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Today, we are celebrating the Independence day and it is our duty to take  review of past to put a strong foundation of our future plans and strategies. On August 15 this year, we proudly observe and celebrate the completion of 75-years of Independence. Undeniably, over the past 75-years, India has made huge strides of progress on social, economic and political fronts, through the continuing hard work, blood and tears, sufferings and sacrifices, of We the People. We have weathered social, economic and political storms. We have repeatedly resisted and punished external aggressors on our borders.

We have earned respect among the international community. However, equally undeniably, huge numbers of our Indians continue to suffer hunger and homelessness, and live with little hope. Therefore, even while it is appropriate to fly our National Flag on our homes (“Har Ghar Tiranga”) to celebrate Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it is also appropriate to introspect and review our overall performance. This, particularly because there are still millions of Indians who may manage without rancour, to scrape up Rs 24 to purchase a tiranga, but have no ghar on which to fly it, to prove their patriotism.

A Much Needed Review

A review would address the main questions, namely, “What is wrong?” and “What went wrong?” The first question is easily answered: The aims, needs and aspirations of We the People, liberated through the courage and sacrifice of our Founding Fathers who won Independence and created the Republic of India, have not been realised. The second question, “What went wrong?”, may be answered briefly: Governance over the decades was focussed on political democracy, by conducting elections to create new legislatures and elect new governments.

This is not to argue that governance and administration was or is an easy task, but successive legislatures and governments showed little inclination to create a democratic society with democratic economics. It is well known that, barring the first few years after Independence, people’s representatives almost across the political spectrum, were mostly engaged in acquiring money and muscle power to perpetuate their public office, or deny it to opponents.

Even if they were aware of the details of our Constitution, they neglected their oath of office and constitutional duty towards the people and the country. Without intending to dampen the celebratory mood of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it is necessary to note that successive elected State and Central legislatures and governments up to the present, bear responsibilities defined in the Constitutional Directive Principles of State Policy.

Every elected representative takes an oath to perform their Constitutional duty. Four examples show how the Directive Principles of State Policy have been neglected, even flouted, by elected representatives in legislatures and governments. The examples apply across the socio-economic spectrum, but particularly to Dalits (SCs) and Adivasis (STs). The reason for mentioning Dalits and Adivasis, is that they comprise 16.6% and 8.6% respectively, of India’s 1.35-billion population (2021 Census), and these 25.2% have been and continue to be, socially and economically India’s weakest and most oppressed.

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Social Justice

“The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life”. Caste and untouchability was abolished by our Constitution, and Parliament enacted The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, to prevent atrocities and hate crimes against SCs and STs. Despite this, successive governments have done very little to create a social order to provide justice to Dalit and Adivasi people.

This is evidenced by frequent reports of “upper caste” persons committing atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis. The perpetrators of atrocities even include persons in State agencies, and governments turn a blind eye, in more recent times, even actively conniving to allow the perpetrators to get away.

Economic Inequality

“The State shall, in particular, strive to minimise the inequalities in income, and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations”. Rather than minimising income inequality, the economic reforms of the 1991 New Economic Policy actually widened the economic gap into the present unbridgeable gulf.

Thus today, the richest 1% of Indians own 58% of national wealth, and the bottom 10% of the Indian society own 0.2% of national wealth, while the richest 10% of Indians owning 80% of the wealth have been getting steadily richer. The lives of people at the bottom 10% are characterised by low wages, long working hours, and lack of basic services such as health care, drinking water and sanitation. The NEP-1991 economic reforms were carefully promoted from 1996 onwards, and since 2014, they have been driven vigorously. The unfortunate result is that today, the vast majority of our 1.35-billion citizens are in very difficult economic and financial circumstances. It does not take much thinking to understand that the majority of these unfortunates are from the bottom 25.2%.

Empowerment

“The State shall take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government”. Parliament enacted The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA), to ensure self-governance for people living in ‘Schedule V’ Areas, through traditional Gram Sabhas.

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The PESA recognised the traditional rights of Adivasi people over community resources of land, water, and forests. According to PESA, every Gram Sabha is competent to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the people, their cultural identity, community resources and the customary mode of dispute resolution, and approve of the plans, programmes and projects for social and economic development, before such plans, programmes and projects are taken up for implementation.

However, successive state and central governments have reduced or circumvented the power of the Gram Sabhas to promote business of mining and other industrial corporations (e.g., bauxite mining in Niyamgiri, Odisha). The powers given by PESA to exercise rights over community resources are almost non-existent in many states.

Similarly, according to The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, Adivasi Gram Sabhas have a definite right over the forests, and any sort of forest diversion or eviction should have their informed consent. Unfortunately Governments have substantially reduced the pre-eminence of Gram Sabhas in matters of forest governance.

Gram Sabhas are now neither the final authority in settlement of rights, nor is its consent mandatory in diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes. The authority has been transferred to the sub divisional committee. Representation of forest-dwelling tribes in the sub divisional-level committee has been excluded, thus providing opportunity to departmental officers to exercise their authority on decisions.

Gram Sabhas have no role when it comes to demarcation of a protected area. The Government reserves the right to decide the area, and whether there would be eviction or not – the Gram Sabha only gives its consent on the resettlement package. People’s power has been degraded or denied.

Health and Nutrition

“The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties”. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2019-21, India has seen no significant improvement in health and nutritional status.

The data shows that 7.7% of children are severely wasted, 19.3% are wasted, and 35.5% are stunted. That is, 62.5% of children are underfed, undernourished and unhealthy. They are from families which are at the bottom of India’s socio-economic layers, lacking the most basic roti-kapda-makaan. The survivors among these children who attain adulthood and working age, are India’s citizens of coming years. Here again, it does not take much effort to understand that the majority of these unfortunates are from the bottom 25.2%.

This tragic situation did not occur in just the past few years, but is the result of decades of neglect of primary duty by successive governments. Even as India’s food production has increased over the years, food stored in FCI warehouses rots or feeds rodents, and food is exported for corporate profit.

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Persisting hunger and falling health parameters are the result of policy made by successive governments, in neglect of their primary duty. Reality is that hungry and homeless people are unlikely to understand, leave alone empathise with the enthusiasm of celebrating 75-years of Independence, with displays of patriotism flying Tirangas on homes, and full page ads of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav programs.

To paraphrase Andy Borowitz, “It would be nice to spend crores of rupees on food and shelter for the hungry and homeless, but right now that money is desperately needed for political ads”.

Other reflections of Independence

The execution of Sepoy Mangal Pandey on April 8, 1857, by the officers of the Bengal Army of the British East India Company sparked our Independence movement. The rebellion among Indian soldiers that followed, caused the ruling British monarch Queen Victoria to proclaim in 1858, that India would be governed by and in the name of “the Crown”. From being a British corporate territorial possession, India became a political entity as a British colony.

In the following nine decades upto 1947, tens of thousands of common people across India, fought, suffered and died for freedom from British rule, and political independence. It is in this context, that the idea of a flag to represent the idea of India and its people, was born. After various proposals and designs, it culminated by adopting our present national flag, lovingly called “Tiranga”, on July 27, 1947. All over our country, this Tiranga was hoisted on August 15, 1947, as the British union jack was lowered and removed, signifying our Independence.

A Constituent Assembly was proposed in 1934. It was founded in November 1946, and assembled for the first time on December 9, 1946. It functioned as Independent India’s Provisional Parliament. Meant “to free India through a new Constitution, to feed the starving people, and to clothe the naked masses, and to give every Indian the fullest opportunity to develop himself according to his capacity”, the Constitution of India was formally adopted on 26 November 1949, and promulgated on 26 January 1950. On that day, We the People constituted India as a sovereign democratic Republic, and finally broke free of the British yoke.

The Constitution of India set out and enabled implementation of the fundamental values of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. It recognised the hopes and aspirations of We the People. #KhabarLive #hyderabadlive #hydnews