The Age of impunity

The Age of impunity

Years ago, Mani Ratnam made a highly entertaining film called “Donga, Donga!” The film looks at theft as an idea and explores the levels...

We have witnessed attempts in the parliament to protect the charge-sheeted legislators to continue to represent people. Those jailed can also contest! If this is not impunity, what is it?

Years ago, Mani Ratnam made a highly entertaining film called “Donga, Donga!” The film looks at theft as an idea and explores the levels of its manifestation in the context of a village, a State and internationally. The denouement for all such drama generally is when either the public who are the final victims of this criminality finally catch them out, expose them; or the thieves fall out and expose each other! The assumption (or is it hope?) is that once that happens, the thief who has been exposed will be locked up and good people get back to their saner, cleaner lives.

Events that were unfolding last week in India and internationally give us a reality check and disabuse us of such fond hopes. No, we cannot get back to our life as usual because the culprits do not go away. They will arrive in newer forms, with newer logic.

The first event: The declaration of the intent to bomb Syria that President Obama announced. It comes close on the heels of the raw wounds of Iraq and Afghanistan interventions and the continuing tragedy of civilian misery amidst windfall profits for the corporations that orchestrated those wars. Dubious logic about use of chemical weapons by the regime is being used to launch punitive attacks on a strife-torn country that is already experiencing a humanitarian crisis.

Till now, the world opinion was often moulded through media to dress up wars waged by corporations for resources as wars of principle. But today, there is a global awareness across populations to see through the ploys. There is a well-articulated, visible opposition to war. But in this age of impunity, the attack on a sovereign nation may yet happen. The world is able to see through the ploys but is yet to find a way of dealing with such impunity.

The second event: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspends Indian Olympic Association (IOA) till such time as it allows charge-sheeted individuals to hold or run for office. There is a galaxy of dubious talent in the IOA; Suresh Kalmadi, Lalit Bhanot, Abhay Chautala and others who have clung on to office for decades, played havoc with systems, enriched themselves and feel today that the sports world cannot exist without their able mentoring.

Over the last decade or so, and more intensely during the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, both the sportspersons and the public have been able to see through the real faces of sports administration in India and finally found an answer for the question, “Why so few medals in a country of 1.2 billion people?”

None of the officials wish to relinquish their positions and the access to money and privilege. They have for long ensured that sportspersons do not see too much success and seriously articulate their real concerns. Today, the stars are mostly people who have succeeded in spite of the system, and not because of it. It is the challenge posed by the sportspersons from this independent group that has made the public debate possible. From within the system, no such challenge has been possible, if one wanted to survive in the circuit. However, it is clear that none of the public or player outrage is making a difference to their attitude. Public opinion is brushed aside with impunity.

All around us, the local toughs who extort from the vegetable vendors, the mafias who run liquor, mining, sand and other rackets, bouncers and body-guards, become leaders in political parties. This does not happen one fine morning. It is systemic and systematic. The culture of tolerance of criminal behaviour has normalised it for us. We have witnessed attempts in the parliament to protect the charge-sheeted legislators to continue to represent people. Those jailed can also contest! If this is not impunity, what is it?

In this age of impunity at the local, national and international levels, all dissent is described as “a threat to peace”. In this Orwellian world, those who have acquired power, time after time, by inflicting extreme violence on those around them, will preach peace as a virtue, cast themselves as the protectors of peace.

The street protesters are a threat to peace, even if they are peaceful. The worst victims are the whistleblowers like Assange, Snowden, and Bradley Manning. They will be hunted down, jailed and the corporate media will insist on talking about them as sexual predators or disturbed deviants. Bradley Manning’s sexual orientation was discussed on the media, almost implying that if he had been a macho man, he would not have been squeamish about what war entails.

In India too the system allows for the destruction of those who question tactics of political, economic and social oppression. Film shows are vandalised, theatre actors are attacked, art shows are vandalised, and libraries are burnt. Those who provide the ideological fig leaf to the vandals get prime-time television space to air their views and to garner more converts.

The Indian law does not provide much protection to the people against day-to-day violence and intimidation. The law-enforcement agencies rarely ever protect those who are concerned about the welfare of all citizens.

Speaking in an NDTV discussion show, Shashi Tharoor has glibly described the dangers of lack of education. He said young people without education become frustrated; “in 165 districts of the country (they) have proved prey to the blandishments of the gun… who are they? For the most part, men without education, unemployable, as well as unemployed. So it’s a national security challenge as well.”

Tharoor’s analysis is neither honest nor courageous enough to identify what really the causes are for and consequences of educational deprivation in the country. Through a glib turn of phrase, the minister deflects our attention away from the extreme systemic violence that people at the local level confront every day.

Elsewhere in the country, the uneducated, unemployed and the unemployable are doing rather well under political and mafia patronage.

Some have even become Tharoor’s colleagues in the highest legislative body. He could think of only those who pose an uncompromising challenge to power as the problem while those who are part of the mainstream game are welcome and to be protected. The system does its damnedest to shield the lumpen mafias and will not see them as the greatest threat to internal security. This refusal to see is the fecund ground on which impunity thrives.

Tharoor, some people choose to ‘fight’ for their rights instead of becoming the hired goons of politicians and celebrities. They also pay a high price for it, because intellectuals who are capable of understanding choose to mix up causes and effects. Someone said, “Lean liberty is better than fat slavery.”

It is the job of intellectuals is to identify the real threat to internal security, the conditions of extreme oppression and impunity are narrowing the choices before the people. If thieves collude and public opprobrium does not deter in a democracy, impunity will rule. The world over, people are being left with no choice but to rise and resist.

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