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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 39

The Blind and the Deaf

Tuesday 18 September 2007, by Nikhil Chakravartty

The good earth of Bihar gave birth to Buddha and Ashok, in ancient times. Its soil was sanctified by the blood of Birsha Munda and Khudiram Bose, martyred in the battle for freedom against foreign rule. Bihar gave the Republic of India its first President, Rajendra Prasad.

Today night has descended on this very same Bihar: behind its prison walls has been perpetrated with cold-blooded precision the most gruesome crime. Undertrial prisoners, thirtyone of them, have been blinded by the police—not in the frenzy of a demonstration of its leonine violence, but a meticulously prepared exercise—ironically named Operation Gangajal—carried on over a period of ten months, carefully concealed from the public.

In many parts of the country—particularly in Andhra, Bihar, and recently in Tamil Nadu—youngmen in scores have been shot dead by the police under the pretext of killing Naxalites in armed encounter. The Bihar Police have now gone one step further in their terror drive by gouging out the eyes of these undertrial prisoners. This heinous crime, committed by the police with the knowledge and consent of superior officers, was not unknown to the Chief Minister of Bihar, not at least in the last two months before it was ripped open by a courageous press correspondent.

The Prime Minister expressed her shock and agony, although she too did not open her month until her government was assailed in Parliament. Her loyal protégé, Jagannath Mishra, has reached a state of utter degeneration, for he described this act of pure sadism as having been “socially sanctioned”. He has lost all sense of shame, not having even the ordinary decency to vacate his office as the Chief Minister of Bihar, under whom this horror was perpetrated.

This attempt at returning to medieval barbarity is not a mere case of dehumanisation of the police force as made out by the Prime Minister. It brings out the stark reality that in this country, we have reached a stage where the executive, instead of acting as the upholder of law and order, is fast turning into an instrument of terror for the citizen. In its place, the Supreme Court, much maligned as the bastion of reaction by many a pseudo-radical in the keep of the Establishment, has been compelled to act as an executive authority in defence of democracy: this has been amply demonstrated by its prompt intervention in the case of these blinded prisoners and the arrangement for their medical care.

This single act of shocking brutality can besmirch the fair name of our great country in the comity of nations, apart from the blatant violation of all accepted norms of civilised conduct. The root cause of this police barbarity needs to be examined without delay if democracy has to be saved in this country.

Over the years, particularly since Emergency, the government has been run in flagrant violation of every code of democratic functioning coupled with the installation of magnum-size corruption at high places, right within the proximity of the highest. Side by side, the government has assumed wide powers of arbitrary rule, authorising itself to detain citizens without trial.

It is significant that after winning a massive majority in Parliament this year, the Indira Government has gone in for promulgating the so-called National Security Ordinance. This is in a sense a repetition of the much-hated MISA which she had got passed by Parliament soon after her spectacular electoral success in 1971-72. It was obvious that the Prime Minister, being aware of the fact that her election promises to the people could not be fulfilled, was on both occasions taking preventive measures against any mass unrest demanding the implementation of those very election promises.

In the day-to-day political functioning of her following at different levels, the role of the police has become crucial. At many places, the mafia, whether at the local or the national level, masquerading often as youth power, functions by illegally assuming executive authority or letting loose its own musclemen under police protection. In the process, Authority has forfeited to a large measure the respect of the police force, which thinks that since the ruling coterie uses it for its misdeeds, it too can with impunity behave as a terror gang against the people. With the legitimacy accorded by arbitrary powers provided by such lawless laws as the National Security Ordinance and many other preventive detention legislations, it is only to be expected that the police would be tempted to go in for unprecedented terror.

But this terror game is not confined to the police. The latest report about the torture of two jawans in the Central Ordnance Depot—again brought to light by another intrepid newsman whose fraternity deserves to be congratulated instead of being maligned as is the fashion today with the powers that be—makes it abundantly clear that the dangerous contamination of violence on the part of the authorities has touched the Defence establishments as well. The bogus explanation trotted out by a Lieutenant-General that this was merely the upshot of a drive to catch corruption, leads one to suspect that the formality of an enquiry may only be a means to whitewash the ugly incident. If the government is really serious about weeding out corruption in Defence, it has to start at the level of the Ministers—at least the one lately Minister of State, as also the Defence Secretary, and not at the level of the jawans left to face third degree torture. The stink of the scandal over the Centurion tank spare parts deal is about to reach the high heavens. It is time that the responsible and the patriotic men at the helm of our Defence services intervene to stop the rot.

The searing tragedy of the blinded prisoners in Bihar has brought out the utter degeneracy of those in authority. Those who are ruling today are incapable of either seeing the writings on the wall or hearing the rumblings around—they seem to be themselves blind as well as deaf.

(Mainstream December 6, 1980)

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