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Tribune Special

Posted at: Dec 30, 2018, 1:53 AM; last updated: Dec 30, 2018, 1:53 AM (IST)NATION

A society split wide open

Rents in the social fabric, courtesy a religion-based mindset, are becoming unnerving

KV Prasad

To separate or make people separate into two groups with complete opposite opinions — this is how the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary describes the word ‘polarise’.

Is the country facing the challenge of its citizens being polarised? This question has popped up intermittently in the national discourse ever since the BJP-led NDA government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over reins of the country. In fact, Modi had, in his first speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort in 2014, sought a 10-year moratorium on communal and caste issues. Did people listen or choose to ignore?

The debate found traction recently with veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah articulating he was concerned about the future of his children who have not been brought up pursuing one faith — his or that of his Hindu wife. Shah’s comment reminds of a similar statement made a few years ago by another Bollywood star, Aamir Khan, who, too, is married to a Hindu woman. Like Khan then, Shah, too, is now at the receiving end of trolls on the social media, with some self-certified nationalists suggesting that he could migrate to India’s neighbouring country, Pakistan.

Is fundamentalism eroding the secular fabric of society? It is not just India that is asking questions. Last month during an Armistice event French President Emmanuel Macron, too, raised the issue of patriotism versus nationalism with many commentators interpreting it as one aimed at the winds blowing across the continent as also across the Atlantic in the United States of America.

Back home, what this strain can do to the social fabric of the country came out in the open earlier this month in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr district. A police inspector, Subodh Kumar Singh, was killed in a clash with a group of protesters, agitated over reports of alleged cow slaughter. Clashes occurred after the police sought to placate an angry group protesting over the illegal slaughter of animals. The matter is under investigation and some arrests have been made with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announcing that his priority would be to find the source of the slaughter.

The level of discourse during political debates in the run-up to the recent Assembly elections also did little to restore some sanity, with a few second-rung leaders on either side of the political fence engaging in verbal duels and name calling instead of discussing the challenges confronting the country.

At a time when leaders, policy makers and planners are keen to transform the country into a knowledge economy and cash in on the demographic dividend of a country with nearly half the population below 35 years of age, people are being divided on issues like food preference. Efforts to attach a caste tag to popular gods, however, took the debate to another level.

The effort by some fringe elements appears to paint one section of citizens as non-conformists and insensitive to the sentiments of the majority community. While action has been taken against some of those in the marauding mobs that took law into their hands, incidents of killings and lynching continue to be reported.

Last year, during an interaction at Princeton University, Rahul Gandhi told the students that for him the “politics of polarisation” remains a “central challenge” in the country. He said that sections of society, including minorities and tribal people, do not find themselves to be a part of the BJP’s vision. It is for the discerning citizens to decipher the truth or shades of it. 

Speaking up for dignity

Skeletons tumbled out of several high-profile ‘closets’as the MeToo movement gained traction in India from October onwards. Women from different spheres came forward to name and shame their abusers. Union Minister MJ Akbar resigned from his post after he was named by at least 16 women. Actor Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of inappropriate behaviour, while Vinta Nanda accused actor Alok Nath of rape. Singers Abhijeet, Kailash Kher, commentator Suhel Seth, writer Chetan Bhagat, directors Sajid Khan, Subhash Ghai, Flipkart Group CEO Binny Bansal were among those named by the ‘victims’. 

Sordid shelter homes

Balika Grih, a shelter for destitute women, run by NGO Seva Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district was in the eye of a storm as incidents of sexual exploitation of inmates came to light. According to an FIR filed by the police in July at least 29 girls, aged between 7- 17, had reportedly been raped over a period of time. The owner of the NGO, Brajesh Thakur was arrested. In a similar incident, three officials were suspended and three persons of a family arrested after 24 girls were rescued from a web of sexual abuse at a shelter home in eastern UP’s Deoria. As many as 18 inmates were found missing from the home. The couple operating the shelter home was arrested. 


Transitions

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

BJP stalwart and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (93) passed away on August 16 in Delhi. Known for his immaculate oratory skills, wit and charisma, Vajpayee was the first non-Congress PM to complete a five-year term.

M Karunanidhi

DMK chief and two-time former CM of Tamil Nadu M Karunanidhi (94) passed away on August 7 after a prolonged illness. Known popularly as Kalaignar, his public life spanned over seven decades. He was the face of Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu. 


Action on ‘Urban Naxals’

The Pune police in a joint operation on August 28 carried out raids across India and arrested five activists who allegedly subscribed to Naxal ideology. Those arrested were Maoist ideologue and poet Varavara Rao, trade union activist Sudha Bharadwaj, civil rights’ activist Gautam Navlakha, activist Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves. Investigators alleged that they were connected to the Elgaar Parishad, allegedly funded by Maoists and even hatched a conspiracy to assassinate PM Modi. Later in November, the Pune police pressed sedition charges against them stating their activities posed danger to the unity of the country. 

A prized catch

British national Christian Michel, the alleged middleman who facilitated the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland chopper deal on the basis of kickbacks to officials, was extradited from the UAE on December 5 and sent to CBI custody.  


A year of landmark judgments

Shrine of conflict

In a historic ruling on September 28, the Supreme Court declared the ban on women aged between 10-40 entering Sabarimala shrine as ‘unconstitutional’ & ‘discriminatory’. However, high-voltage drama ensued as on the one hand lord Ayyappa devotees cited tradition to oppose the judgment, while on the other women rights’ activists were determined to enter the shrine.

Rooting for equality

The apex court also struck down a 158-year-old law criminalising adultery while maintaining that it treated women as male property. The five SC judges hearing a case in this regard said the law was archaic, arbitrary and unconstitutional. “Husband is not the master of wife. Women should be treated with equality along with men,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra said.

Death for kids’ rapists

Rape and subsequent murder of an eight-year-old girl from the minority nomadic community in Kathua triggered nationwide outrage and protests. The incident served as a catalyst for a stringent legislation. The Union Cabinet approved an ordinance on April 21, proposing the death penalty to those convicted of raping children below 12 years of age. On August 6, Parliament passed this strict legislation.


Statue power

A 182-metre statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Statue of Unity, was dedicated to the nation by the PM on Oct. 31. Located in Gujarat’s Kevadiya, the $430-million statue is the tallest in the world.  However, it has been heavily criticised by the opposition parties as well as by tribal communities that were displaced.

CBI vs CBI

In what was described as CBI vs CBI, the  bureau’s top boss Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana, who is the No 2, locked horns. Allegations and counter-allegations of corruption and interference in high-profile cases leading to filing of an FIR and an arrest caused much embarrassment to the CBI and the government

Justice at last

In the first conviction of a politician in the 1984 riots’ case for killings of Sikhs, Congress veteran Sajjan Kumar was sentenced to life imprisonment on December 17. Earlier on November 20, a Delhi court had awarded the first death penalty in the case by convicting Yashpal Singh, who had killed two men. 


In the news

A hug, a wink & a win

He might have been ridiculed and scoffed at for hugging PM Modi during the no-confidence debate in Lok Sabha and then winking impishly, but Congress President Rahul Gandhi seems to be having the last laugh after the party’s resurgence in the recent Assembly polls in five states.

Tiger trouble

Much to the chargin of animal rights activists Avni, an alleged ‘man-eater’ tigress, was shot dead on November 2 after a massive tiger-hunt which had been on since September. Nicknamed T1, the six-year-old tigress was the mother of two cubs. It was believed to be responsible for the death of 14 persons over the past 24 months in Pandharkawda jungle of Yavatmal, western Vidarbha. However, the killing led to controversy over the need for the killing.  

No M’lord!

For the first time in the history of india, four of the top five Supreme Court Judges —  J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur, Kurian Joseph —  went public to criticise Chief Justice Dipak Misra and the administration of the country’s top court under his command. The press conference against Misra exposed the rift between senior judges and the CJI. 

Big day for LGBT rights

In a milestone judgment, the SC ruled that private sexual acts between two consenting individuals of the same or different gender, or the transgender community will not be a crime under Section 377 of the IPC. It said that criminalising their sexual orientation or choices violated their  rights to equality, dignity & free expression.

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