The Telegraph, Kolkata
13th February 2018
Today's editorial in the Telegraph Calcutta pinpoints to the fact that it is a sign of sorry times that an individual needs to use the RTI Act to ask whether there is a legal obligation for every Indian citizen to chant 'Bharat Mata ki jai' and whether a citizen can take recourse to the law against those who force him to say it. This encouraging of criminality that affects citizens every day paints the government's ethics policy in poor light and encourages hooligans who take law in their own hands. Isaac Gomes, Asso. Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.
As Alice had discovered about a century and-a-half ago, things tend to get curiouser and curiouser. It was believed, for example, when the Right to Information Act was formulated, that it was much needed for matters of moment.
But it is a sign of sorry times that an individual needs to use the RTI Act to ask whether there is a legal obligation for every Indian citizen to chant 'Bharat Mata ki jai' and whether a citizen can take recourse to the law against those who force him to say it. The law ministry's reply with reference to the Central public information officer's notice in this regard states that there is no record spelling out the action to be taken against those who force others to chant this slogan. Such a question painstakingly put through the RTI suggests that forcing people to prove their patriotism through selected formulaic utterances — the questioner comes from the minority community — has become a seriously disturbing issue, or no one would have bothered. In other words, it is now a matter of moment, superseding other issues which a mature democracy would be expected to address. The query recalls the thunder of the yoga and ayurveda expert, Ramdev, in 2016 when he told a gathering that he could behead lakhs for not saying 'Bharat Mata ki jai' were he not bound by law. As such, the RTI query is a perfect reflection of the present atmosphere in the country.
Even more curious is the fact that there is no record of action against those who force other people to say something they do not want to. Why is verbal coercion not an offence? Since there can be no coercion without the threat of violence or blackmail, forcing someone to say 'Bharat Mata ki jai' or anything else should be treated as a crime. Besides, targeted coercion, as in the case of this slogan, intended to underline divisions and create fear and hostile distance in the name of patriotism, is a malicious act. It should be treated as injurious to the fabric of democracy and a sly way of inciting hatred. By taking shelter in technicalities of the RTI Act in its reply, the law ministry has evaded these issues. The absence of a record of action 'spelt out' against those who coerce does not mean that India is a lawless country. The smart answer suggests that the government is not eager to check a patently illegal act. This encouraging of criminality that affects citizens every day does not say much about the government's ethics.