them and their party.

Just recall the point-blank shooting of a young man in Lucknow by a policeman, and what followed after that. Fellow policemen turned up on duty ‘under protest’ wearing black armbands in solidarity with the culprit. They even began collecting funds for the cold-blooded murder. This indicates the extent to which injustice can be inflicted upon by the system of governance.

Who is not aware how the rich and resourceful flout all rules and regulations applicable under the prison manual? Those of the ilk of Vijay Mallya want special prison cell for them, one that is equipped with all facilities they are accustomed to. It is not uncommon to read an oft-repeated statement, “I have full faith in the judicial system of India.” It invariably comes from offenders, corrupt politicians, and the mafia who claim to have tamed the politician-bureaucrat combine.

Whenever confronted by the law in cases of misdeeds, scandals or disproportionate assets, they  unashamedly declare it as vindictive action. From Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi to Karti Chidambaram to Robert Vadra to Bhupinder Singh Hooda — the list is never-ending.

Everyone claims to be a victim of vendetta unleashed by the Government. In all such cases, it is the poor man’s contribution to the national kitty that is swindled. And this always requires a nexus that extends from the top to the last man in the processing line. Those involved are invariably smart, alert, educated and knowledgeable persons. They are convinced that the long arm of the law will not reach them, and even if it does, they have the connections and contacts to twist it.

All that has happened so far in the 2G spectrum case indicates it all. People know what happened, who did it, who provided protection to them. And finally, exceptions apart, they go scot-free. People’s trust in the systemic efficiency is shockingly low and restoration will require Herculean efforts.

Efforts, however, must be made, and that too early. The Amritsar tragedy also highlights how citizens rarely bother to discharge their own civic duty even towards themselves and their near and dear ones. Who is unaware that to watch the Ramlila, sitting over the railway tracks, is dangerous and is a breach of law? Take for instance, sanitation or river pollution where people’s’ cooperation is always scant.

When Article 51-A, listing the fundamental duties, were incorporated in the Constitution of India, very genuine queries were afloat: Why did the Constitution makers, who were so elaborate about human rights — Part III is devoted completely to Fundamental Rights — did not include a similar elaboration of fundamental duties as well?

The learned men and women who framed the Constitution, were not only freedom fighters but also great visionaries who had devoted themselves to the cause of the nation. To them, basic and inherent values of promotion of social and religious harmony, respect for other religions, esteem for the family and elders and preservation of India’s rich inclusive culture and heritage, were being practiced by one and all.

The initiation for the same was an essential part of the traditional upbringing of every child in the country. Duties were the most prominent and integral part of life in India. The moment a child was born, his/her duties were already specified for the entire life. He/she was born indebted to his/her parents and family, to the nature and gods, and most significantly, to the givers of knowledge — scholars and teachers. May be, the makers of the Constitution had presumed that they should best be left to the family and society.

However, lately, it was felt that a considerable amount of effort was required to make everyone duty conscious in times when family traditions and bonds are under severe influence of ‘change’ all around. Consequently, fundamental duties were brought in the Constitution.

In spite of the renewed emphasis on duties inserted in the Constitution, the system has remained focused mainly on rights, at the cost of duties and accountability. The consequences are before us. If those from the district administration, who were responsible for the bandobast, were indeed seriously committed to their duties, the tragedy could have been avoided.

Further, if the assembled people had followed the simple logic that railway lines were no place to watch Ramlila, they could have stopped their family and themselves from such fatal indiscretion. We must as well recall the way out given by Gandhiji in the very letter mentioned before: “But there is hope, if education spreads throughout the country. From that people would develop from their childhood qualities of pure conduct, God fearing, love. Swaraj would give us happiness only when we attain success in this task. Otherwise India would become the abode of grave injustice and tyranny of the rulers.”

The situation, as it stands now, is far more complex. Education has expanded but the erosion of traditional values is being witnessed everywhere. The way out is to thoroughly re-examine the process of growing up in schools and institutions of higher learning. Simultaneously, the systems of teacher preparation, and also in-service orientation of Government functionaries need serious revamp.

(The writer is the Indian Representative on the Executive Board of UNESCO)

Writer: JS Rajput

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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