Little hope ahead as we see off a year of violence

While frustrations, anger and disgust surge, who’s there to hear us out? Most of us are just accepting whatever is being dished out by Humra Quraishi

By the time you’d be getting to read this column, it will be the start of the New Year; leaving behind a year full of violence, killings and tragedies. For the past several years I haven’t really had the grit to ‘celebrate’ the ushering in of any of the new years. And this year, the pain has only compounded.  In Palestine, in the last eleven weeks (from October 7, 2023 till date),  more than 21,000  human beings have been massacred and many more have been left  homeless and without food and water and the very basics to survival. Genocide is on; ethnic cleansing is ongoing; and brutalities are peaking. The  very  basic terms –  ceasefire,  truce talks,  discussions and  agreements and  negotiations, stand  redundant as  Israeli forces continue targeted air strikes and onslaughts.

Here, in our country, democracy is getting destroyed, slowly and steadily. The latest assault is the suspension of the MPs. And in this scenario – with 146 MPs suspended from the Parliament – the Lok Sabha passed three amended criminal bills: The Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita, 2023, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita, 2023 and the Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill, 2023.

Quite obviously the Opposition is furious at these latest developments. The Members of Parliament were suspended because they queried about the security breach and the relevant details to the investigation. Strange or bizarre it may seem but the particular BJP MP, on whose name the intruders could come right inside the Parliament, hasn’t been suspended! After all, the visitor pass was issued in the name of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Mysuru, Pratap Simha. What if he wasn’t from the BJP; would he have been spared from rounds of interrogations and slurs and much more? What if he was from any of the disadvantaged communities? What if he was from any of the Opposition political parties?

Even as frustrations, anger and disgust are going overboard but who’s there to hear us out! Most amongst us are just accepting whatever is getting heaped or thrust or forced on us.

After those official and unofficial orders in the now BJP-ruled states of Rajasthan, Madhya  Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, on the sale and consumption of  non-vegetarian food items from roadside vendors, came the communal twist to halaal meat. Also, came in disturbing news from Uttar Pradesh’s capital city Lucknow. News reports which focus on Kashmiri dry fruit sellers assaulted with their ware thrown about and destroyed in targeted attacks on them. All out in the open! Their fault? Travelling miles, from the Kashmir valley to Lucknow, to sell dry fruits!

It’s a known fact that Kashmiris travelling from Kashmir Valley to various cities and towns of the country, find the going tough. Tougher it gets for them in these surcharged ruthless times. In fact, in my  recently published  book –  ‘The  Diary of  Gull  Mohammad:  A    Kashmiri Muslim boy’s Journey from Kashmir to Kerala’ (OUP), there’s focus on the tough times this Kashmiri teenager, 14-year-old Gull Mohammad, goes through, as harsh and  hitting ground realities stand out.

Disquiet over EVMs

And as 2024 Elections near…there’s a strange sort of unease-cum-disbelief amongst the voters to the elections results in the backdrop of the EVMs and many of the connected factors.

Last month, on 8 December 2023, M.G. Devasahayam, a former bureaucrat and now an activist and coordinator of the Citizens Commission on Elections (CCE), sent to the Election Commission of India and the Election Commissioners a memorandum, which was signed by thousands of voters.

To quote Devasahayam on this:  “Electronically, so far by over 6500 voters.  In addition, over 10,000 citizens have signed the Memorandum physically which is being sent separately. This has been done with our limited resources clearly indicating the huge trust-deficit that exists on the conduct of free and fair elections by the Election Commission. We are sending this by email because of late ECI has sealed itself and is not accessible to ordinary citizens like us who constitute the Indian democratic republic.” 

Details of the demands mentioned in this memorandum are: “Ensure the integrity of voting and counting. The VVPAT system should be re-calibrated to be fully voter-verifiable. A voter should be able to get the VVPAT slip in her hand and cast it in a chip-free ballot box for the vote to be valid. These VVPAT slips should be fully counted first for all constituencies before the results are declared. For this purpose, VVPAT slips should be larger in size and must be printed in such a manner that they can be preserved for a minimum of five years. … Subsequently, if need be, the results of the counting of VVPAT slips should be cross verified with the electronic tallies of the EVMs for every constituency before the results are declared. In case of any mismatch, the counting of the VVPAT slips should be treated as the final result as also laid down in Rule 56(d)(4)(b) of The Conduct of the Election (Amendment) Rules, 2013. Forms 17A (Register of electors) and Forms 17C (Account of votes recorded) must be tallied and be publicly disclosed at the end of polling on the polling day itself. Forms 17A and 17C should also be tallied with the manual count of VVPAT slips before the declaration of results.” 

In this memorandum there’s also focus on another crucial aspect: “Integrity of electoral rolls… To prevent arbitrary deletions, the ECI must ensure that prior notice is issued to every voter whose name is proposed to be deleted. This has also been directed by the Supreme Court in its recent judgment dated 4-8-2023 in which it was stated: “No deletion should be done without following due process of law as contained in the R P Act, 1950 and the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960. In all cases, a notice must be issued to the elector and must be duly served on him. This is critical to ensure that no voter is left behind. The ECI should immediately implement a transparent and public system of Social Audit of Electoral Rolls. Voter’s lists must be publicly displayed in the most accessible manner and also made available on the ECI website in a searchable database. Citizens should be empowered to check their own information as well as that of bogus names and duplicates in their area.”

Also, the ECI must strongly advocate for transparency in political party funding and ensure that money-power does not sway elections and their outcome. It must oppose electoral bonds that provide for unlimited anonymous funding of political parties.