Is Democracy under Siege amid Pandemic?

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This article is written by Aryan Pujari, A first year student of Amity Law School, Raipur, Chattisgarh

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”-Martin Luther King Junior

  • Covid-19 and rising Authoritarianism-

What is authoritarian? The dictionary meaning of authoritarian is savoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom.”Trapped in a sinister situation, those dusty statues which was once passed by the Britain parliament is in manifestation, I am talking about none other than “Epidemic diseases Act 1897” which the situation deems necessary. But the question is how long? And what’s the reality faced by common man under the color of reasonable restriction? But for sure if it’s going to continue democracy will soon be seen transforming itself into “Rules of demons and age of Crisis”.

Apart from the mass who are infected there’s a huge number who are deprived of their fundamental rights since months. On the other hand, the atrocities of law and order and changing government is showing a clear picture of arbitrariness. At the same time digitization of justice system is a rising fallacy for upliftment of authoritarianism because not every Indian out there is literate enough to file a complaint digitally.

  • Untold story of Epidemic Diseases Act 1897-

The rationale behind the act was Bubonic Plague of 1897 but the way of using it was contradictory. As we know Colonial government from its very initiation was not a welfare government and hence at times unreasonable force was used to segregate people from their families and in terms of travel as well.

  • “many of the natives would rather die of the plague than allow themselves to be segregated or removed” these were the words of the then lieutenant governor of Bengal. So, government officials made surprise visits to homes to look for plague patients and forcibly send them for treatment. Families tried to conceal their sick loved ones.
  • Further, many Hindus were offended by the presence of foreign army officials in their god-rooms and kitchens. Rand wrote in his report that the attitude of Brahmins in Poona towards the troops was “generally unfriendly”.[1]
  • He wrote of how “relentless death moves about spreading epidemics of diseases” in India. He added that in Shivaji’s time, no man could have “dared to cast an improper glance at the wife of another”, whereas now, “opportunities are availed of in railway carriages, and women are dragged by the hand” – a possible reference to plague inspections at railway stations. The other article praised the killing of Afzal Khan by Shivaji, citing Krishna’s speech to Arjuna in the Mahabharata.[2]

As a result of all these violent and heinous acts in June 1897 Damodar Chaperkar and Balkrishna Chaperkar assassinated W.C. Rand Plague Commissioner of Poona and Egerton Ayerst an administrative officer.

The above cited examples denote the ways how this was misused and carries within a chance of the same in near future. Government may not have direct intent to do so but the agents working at the ground level such as administrative officers and police may mis-utilize the powers to serve their personal desires.

  • “Utilitarianism” a Global Threat (International study)-

In these alarming situations not just India but globally there are instances where extraordinary use of power. Here are a few examples-

  1. In Israel- Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was undergoing a trial for the offence of corruption and breach of trust, taking benefit of the pandemic closed the courts and postponed his own trials also suspended all Knesset conferences.
  2. In Hungary- Prime minister Viktor Orban has centralized immense power within his own hands by overruling existing laws and parliamentary oversight have been suspended.[3]
  3. In Philippines- President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to implement “Martial Law”.[4]
  4. In Chile- The government has strictly banned “anti-government” protests. The interpretation reflects that government is denying “right to question” Of general the citizen.

Now the biggest question that came to surface is that after this crisis the government will return and liberalize these overruling powers or not? At the same time there is extreme use of power by the government which is clearly a threat to global democracy as other nation may get influenced from these mis’ happenings.

  • Marxism and Birth of Oligarchy-

As Karl Marx have cited in his book “The communist Manifesto” “Class struggle is hitherto” which means class struggle is permanent. The war between Bourgeois and proletariat Is a never ending one. This pandemic situation boosts the same as the lock down has turned holiday for the wealthy and dooms day for the labors.  This virus can kill man but unfortunately can’t beat up hunger. India a nation despite of its promises to uphold socialism have a huge mass of people who immigrate states not to settle but to earn a bread for the day. Man born free but finds himself in chains of responsibilities.  These responsibilities have turned into a slayer. Immigrant labors in numbers of states don’t have a single rice leftover to feed even their children.

Though all these times this rich poor gap is widening and may end up giving birth to oligarchy overruling democracy.

  • Suggestions-

Following are a few takes to ensure the predominance of rule of law and hence democracy-

  1. In the wake of lockdown citizens hands are bound by reasonable laws but the Supreme Court must monitor and keep an eye on each and every function of the government and must take Suo-moto Cognizance when it deems necessary.

e.g.- Yesterday supreme court considered the problem of immigrant labors and took Suo-moto cognizance.

  1. Temporary laws passed by government must not be a vague one rather should be clearer to the general public.
  2. Government must ensure that the financial policies that its framing and implementing is reaching and is accessible by the labors. Somehow that will act as an agent to shrink rich-poor gap.
  3. It was clearly as lesson as to strengthen the health policies.

References:

[1] AVAILABLE AT <https://theprint.in/opinion/plague-1896-sedition-covid-19-mustnt-set-laws-outlive-crisis/386552/>

[2] AVAILABLE AT <https://theprint.in/opinion/plague-1896-sedition-covid-19-mustnt-set-laws-outlive-crisis/386552/>

[3] AVAILABLE AT <https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/23/hungarys-orban-uses-pandemic-seize-unlimited-power>

[4] AVAILABLE AT< https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/rest-of-world/coronavirus-philippine-president-rodrigo-duterte-threatens-martial-law/articleshow/75342005.cms>

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