Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A CITIZEN OF INDIA - RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

This is one issue that we, the people of India, need to understand, if we wish to make a mark as a nation. Every right that the Constitution has guaranteed to us as citizens comes with its own set of responsibilities. It is thus important for us not only to safeguard our rights but at the same time live up to our responsibilities that come with those rights. We have a right to speak what we have on our mind, and so does every one else around us. It is our responsibility to permit everyone else to exercise the right of freedom of speech. We cannot judge what other people are speaking. We have a law that should be allowed to function to ensure that nobody tramples on the rights of others.
The provocation for this outburst is the behaviour of Raj Thackerey and his goons. They have become the custodians of Maharashtra and Mumbai and have taken unto themselves to decide who can live and work in the city of Mumbai, what language they can speak in etc. It is a sad state that they can engage in hooliganism, damage private and public property without anyone trying to control them. The police has the means to prevent this kind of shameful behaviour but does not do so. You can see images of Mr Thackerey's goons tearing up posters of the Bachhan family, damaging property in movie halls displaying Bachhan movies. This is wholly unacceptable behaviour. The reason for this atrocious behaviour is Mrs Bachhan speaking in Hindi at a function, and then in a light hearted manner seeking apology from the people of Maharashtra. Mrs Bachhan has thereafter apologised, her husband has apologised, although an apology was not called for. The whole episode has snowballed into such a controversy that the premiere of a Bachhan film had to be postponed. This is really sad.
I wonder how can Thackerey decide these issues when the constitution of India gives every citizen the right, including him, to speak and do things freely anywhere in the country. Who is Thackerey to decide who can live in Mumbai and what language he needs to speak. I was born in a Punjabi family and am thus a Punjabi. I studied in English medium schools, and thus English became my thinking language. I joined the Indian Air Force and swore to protect the integrity, and core values of the country, as enshrined in the constitution. I learnt Hindi, as this is our national language, as per our constitution. I travelled all over India while I was in the IAF - from Siachin glacier to Trivandrum and from Jamnagar to Dibrugarh. I have lived in most states of India but could never learn more than the three languages that I know. Am I not eligible to settle in any part of the country, if I donot learn the local language. I vowed to protect this land, irrespective of what language the people spoke. I am aware that my constitution celebrates pluralism and recognises the immense diversity of India and thus never question what someone does or speaks as long my rights are not violated. There are many Maharashtrians who are living outside Mumbai and Maharashtra. Are they now required to learn the local language, as per Thackerey's thinking. In such times it is important that Maharashtrian people speak and reject this kind of a gimmick by Thackerey. Shiv Khera's saying is very apt for such acts. I believe the saying says 'Protect your neighbour from atrocity because if you donot then tomorrow it may be your turn'. This is our country and we need to protect our rights without trampling on the rights of others.
I served in the IAF, and like all other transferable Central government jobs travelled all over India. The constitution guarantees that I could live and travel anywhere, practice any religion, speak any language and many more such guarantees. We have a government that is expected to safeguard the guarantees given to the citizens. Why does it not act? What stops our executive branch of government from enforcing the laid down law? I have no doubts in my mind that the government has the requisite authority, and capability to deal with such situations. However, the will seems to be lacking everytime a political party is involved. Why? I see the same police lathi charging ordinary citizens who stage a protest or insist on meeting their political leaders. A TEACHER died in such a lathi charge recently. The merciless beating of teachers and the blood made a gory sight. Why can't the police do the same with political goons?
Law and order is a state subject and so the centre cannot intervene. This is one problem area that needs to be addressed. Our national parties are in decline and the political space is being occupied more and more by regional parties. These parties donot care very much for what the constitution says. They try and incite people on local issues and create more and more centrifugal forces politically, and this is likely to worsen in the coming years. We would need to find some way to safeguard the rights guaranteed in the constitution, specially if these outward pulling parties come to power in the states. As citizens, we must safeguard our rights and also those of our fellow citizens, because we all have the same rights - nothing less, nothing more.