That India’s political climate has improved somewhat was seen in the election results from what is often called the Hindi-speaking heartland when the Congress defeated the BJP to form new state governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
Even more striking perhaps is the news from another ‘heartland’ state, Jharkhand, that a district court there has sentenced eight persons to life imprisonment for killing two cattle traders, Mazloom Ansari and Imtiyaz Khan in March 2016.
The two men were not merely killed. They were hung from a tree, completing the resemblance to the lynching of African-Americans in the American South during the era of white supremacy.
Statements from the convicted men disclosed that the post-killing hanging was an attempt to convey that the dead men had committed suicide.
The story of the sentencing and the crimes that invited the sentencing is contained in this report on the website thequint.in.
This was the second lynching case in which so-called ‘Gau Rakshaks’ or cow protectors have been convicted in the state of Jharkhand, earlier part of Bihar. In March this year, a fast-track court in Jharkhand convicted 11 out of 12 accused, including one BJP leader, for killing Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh in June 2017.
As the report in thequint.in puts it, ‘The relative success of lynching trials in Jharkhand is said to be mainly due to the steadfast pursuit of the cases by lawyers and activists and a certain degree of proactiveness on the part of the judiciary. Some also say that the police probes were more prompt compared to the cow vigilantism-related crimes in other parts of the country.’
In most countries including India, basic human rights, including the right to life, are finally protected not by elected legislators but by police officers and judges performing their constitutional duties.
That exercise of doing one’s duty calls for heroic bravery when the political climate appears to ask judges and police officers to give in to intimidation applied by armed groups invoking the power of a dominant community.
When judges and policemen refuse to give in to pressure, they improve the climate.
It is too early to say that India has turned the corner. But there is no doubt that many across the land are speaking more freely than they did a month ago. They seem to feel more comfortable obeying their conscience or heeding their constitutional duties than they felt a month ago.
What the promoters and defenders of intimidation will do in response to what others see as an improved climate is not easy to guess. Whether defenders of democratic rights will continue in their spirited resolve also remains to be seen.
The parliamentary elections that must take place before May or June will pose a great test on parties that believe in a pluralist and democratic India and in the primacy of the Indian Constitution.
Will they show good sense, a spirit of mutual accommodation, and an awareness of what is at stake? If they do, then the breezes of change currently being felt may be followed by more than heartening outcomes.
It is far too early to relax. But entertaining a modest hope – a modest, cautious and vigilant hope -- is perhaps permissible.