Emergency and Dystopia

By Pushkar Raj. Dated: 6/25/2020 11:54:53 PM

“For one, emergency was a short-term abuse of power that even the rulers of the time were certain, would come to an end, but presently the rulers consider themselves to be mandated (not withstanding statistical absolute that show they represent below eighteen per cent of Indian electorate) for at least another three years, if not more.”
As we commemorate suspension of democracy during emergency in 1975, it is disturbing to note that police are on spree to arrest and detain people and send them to jail as arbitrarily as then.
Police knock at the door of journalists and social activists ; one can be charged for airing views on television, or posting comments on social media. A first information report (FIR), that named four people, subsequently bailed for those offences, continues to swell adding more people to it, who cannot hope to get released before at least seven years, as sections under the unlawful activities prevention act (UAPA) have been added to the original FIR later on. A chief justice of the supreme court, accused of sexual harassment, becomes a law maker on his retirement. The attorney general calls journalists vultures while two prominent human rights activists are sent to jail because they are said to be linked with another case relating to conspiracy to kill the prime minister, straight from the plot of novel Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. Is it a normal functioning of law in a society? Is it not worse than emergency, perhaps close to dystopia?
For one, emergency was a short-term abuse of power that even the rulers of the time were certain, would come to an end, but presently the rulers consider themselves to be mandated (not withstanding statistical absolute that show they represent below eighteen per cent of Indian electorate) for at least another three years, if not more. Secondly, emergency represented political repression, but present is riddled with social aggression and economic depression as well. Thirdly, after the emergency, judiciary emerged as a strident watch dog of rights and freedoms of a citizen with public interest litigation becoming a norm, but lately, it has let citizens down failing to come to their rescue and, at times, showing apparent hostility against human rights defenders.
Apparently, it is not a normal state of affair in a democracy, but how have we arrived at this scary state? Do as people, we lack in reason and intellect and therefore prone to a controlled society? Or, we fell prey to doublespeak and subsequent self-destructive amnesia?
Doublespeak
Perhaps later is true, as signified in the novel Nineteen Eighty -Four (1949) by George Orwell. Doublespeak is a powerful weapon for changing thought of individual, effectively practiced to steer social narrative, for the objective of gaining and remaining in power by a ruling group. It just needs an enemy ‘other’ like brotherhood in the novel, as urban naxals or Muslims in India today.
Orwell’s Oceania is a state where doublethink is the norm, which Orwell defined as ‘the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them, for example, Gandhi is father of nation, Nathuram Godse is true Hindu and a Nationalist; Gandhiji was a great soul, Gandhi was a chatur bania (smart businessman); Savarkar was a great patriot, he apologised to British for release as a tactical move.
As Orwell puts it, in Oceania, the ruling party’s ideology is socialism that, “rejects and vilifies every principle for which the socialist movement originally stood, and it does so in the name of socialism." By stigmatising Muslims, Hindutva proponents reject foundational principle of Hinduism, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam meaning "the world is one family”, in the name of Hinduism.
While at play doublethink becomes doublespeak, that Orwell describes as, “to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed. For instance, the government denies that CAA is anti-Muslim and anti-human but defends building more detention camps where Muslim families are not permitted to leave, even in case of a death in the family, and children are separated from their mothers.
Propaganda and Mass Surveillance
In Oceania, the government manipulates statistics, stigmatises opposition and arouses hate. Recent media coverage of Shaheen Bagh comes close to, how Emmanuel Goldstein, the opposition leader in the novel, is portrayed as traitor and even dedicated a daily ‘two minutes hate” session, same as some news channels have their prime hour devoted to hate, branding human right defenders anti-national before they could be imprisoned. This is further buttressed with millions of volunteers, led by I T wing of the ruling party, like “ministry of truth” that lace the social media news with hate to distort the reality, accomplishing the belief, “one who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”
The police while filing FIR against CAA protestors is relying on conjectures as in Oceania where Thinkpol (thought police), on suspicion detect, torture and kill thought criminals, citizens whose intellectual, mental, and moral independence challenges the political orthodoxy of Ingsoc. They spy upon the people through ubiquitous two-way telescreens. Indian government’s National Intelligence Grid and facial recognition system is capable of doing the same. So, when the police would raid people’s house, seizing cell phones and computers, they have already established guilt by thought and association as they know, with whom the seditious citizen has spoken and when ,inventing and inserting ‘why’ part of it themselves.
In the country today, the ruling group seems to be demanding doublethink from its citizens, and those who do not agree with or resist this state of ‘cognitive dissonance’ are beaten , jailed or killed as per their hierarchy in society. In this nightmare, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbe may not be the last yet, as ever unfolding events demonstrate.
So where does this leave us as a nation today? What do citizens do? Who do they look up to? What do the writers, intellectuals and artists of the country do? Think, resist, exhort and prevail or capitulate to doublethink and lose their humanity? These are interesting questions that each society answers for itself in its own way.
*Pushkar Raj is a Melbourne based researcher and author. Earlier, he taught in Delhi University and was the national general secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties.

 

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