Friday, April 22, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Statement of Asian Human Rights Commission on the Anti-corruption movement in India


April 21, 2011

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

INDIA: Stifle not the movement breathe life into it

The popular movement against corruption in India, led by Mr. Anna Hazare and others, shares broadly, opinions of the average citizen concerning corruption. That, the reign of corruption in the country must be brought under control, if it cannot be immediately eliminated and that there are no adequate domestic legal and executing frameworks at the moment that could counter corruption -- sensibly and effectively. The movement also shares another common concern with the Aam Aadmi (common man) that an alarmingly high number of the politicians in the country, elected, nominated or leading parties as its office bearers and/or as think-tanks are not interested in ending corruption. Many of them and the political parties they lead, have benefited from corruption, at least to the extent of seeking, attaining, and if possible, maintaining political power. Where the politicians failed, some leaders of the country's civil society with the support of the media and the people succeeded -- to bring the unpleasant reality of corruption to a point of discussion and hopefully push the discussion into sensible actions.

Yet, the movement and the people behind it, including Hazare, are facing criticism on several grounds, many that are acceptable, and a few unfair. There is indeed good rationale in the allegation that the Jan Lokpal Bill is not the product of a wider consultation. In that, Jan in the name of the proposed law is a misnomer. A law against corruption is an important legislation. When important decisions are made, it is wise to hold as many discussions as possible, involving as many number of persons as possible, a thumb rule of modern democracy, practiced in Asia a millennium before the term was coined in modern vocabulary. Such consultations are still possible. There is no logic in the assumption that the Aam Aadmi does not know much. Such a perception can be interpreted as offensive against the collective wisdom of the people. The civil society in India must know by now that one of the serious issues that plague the legislative processes in the country is the absence of adequate consultations with persons having the liberty to make informed decisions.

Criticism has also been made against the media coverage the movement received, right from the second day of Hazare's fast in New Delhi and the print and electronic media space the movement continues to receive today. An examination of the Indian media and the trends they follow since the past decade show that a large section of the country's journalists are today interested only in event reporting, that would sell a few extra copies or attract some companies to sponsor the airtime. Professionalism, including analysing an incident, maintaining impartiality and continuity in reportage are scarce to find in India. A large section of the so-called 'mainstream media' have reduced themselves to become a mere mouthpiece for political parties. In that the Indian media largely have become an event reporting enterprise. Though Hazare's fast was reported widely, it was however hard to find any analysis about the issue that Hazare is leading a fight against in the reportage. It took time for the media to provide to the common person detailed view about what this is all about. Even in that there are not more than three newspapers that did their job reasonably well. This not only showcases the apathy to serious issues of many scribes in the country, but also reiterates that a large number of them are professionally incapable in providing an appropriate and thorough analysis on an issue as serious as corruption. Discussing about what must be done to prevent a crime is much more intellectually challenging than mere reporting about it.

Yet another allegation, which has now started taking the usual rounds through emails, is to portray the entire movement as a road show for the government. Some even went to the extent of commending that corruption must not be the priority of the government at the moment and the anti-corruption movement is an attempt to sabotage other movements, for instance, the one against caste-based discrimination. Unfortunately, while the development in communication technologies help information assimilation, it could also be used to tell the world about one's lack of understanding about issues, in this case, about both corruption and caste-based discrimination. While it is true that caste-based discrimination is a serious concern, without having a functioning justice apparatus deep-rooted issues like caste cannot be dealt with.

A justice framework that is intended to facilitate social change and thus play a role in social engineering must have the minimum guarantee that it could function normally. A fundamental understanding of crime, punishment and social change is that it is not the prescribed intensity of a punishment that prevents crime, but the certainty of punishment, however small it may be. If caste-based discrimination is a crime, then corruption is one of the impediments that prevent this crime from being punished and thus reasonably prevented. A law against corruption could act as a catalyst in the process of bringing positive changes in the unacceptable state of affairs in India's policing institution. In that the anti-corruption movement must attract Dalit rights activists. Unfortunately the experience so far has been disheartening.

Another accusation against the movement is that it will not deliver results since the movement cannot deal with the neo-liberal capitalist environment that the governments holding fort in New Delhi have followed. It is true that development in India has been conceived as form of licence to undertake 'a breakneck speed plunder' of natural resources and the intentional promotion of an exploiting regime favoured by private capital. To plot India, with any sense about its destiny in the future without depending on private capital, is engineering predestined disaster. The time where a single state can change the economic roadmap of the world is over, some 30 years ago. What is required however is to bring transparency, accountability and public audit into the development schemes that the private and public sector are competing in implementing in the country. Even before conceiving a project, it must be mandatory to conduct a public audit of the project proposal. It is built into a reasonable extent in the local self-governance framework in India. However, corruption has so far prevented this proviso from being properly implemented.

Widespread corruption predates economic liberalisation in India. Those political parties that have externally opposed liberalisation of all governments, themselves are corrupt, proven from their own governments' records in at least two states, Kerala and West Bengal. Not many are immune to corruption in India, material and intellectual.

There are many more reactions for and against the movement that took their turns to surface, stay or disappear in the past three weeks in India. The true test to the movement and that of the maturity of the government has to be read in how both these entities have dealt with each other until now and in the future. It is also equally important to see how both these entities will deal with the demands to make the consultation process as much inclusive as possible. In that, at the moment while the government has shown the maturity expected in a democratic framework by willing to hold joint consultations with the movement, the movement and those who led it have shown their resilience and resolve by marching ahead in the direction they originally started their journey.

It is true that the Jan Lokpal Bill has its defects. It is neither an all-inclusive nor an exclusive movement so far. It is an important movement nonetheless, which has the potential to positively change the destiny of India.

What is important at the moment for the country, for all those who are interested in brining an end to the reign of corruption, is not to smother it with disconnected criticism, but to breathe life into the process by joining the debate.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

W A Laskar
Freelance Reporter and Human Rights Defender
with Barak Human Rights Protection Committee,
15, Panjabari Road, Darandha, Six Mile,
Guwahati-781037, Assam, India
Cell: +919401942234
Visit my blog at
Skype: rights.defender

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