Tuesday, July 01, 2008

GHANDI-LIKE PROTEST IN INDIA TODAY--AND WHAT ABOUT IN THE USA?

I was reading D.L Sheth's article in the SUNDAY INDIAN, "Collective Power Defies Law", and was struck by what real democratic India needs is a good dosage of justice and access to justice. This is naturally sad because the movement for Indian Independence 6 decades ago was tied intrinsically to concepts of social justice.

Sheth explains the legal system in India, "Even today people with a lot of wealth, power, political clout and brute collective power of communities and those who can command communal backing, do enjoy large doses of immunity.Wealth, power and prestige do make it difficult for Rule of Law to function and without Rule of Law, democracy cannot be considered to have been attained. People like Rajju Bhaiyya, people who have collective powers like Bal Thakeray, would always be above law. So it is strange that while law can be used against writers like Ashis Nandy who put across their point of view, full-blooded Mafias who are active in many fields, can get away with murder. To be sure, some things have happened, but there is no room for complacency. We still remain a far way away from the Rule of Law. The system of checks and balances, when it works, it does defeat machinations of the powerful criminals. But wealth and power even today trump the law. Poor people who have legitimate legal grounds, do not get the help of law, despite legal aid systems. Law still is for the rich and economically well off. This is made worse by extensive corruption in the judiciary."

As an American traveling in India, I need to ask myself if it is different in the USA where impunity to seems to reign. On the other hand, Ghandian Satyagraha was a movement and political tool base upon truth and non-violence.

According to Gandhi, "Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong; it admits of no violence under any circumstance whatever; and it ever insists upon truth. I think I have now made the distinction perfectly clear."

Sataygrahan practices werd followed by M.L. King who adopted it to fight for civil rights peaceably in the USA.

Sadly, event those such peaceful protests were used around the world in March 2003 to stop the U.S. led war of aggression in Iraq, that war was not stopped.

So, what happens if one protests in India today in the manner of Ghandi?

Well, according to the MUMBAI MIRROR report, "Man Tries Ghanhigiri, Held for Obscenity Instead", it is no longer very useful in India to try to practice Ghandian protest these days either.

In the article with photographs by Nilesh Nikade it is reported, "A bribe-opposing resident of Bhoisar who stripped down to his underwear at the Thane Road Transport Office to press his demand for a long pending commercial vehicle driving license on Monday realized Ghandhigiri doesn't always work. Instead of the sympathetic hearing from officials that he expected, all the man got was punishment--the police picked him up for obscenity charges."

The Gandhi-like practitioner is named Wadilal Anatrao Jadhav. He has been seeking his license for nearly three years, but he claims to have refused to bribe the clerks at RTO.

Dressed only in hand-woven khadi kurta and carrying a walking stick, Mr. Wadilal Anatrao Jadhav does a good Gandhi-like pose in the middle of the RTO offices, but presence of media got him no extra help as the RTO would have none of it. Luckily, Mr. Jadhav was released without actual charges being filed at the police station some hours later.

This is in contrast to what D.L. Sheth says is the experience of the wealthy and powerful in the land, "There is also the tendency for criminals, even when caught red-handed to use the media glare to their advantage. Even murderers come on the TV screen with a sense of pride. Villains become heroes. In fact they can become national celebrities even after being proved unequivocally guilty under law. There is no doubt that the laws need to be tightened for certain violations like corruption where the guilty should be impoverished for generations. Punishment provisions need to be matched with the nature and types of violations and transgressions."

According to Sheth, jails and justice need not just to slightly improve bu major overhauls are needed. " A lot needs to be done particularly in democracies where there is generally a liberal and humane view of transgressions and there is great emphasis on evidence in proving someone guilty. It is indeed a good idea to be proven guilty only after charges have been proved. And this is the real challenge. How to keep this norm and at the same time bring criminals to book. In India the rate of conviction of criminals is the poorest in the world. Conviction rates are not as low anywhere and we have virtually reached a stage when cases go on in courts for years without any light at the end of the tunnel. And that is a very disturbing trend."

Looking at the way courts in the USA, i.e. from local traffic courts run by shifty police-and-government types who give speed trap and fake speedzone tickets to people from out of state to the highest courts in the land where a judge cannot be impeached for promoting torture, America, too, is need of reform.

Luckily, our jails--as a whole in America--are not as bad as the conditions in India, but our jail system is still the biggest in the world outside of China and reform is not an ongoing matter in the USA either.

http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/06/27/usdom19216.htm


Lastly, our ability to vent and protest need to be revised in a way that even the poorest can be treated fairly in court and by police.http://www.counterpunch.org/lindorff02182003.html
http://www.failureisimpossible.com/


NOTES

"Man Tries Ghanhigiri, Held for Obscenity Instead", MUMBAI MIRROR, 24 June 2008, p.2.

Sheth, D.L., "Collective Power Defies Law",THE SUNDAY INDIAN, 6 JULY 2008, P. 42.

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