Speaking on the forecourts of the White House (12th April 1999) Elie Wiesel, the holocaust survivor and a Nobel Prize Winner in Physics, said “Indifference is always the friend of the enemy”. He was referring to a terrible moment of history when a shipload of Jews were calling for FDR’s help, as the ship was passing through the US on way to the gas chamber. Elie said “why the indifference on the highest level, to the suffering of the victims; as FDR turned a deaf ear to the appeal”. Such indifference seems to repeat in India, as vigilantes attacked 15 Muslim men in the district of Alwar, because they were transporting cows. One person died in the appealing violence; others were hospitalized. The Home Minister of Rajasthan defended the vigilantes on the specious plea that cow smuggling is banned in Rajasthan. The irony is that the victims possessed government documents allowing them to transport cows; yet the Minister trivializes the system of justice, as these vandals attack the most vulnerable in our society; the Dalits and Muslims. This viciousness has become the new normal, as we watch with indifference and stoic silence.
In a democratic polity, citizens owe obligation of justice to their fellow citizens. If the basic rights of a community is systematically violated, there should be empathy and outrage; and a will to do something. Today the Hindu society is complicit in crimes perpetrated against atrocities committed by vigilantes who single handedly define what they consider “morality”. And punish people merely on suspicion that they violate codes of Hinduism. Backed by powerful political parties, compliant policemen, the vigilantes have become legislator, prosecutors, juries and executors, all rolled into one. Reports in our newspapers carry stories of wanton violence perpetrated by goons, masquerading as protector of the Hindu Kingdom! In this process democracy has been subverted and rule of law has become redundant. Sadly the liberal Hindus are silent, in this saga of unchecked highhandedness.
Martin Niemoller, a German pastor, who initially supported the Nazis, and subsequently opposed them, was banished to a concentration camp. Reflecting on his own silence, he authored the following famous Holocaust poem:
“First they came for Socialists, and I did not speak, because I was not a socialist //
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I am was not a Jew //
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me”
There is a need to speak out, because vigilantism has now spilled over to our daily lives. The Hindu Yuva Vahini stalks courting couples, forces closure of slaughter houses, even if they have valid licenses, and break into the bedroom of a couple in Meerut. Our basic right to privacy is at stake, the choice that we make on our dinner table, who to be friends with, who to love and what kind of life we want to lead! We must abjure silence and ask basic questions about these sinister trends looming in our society; unfettered by rule of law.
Joseph Story, the celebrated jurist had aptly observed: “It depends on the present age, if our constitution would descend on its children in its masculine majority. Or shorn of its responsibility it will become an idle mockery”. Quite clearly the Indians, who owe their civilized democratic living to the Constitution as the legal scripture of all Indians, can’t be indifferent to the vandalism of vigilant Hindus. In an environment which seem to mask such vandalism as the new normal, the need of the hour is to eschew indifference as it benefits only the aggressor, never his victims! History must not repeat itself as a farce in our country, which has proud record of tolerance and towards all religion and celebrate multiculturalism.
The author teaches Constitutional law