On Gandhi’s birth anniversary it would be pertinent for the Indian nation to reflect on whether it has been living up to the expectations of the man reverently referred to as the Father of the Nation. In particular, has the Indian nation been a non-violent one? Quite interestingly, the popular satellite news channel, NDTV, aired one of its past discussion programme on people’s movement in the wake of the Anna Hazare’s fast on the issue of introduction of an anti-corruption bill in the Parliamentary to be finally made an Act and therefore incorporated as another law of the nation. Besides the obvious comparison between Anna Harare’s 12-day fast that had the Union government ducking for cover, and Irom Sharmila’s nearly 11 years long fast for the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, there were some very provocative remarks, but all the same thought provoking too, from none other than the irrepressible Sajjad Lone, the outspoken spokesman of the Kashmiri struggle for secession from India. His one rhetorical question pertaining to the success of the non-violent struggle of Gandhi against the British Empire was sharp as much as haunting. It would have pricked the conscience of any sensitive Indian as it indeed quite apparently did some in the NDTV studio itself. He implied that India was much more violent and ruthless than the British Empire and if Gandhi was agitating against the Indian State and not the British Empire, in all likelihood his struggle would have met with little or no success at all.
What is the honest answer to this question? The immediate demonstration before the nation provides two answers as in a simultaneous equation in mathematics. One says non-violence can still be a weapon against the mighty Indian State and this was represented by Anna Hazare’s 12-day fast which made the Union government bend to the assault of a fasting frail octogenarian. The other says this can never be, as is seen by the Union government’s intransigence to the 11-year long epic hunger strike in an obscure corner of the country by a gritty lady called Irom Sharmila. She too is on a non-violent struggle to have one of the most violent and draconian, if not the most draconian piece of law retained without question by the Indian State – the AFSPA which allows troopers operating under its protection to among others search homes without warrant, arrest people without warrant, shoot to kill on suspicion, destroy homes on suspicion it may be used by subversive elements etc. and to top it all, sweeping legal protection guaranteed to troopers who commit these acts.
On Gandhi’s birth anniversary, this matter needs to be reflected upon seriously by everybody, in particular by the government of the day both at the Centre and the states. The AFSPA more than any other is testimony how far India has stirred from the ideals envisaged for the country by Gandhi. It is true this violence is a response to violent challenges to the Indian State, but the question is, must this have to be the only way of doing it. A judicial committee headed by Justice Jeevan Reddy definitely thinks there are other ways this response can be made, yet the recommendations of this committee remains gathering dust in some file racks in some important Union government office. These recommendations would have been totally out of sight of the public had it not been for the enterprise of The Hindu newspaper, which had used its resources to get a copy of the document no sooner than it was submitted by the committee to the Prime Minister, and published the full text on its website.
No argument about it that the military must be made the backup fire power in tackling any severe civil strife, and if at all it is required to jump into the fray directly in an extraordinary situation, it must be made to be governed by civil laws. The Jeevan Reddy committee had suggested upgrading the civil legislation, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, to make it legally possible to have the Army function under it in civil situation, but obviously there were strong opposition to this proposition and hence everything remains on square one to this day. In a few weeks from now, Sharmila would have completed 11 years of her fast against the AFSPA. Probably another tear would have been shed by Gandhi at how this Gandhian and her superhuman courage is being rendered powerless in modern India which would not budge an inch, unlike as Sajjad Lone suggested, the way Gandhi’s own struggle by the same method made even the mighty Empire on which once the sun never set, bow down.