OPINION

Democracy and Violence: The Indian Paradox

June 02, 2007
Shantanu Dutta

I wonder some times why there is so much of violence in a democracy like in India. Expression of dissent by violence is understood in contexts where there are totalitarian regimes where the iron fisted rule of the dictator allows only one view to be expressed and all others are ruthlessly suppressed. We see that in Nepal, Pakistan or Bangladesh in our own neighborhood. But in India, flawed or not, we do have a functioning democracy and there is freedom of the press, and yes, even the freedom to express is available to the common man to a large extent. Strikes, Bandhs and other agitations are happening day in day out and it is certainly not the norm for the government in India to suppress peaceful protest.

Then why do we have the kind of incidents as in Dausa recently, where Gurjar protestors were killed for their demands or the one at the Bhutan border where Bhutanese refugees from Nepal wanting to get into India were stoned or the one in Uttar Pradesh recently where a bunch of lawyers in Agra a group of lawyers got together, tied up a young man to a tree and beat him black and blue. The Agra incident where U.P lawyers instead of litigating for justice , decided to take the law into their own hands in the most crass way possible, and earlier, not too long ago, lawyers beat up Nithari serial killings accused Moninder Singh Pandher and Surendra Koli a few months ago in a Ghaziabad court

I seem to see two patterns here. Democracy is based on the pillar of majority opinion prevailing and the minority submitting to the will of the majority even if they do not fully endorse the policies, directions and the over all direction that may be set. Democracy presupposes tolerance and an acceptance where one group of people set aside their opinions and views and cooperates with the majority that wins. The run up to the campaign during elections may be vicious , but once the results are out, there is a gracious acceptance of the results and honest cooperation. This does not happen in India, we are not prepared to subserve our opinion and thinking to the wishes of the majority, democracy in the Indian psyche is good and helpful if my view prevails, it is scarred, if I have lost. This is witnessed best in the Uttar Pradesh elections, where the victorious Bahujan Samaj Party congratulated the election commission on holding fair elections and the losing Samajwadi Party castigated the same Commission for holding flawed ones.

It is also incumbent on the majority, to make suitable compromises and give heed to the opinions of the side that lost and see if there is merit in any thing that they have done or in their policies. This too requires a benevolence that most do not display. The tendency of most is to over turn every thing that has been done before with the wrong assumption that a majority in the election gives them temporary omnipotence.

In an atmosphere of intolerance, the essence of democracy is killed. Democracy is after all more than holding elections every five years or so, even if it is done with machine like efficiency, though by no means, should this achievement be negated. Democracy is also about listening, participation, and creating space for others and in these areas we as a democracy have still a long way to go. And till that time, we have to be used to those voices that go unheard and whose pleas go unheededm again and again taking to the streets committing avoidable acts of violence.

Shantanu Dutta is a medical doctor by training and a development professional by vocation. His writings mostly deal with change, complexity and conversion and tries to look at a changing world through heaven's eyes.
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