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15 August, 2007

INDIA: Sixty years of transformation from colony into dysfunctional state

The following is the text of a statement on India, issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the eve of the country's 60th Independence Day

Sixty years before India took a quantum leap in its history from being a colony to that of an independent nation. Soon it was a declared to be a democratic, socialist republic. Wheels of administration started turning in a different direction where administration meant no more exploitation, but managing a country and directing its people to a better destiny.

The oiling and greasing of these wheels were handled by people who had some or even little experience in maintaining a system to cater the interests of the people. Yet the administration did not buckle and the people trusted in it. Six decades since then the administrative machinery in India appears to have lost its direction and the confidence it once enjoyed and expected from the people.

The state of affairs in India as of today concerning its civil administration and the other pillars of democracy is similar to the psyche of a raging mob. There is no control or discipline whatsoever. Wherever and to whatever the mob turned its attention to destruction is the certain and immediate result. When such destruction, in the Indian context, is state sponsored, the damages are irreparable.

The union government of India while is busy of custom tailoring a government that could hold power for the rest of its term and probably to return to power for yet another term, their counterparts in the states are engaged in similar exercises within their jurisdictions. For this every cards available are being used. Caste, religion and money are constantly used for gerrymandering administrative decisions. The police, prosecution and judiciary are misused to keep the protesting voices at bay.

The three pillars of democracy - the judiciary, executive and legislature in India as of today paints the picture of complete disfunctionalism. The judiciary in India which was considered once as an independent voice is no more considered so. The judiciary which once played a decisive role reining the powers of the government whenever the government tried to depart from the democratic process, has now lost the trust of the people.

A court system that had responded by appreciating public interest litigations have now stooped down to a stage where the courts itself are asking the public to settle disputes outside the court. The courts in India have compromised its legitimacy and values of impartiality for mere survival. This compromise is now being forced upon the people by the courts themselves being advocates of out of court settlement by way of alternate dispute resolution for almost everything currently under the judicial realm.

More and more the ordinary people shy away from approaching the courts in India. This is because of the inordinate delay in deciding cases and also due to lack of transparency in the courts’ own actions. There is also a demonstrable change in the attitude of the judiciary towards people’s cause.

The court that once said the state has a duty to provide adequate housing to the people in the Bombay Municipal Corporation case has taken u-turn by justifying forced evictions in its recent judgments. While the courts have a change in attitude towards addressing the ordinary people’s concern about state neglect, the courts itself are victims of neglect by the state. Thousands of cases are pending decision before the various courts in India due to pure lack of proper infrastructure.

The executive also have demonstrated through their lack of action and brute intervention that they are no more people centric. A direct result of a failing executive machinery is the alarming number of starvation deaths in India. India as of today does not face a food crisis. However thousands in India die from acute starvation and malnutrition. One tenth of the country’s population goes to bed hearing the cries of their children for food. Starvation and malnutrition is a direct result of executive malfunction. Deaths from starvation are gruesome examples of how a failed executive forces death upon the people it is supposed to serve.

Yet another limb of the executive, the police and other law enforcement agencies are used by the state not as a segment of the service sector, but as an agency to impart fear upon the people. The extra judicial killings by the armed forces in Manipur and the clampdown of human rights work in states like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat are examples. As of today engaging in human rights work in any of these states, including the Northeastern states is as good as declaring war with the state. Human rights activists are seen not as a support mechanism for the people but as anti-state activists. The continuing detention of Dr. Binayek Sen in Chhattisgarh state is just one example.

Corruption in public life has not hit such high levels at any point of time in India. The elected representatives that allege that they represent people’s consensus in fact now represent corporate, religious or other partisan interests. Given the affinity of various political party leaders in India to fundamentalist religious interests, India can hardly be referred to as a secular country. Volatile and provocative statements made by political party leaders raising unwarranted suspicion upon minority communities and the legislative process they have initiated whenever they had an opportunity is a scary example for this.

What cost has India paid in mismanaging affairs to this extent? Probably there are more Indians living in India now under fear than prior to 1947. India has lost many times more lives after independence than in its fight for independence. As of today, India is a country of contradictions.

While the middle class and the neo-rich community tries to fortify their riches and their holds in places of authority, a major portion of the country’s population suffer from acute poverty and starvation. With its abundance of resources and possibilities India need not be what it is now.

Beyond the landscapes of crowded cities and special economic zones the rural India as of today suffers from the pitfalls of a dysfunctional state. Sixty years since independence, India has reduced itself to a country that is continuously failing in addressing the needs of its people - a transformation from a colony to a dysfunctional state.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984

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