a) Human rights and Indian values

Dadri, Alwar and Rajsamand are names that must ring a bell for every aware Indian. In a little more than a year these have been sites where a fellow citizen has been brutally murdered by another Indian. They should be a source of deep shame to us as these were not random events. In every case the victim was a Muslim from the poorest sections of our country. Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Afrazul Khan were murdered for the identity assigned to them and the alleged guilt that is thereby claimed to cling to them.

Acts of hate

Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was quick to respond to the murder of Afrazul Khan stating that it should not be seen as religiously motivated but as a criminal act. Not only is this difficult to sustain given the explanation by Afrazul Khan’s assailant that he was only seeking revenge for “cross-community” marital relationships but it also ignores a pattern in the three killings in question. In all cases the murders have been justified in the name of injuring the sensibilities of Hindus. They are, for all to see, unmistakably acts of hate committed against a member of a religious minority. Four days after the killing of Afrazul Khan on December 6, India celebrated Human Rights Day. December 10 is the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly. As an early supporter of the UN movement and a constant participant in its deliberations, India has, in international fora, constantly endorsed the charter of rights that the declaration unfurled. On December 10, at an official ceremony at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu said two noteworthy things. He first affirmed India’s commitment to human rights emphasising the duty of governments to ensure them to individuals. Second, he observed that human rights existed in India not due to some constitutional morality but because of the DNA of Indian civilisation. To clarify what he meant he chanted from the Upanishad “Sarve Janaha Sukhino Bhavantu”, loosely translated as “May all be happy”. The Vice-President was obviously referring to the many assurances of the freedom of thought and expression and the right to life and liberty in the Constitution, suggesting that their provenance lies in the immemorial history of the country’s civilisation. While there may be a grain of truth in this observation it doesn’t count for much when it comes to repeated violation of human rights in India, of which the murders of Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and Afrazul Khan are instances.

Role of government

In the light of these violations, it may have been more helpful if the Vice-President had said that the constitutional provisions are inadequate by themselves and the role of government is fundamental in advancing them. In fact, it is precisely because we cannot rely on civilisational values that may or may not be enshrined in the constitution to deliver us rights that we adopt democracy as the form of government. Historically, votaries of civilisational values have struggled to break free of cultural prejudices and accord similar status to other civilisations. Not very long ago, colonialism had been justified on civilisational terms, with the very term “civilised” being used to differentiate the West from the indigenous populations of the lands colonised by Europe. It is perhaps this that led Gandhi to respond to the query of what he thought of Western civilisation by saying, “I think it would be a good idea.” Gandhi is unlikely to have been any softer on champions of the superiority of eastern civilisations. Civilisational hubris abounds in claims of “the inclusivity of Hinduism” or “the egalitarianism of Islam”. Whatever be the exhortations in the texts that underlie these religions, the history of caste and gender inequality in India and Islamic societies, respectively, show them to have been neither inclusive nor egalitarian. It is clear that civilisational values, in our case Indian, are far from sufficient to deliver us the rights that we seek to make our own. Though the UN’s declaration of human rights is expansive, in his speech the Vice-President took it further to include social and economic rights. It is clear that Indian civilisation has not had much success in ensuring their delivery. If any progress has at all been made in the desired direction, it has been after the adoption of a democratic form of governance; an arrangement that is distinctly non-Indian in its origins. In terms of human development, 21st century India is radically different from what it was in the 20th century. That economic inequality has steadily risen and ecological stress is written all over the country cannot take away from the fact that there has been progress of a form that has collapsed social distance. The rise to the prime ministership of India of Mr. Narendra Modi is the best testament to this. There is social churning in India, with some of it having come through affirmative action and some of it through economic transformation in which the more recent liberalisation of the economy has had some role. However, as India has managed to shed some of the centuries old practices that maintained social distance due to caste and economic differentiation, newer axes of power have emerged. We have begun to see an unimaginable rise of violence against women and Muslims. Hardening patriarchy and Hindu chauvinism are India’s unanticipated demons. These have taken us by surprise, and as a society we appear to be incapable of handling them.

Ways to tackle intolerance

Our task of ensuring human rights in India is, however, made no more easy after rejecting the potential of civilisational values and of the instrumentality of economic growth combined with constitutional morality in achieving such a state. While “constitutional morality”, a term used by Ambedkar to appropriately reject any role for “societal morality” in the Republic, is of course a useful guide to the courts when it comes to adjudicating between individuals, it is by itself helpless in preventing acts of violence. The efficacy of constitutional provisions is entirely dependent on the government machinery entrusted to our elected representatives. An effective protection of individuals, in this case women and minorities, from acts of violence requires the power of the state to weigh in on their side. In too many cases of violence against women, Muslims and Dalits, the Indian state is distinguished by its absence. In a recent paper Canada-based economist Mukesh Eswaran demonstrated that it is possible to understand “9/11” and home-grown terrorism in western Europe as a response to the historical wrongs inflicted on Muslim societies by Western powers, notably the invasion of Iraq. This is a useful corrective to the collective gasp of incredulity let out by Western elites when addressing the violence unleashed against them by Islamic groups. Transferring Eswaran’s reasoning to the Indian context, one might argue that India should contain violence against its Muslims to ensure the safety of Hindus. But such crass instrumentalism would be unworthy of a great civilisation. We want to ensure the flourishing of all the peoples of India not out of self-preservation but because we want to be civilised. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, anyone?

b) Starting over: On Rahul’s elevation

Rahul Gandhi spent so many years stepping up to become president of the Congress party that once he was elected unopposed, the biggest surprise remained the timing: in the middle of an Assembly election campaign in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home turf. Indeed, after the devastating blow to the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, and other electoral reverses since then, it was a bold decision — a signal that he is in for the long haul and that he is going to be undeterred by an election result that pundits, at least in the early days, had all but given to the Bharatiya Janata Party. No matter which way the result goes on December 18, Mr. Gandhi has made it clear that the responsibility of the party’s success rests on his shoulders and that there is no one but himself to blame for any missteps. That he would take over as president was clear since his mother Sonia Gandhi’s gradual retreat, but with a mere 18 months to go before the next general election, Mr. Gandhi doesn’t have the luxury of a great deal of time in reversing the party’s political fortunes. Given the personality cult that attaches itself to the Gandhis in the party, with every appointment and gesture read to see who’s in and who’s out, Mr. Gandhi will send the first signal about his leadership qualities by the speed and professionalism with which he constitutes his A-team. His swiftness in suspending family loyalist Mani Shankar Aiyar was an early indication of decisiveness and drawing a red line for partypersons. Leadership is vital for the Congress to address its three big challenges: reviving the party organisation; firming up alliances; and formulating a cohesive programme as the main opposition party that is looking for another chance to govern India. Historically, once the Congress is edged out of a two-party contest in a State, its local organisation tends to fray. With the party ruling in half-a-dozen States and running at third or lower place in big States such as Uttar Pradesh and smaller terrains like Delhi, the challenge is obvious. Alliance- formation has remained reactive since 2014 and Mr. Gandhi will have to forge decisions on pacts with regional parties, somewhat similar to what Ms. Gandhi did painstakingly before the 2004 election. A transitional moment such as the leadership change also gives the Congress an opportunity to bring its offshoots, such as the Trinamool Congress, into an understanding. All of this will be easier achieved if the Congress can articulate its outlook and agenda. It needs to spell out where it stands on the economy, social inclusion, minority rights, foreign policy, welfare. Simply reacting to the Modi government or being un-Modi will not suffice.

                                      WORDS/ VOCABULARY

1) Brutally

Meaning: In a savagely violent way.

Example: He was imprisoned and brutally tortured.

2) Alleged

Meaning: Said, without proof, to have taken place or to have a specified illegal or undesirable quality.

Example: The alleged conspirators.

3) Cling

Meaning: Hold on tightly to.

Example: She clung to Joe’s arm.

Synonyms: Clutch, Grip

4) Assailant

Meaning: A person who physically attacks another.

Example: The police have no firm leads about the identity of his assailant.

Synonyms: Attacker, Mugger

5) Fora

Meaning: A meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.

Example: We hope these pages act as a forum for debate.

Synonyms: Meeting, Assembly

6) Endorsed

Meaning: Recommend (a product) in an advertisement.

Example: He earns more money endorsing sports clothes than playing football.

Synonyms: Support, Back

Antonyms: Oppose

7) Unfurled

Meaning: Make or become spread out from a rolled or folded state, especially in order to be open to the wind.

Example: A man was unfurling a sail.

8) Noteworthy

Meaning: Worth paying attention to; interesting or significant.

Example: Noteworthy features.

Synonyms: Notable, Significant

Antonyms: Boring, Ordinary

9) Affirmed

Meaning: State emphatically or publicly.

Example: He affirmed the country’s commitment to peace.

Synonyms: Declare, State

Antonyms: Deny

10) Emphasising

Meaning: Give special importance or value to (something) in speaking or writing.

Example: They emphasize the need for daily, one-to-one contact between parent and child.

Synonyms: Highlight, Spotlight

Antonyms: Understate

11) Ensure

Meaning: Make certain of obtaining or providing (something).

Example: Legislation to ensure equal opportunities for all.

Synonyms: Safeguard, Protect

12) Chanted

Meaning: Say or shout repeatedly in a sing-song tone.

Example: Protesters were chanting slogans.

Synonyms: Shout, Sing

13) Enshrined

Meaning: Preserve (a right, tradition, or idea) in a form that ensures it will be protected and respected.

Example: The right of all workers to strike was enshrined in the new constitution.

Synonyms: Embody, Express

14) Struggled

Meaning: Make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction.

Example: Before she could struggle, he lifted her up.

Synonyms: Fight, Grapple

15) Accord

Meaning: Give or grant someone (power, status, or recognition).

Example: The powers accorded to the head of state.

Synonyms: Give, Grant

Antonyms: Without, Remove

16) Colonialism

Meaning: The policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.

Example: The state apparatus that was dominant under colonialism.

17) Indigenous

Meaning: Originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native.

Example: The indigenous peoples of Siberia.

Synonyms: Native, Aboriginal

Antonyms: Expatriate, Migrant

18) Hubris

Meaning: Excessive pride or self-confidence.

Example: The self-assured hubris among economists was shaken in the late 1980s.

Synonyms: Arrogance, Conceit

Antonyms: Modesty

19) Abounds

Meaning: Exist in large numbers or amounts.

Example: Rumours of a further scandal abound.

Synonyms: Proliferate, Flourish

Antonyms: Meagre, Scanty

20) Exhortations

Meaning: An address or communication emphatically urging someone to do something.

Example: Exhortations to consumers to switch off electrical appliances.

Synonyms: Urging, Persuasion

Antonyms: Discouragement

21) Egalitarian

Meaning: Believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.

Example: A fairer, more egalitarian society.

22) Testament

Meaning: Something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact, event, or quality.

Example: Growing attendance figures are a testament to the event’s popularity.

Synonyms: Testimony, Witness

23) Churning

Meaning: The number of customers who decide to stop using a service offered by one company and to use another company, usually because it offers a better service or price.

Example: Internet and cable television companies suffer from a high churn rate.

24) Adjudicating

Meaning: Act as a judge in a competition.

Example: We asked him to adjudicate at the local flower show.

Synonyms: Judge, Adjudge

25) Efficacy

Meaning: The ability to produce a desired or intended result.

Example: There is little information on the efficacy of this treatment.

26) Gasp

Meaning: A convulsive catching of breath.

Example: His breath was coming in gasps.

Synonyms: Pant, Puff

27) Incredulity

Meaning: The state of being unwilling or unable to believe something.

Example: He stared down the street in incredulity.

Synonyms: Disbelief, Unbelief

Antonyms: Credulity, Belief

28) Unleashed

Meaning: Cause (a strong or violent force) to be released or become unrestrained.

Example: The failure of the talks could unleash more fighting.

29) Crass

Meaning: Showing no intelligence or sensitivity.

Example: The crass assumptions that men make about women.

Synonyms: Stupid, Insensitive

Antonyms: Intelligent

30) Stepping up

Meaning: An increase in the amount, speed, or intensity of something.

Example: The recent stepping-up of the campaign.

31) Turf

Meaning: Force (someone) to leave somewhere.

Example: They were turfed off the bus.

Synonyms: Remove, Eject

32) Devastating

Meaning: Extremely impressive or effective.

Example: She had a devastating wit.

Synonyms: Gorgeous, Stunning

33) Haul

Meaning: A quantity of something that has been stolen or is possessed illegally.

Example: They escaped with a haul of antiques.

Synonyms: Booty, Loot

34) Undeterred

Meaning: Persevering with something despite setbacks.

Example: He was undeterred by these disasters.

35) Gesture

Meaning: A movement of part of the body, especially a hand or the head, to express an idea or meaning.

Example: Alex made a gesture of apology.

Synonyms: Signal, Motion

36) Firming up

Meaning: To make something more certain or less likely to change.

Example: Could we have a meeting so we can firm up the details of our agreement?

37) Fray

Meaning: A situation of intense competitive activity.

Example: Ten companies intend to bid for the contract, with three more expected to enter the fray.

38) Painstakingly

Meaning: With great care and thoroughness.

Example: The property has been painstakingly restored by its current owners.

39) Articulate

Meaning: Having or showing the ability to speak fluently and coherently.

Example: She was not very articulate.

Synonyms: Eloquent, Fluent

Antonyms: Inarticulate, Hesitant

40) Suffice

Meaning: Be enough or adequate.

Example: A quick look should suffice.

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