THE recent verdict in which a federal Indian court has absolved some of the top guns of the ruling BJP of any involvement in the 1992 destruction of Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid is extremely disturbing, though not unexpected.
Much before the Mughal-era mosque was brought down by a Hindu mob in a violent, vulgar display of majoritarian power, the BJP had been calling for the mosque to be replaced by a Ram mandir. In 1992, the Hindu far right got its wish as the mosque was soon turned to rubble as zealots razed it, while earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundations for the mandir as all legal hurdles standing in its way were cleared.
The latest court decision only strengthens perceptions that under the BJP’s watch even the judiciary does not have the resolve to call out the forces of Hindutva.
Clichéd as it may sound, the Babri Masjid demolition was actually the beginning of the end of Indian secularism, with the Nehruvian dream replaced by the nightmarish vision of the Sangh Parivar where all those falling outside the ideological fold — particularly Muslims — were relegated to the margins of national life. Going back to the latest verdict, the acquittal of L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and other leading lights of the Sangh Parivar flies in the face of justice.
The Lucknow court said there was no conspiracy to demolish the mosque. However, in 1990, Mr Advani had launched an infamous ‘yatra’ “to seek legitimacy for the Mandir movement,” indicating that destruction of the masjid was very much on the Hindutva agenda. Moreover, a former judge who had headed a commission that investigated the Ayodhya debacle for 17 years said that there was “ample evidence” linking the aforementioned leaders to the crime.
However, facts matter little in the Sangh Parivar’s scheme of things; brute force, distorted history and violence are the tools the shock troops of Hindutva use to silence all opposition. Even state institutions seem to be afraid of speaking the truth. Last year, the Indian supreme court had paved the way for a Hindutva victory while allowing a temple to be built at the Babri site, and calling for an “alternative site” to be given to Muslims for a mosque.
The Babri destruction was a harbinger of much darker things to come. Today’s India, where Muslims are lynched on suspicions of consuming beef, where the community is asked to prove its citizenship or be prepared to be disenfranchised, and where the Indian military machine punishes the people of held Kashmir with great barbarity, is in fact a country fashioned by those who were instrumental in bringing down the mosque. If the country continues on this grim trajectory, very soon Muslims and other minorities may be transformed into a permanent underclass and denied all fundamental rights.
Pressure on judges
DISPENSING justice in this country can be a hazardous job. The challenge assumes greater importance at a time when a large number of high-profile cases are pending in the courts and the opposition leaders are prone to issuing frequent reminders of the merits of having a free judiciary. Indeed, this is a matter that needs to be highlighted and it is a positive sign that some members of the superior judiciary are willing to talk candidly about the pressure they have had to face while hearing significant cases. The other day, the top judge of the Islamabad High Court, Justice Athar Minallah, spoke at a webinar about the pressures a judge is exposed to while hearing cases. In connection with a specific case regarding a political personality, Justice Minallah described how a man used social media to allege wrongdoing on part of the judge. It was such a comprehensive story that “those who did not know me would have been justified in believing” it, he asserted. In another instance, he narrated how his own wife, on account of some unscrupulous social media operators, felt compelled to call and confirm that the honourable judge was indeed in Cape Town where he had gone to attend a meeting.
It is an open secret that at the lower level, the pressure on judges exists in an even cruder form on a daily basis. Threats are routinely hurled by those who believe they have been given the short end of the stick by the courts — in addition to the real danger that is ever-present. Of late, the alarming trend of educated lawyers attempting to put ‘non-cooperative’ judicial officers ‘on trial’, with the scenes captured on mobile phones, has painted today’s judges as mere shadows of the past commanding figures. Justice Minallah’s formula is straightforward. For judges to be independent, they must be able to decide “on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interference, direct or indirect from any quarter or for any reason”. At this crucial moment in history, when sensitive questions are being asked about institutions that are central to building the foundations of a fair and durable system for the people of Pakistan, freeing the judiciary from threats and inducements is an essential topic of debate. Others must join those who want to take this discussion to its logical conclusion.
Increased medicine prices
THE government has been widely censured for allowing pharmaceutical companies to increase prices of 94 life-saving drugs by up to 260pc a few days ago. The criticism isn’t without justification. A report in this newspaper has quoted some patients as saying that they’ve either reduced their daily dose of medicines prescribed by their physicians or have been forced to discontinue the treatment altogether as prices shoot up, even though the government has yet to notify the new rates. Could anything be more disturbing than to see people stop treatment of serious ailments, even if it means serious health complications for them and difficulties for their families? Some medical practitioners have gone so far as to accuse the government of giving in to the blackmailing tactics of the pharmaceutical industry. Others have questioned the wisdom of allowing such a hefty increase, claiming that the price of raw material has come down substantially. Still others want the government to look into allegations of transfer pricing by the industry, which lets it move significant parts of its earnings to principals as cost of raw material.
The government’s claim that it has allowed the price increase under the ‘hardship category’ as per the Drugs Pricing Policy of 2018 to end the shortages of several medicines in the market (which forces patients to buy expensive imported alternatives) cannot be disputed. It is also a fact that drug manufacturing is a business for investors; if they don’t earn good returns on their investment they will pull their money out and invest in some other business. However, it is the job of the policymakers to find a way to strike a balance between the interests of the pharmaceutical industry and those in need of medication. One solution could be to help the industry bring down its cost of doing business to hold down drug prices. The other could be opening up the market for generic drugs in order to provide cheaper but good-quality medicines to those from the low- and middle-income segments.