Against the defiance of ‘integral humanism’ in Jahangirpuri and silence of various political leaders, voices standing for communal empathy remain the only hope
On April 6, 1980, a political party emerged from its earlier avatar, with far-reaching aims and aspirations of making India 'modern and progressive' in its promised outlook. In its very constitution, the party aimed at establishing a state which was democratic, and one which guaranteed equal political, social, and economic rights to all its citizens, irrespective of their caste, creed, sex and religion. Article III of the constitution boldly declared that 'integral humanism shall be the basic philosophy of the party'. On April 20, 2022, bulldozers were sent to the Jahangirpuri area of North-West Delhi — trampling houses, shops, and several structures; and depriving entire families of their homes, dreams and livelihoods. The decision was taken by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, under the direct control of the same party that had once very famously aimed at upholding the values of 'integral humanism'. Which part of modernity and progress revolves around trampling one's own citizens and their homes as if they were mere anthills, with not a care in the world for what their future would hold — devoid of shelter, occupation and dignity?
Amidst the terror unleashed upon the North Delhi neighbourhood, there was only one person brave enough to take a stand. It took a seventy-four-year-old woman standing in front of the bulldozers, waving the papers from the Supreme Court that had ordered a status quo to be maintained on the demolition. Brinda Karat, of the Communist Party of India, had little to gain in the form of votes or fame, given her party's lack of prominence in the national capital. While she might have acted in pursuit of her genuine history of civil action, where were those who had far greater political relevance and say to stop the drive? The Bharatiya Janata Party, under whose control the demolition was undertaken, had promised 'equal political, social, and economic rights' to all, yet failed to carry out similar demolition drives on the more prosperous neighbourhoods like Sainik Farms, which harbour genuine illegal constructions (Jahangirpuri was merely a resettlement colony and not illegally built).
Brinda Karat and the 'modern and progressive' Bharatiya Janata Party aside, where was the state government of Delhi? The Chief Minister of the city, Arvind Kejriwal, belonging to the 'avowedly' socialist party, and a champion crusader of social justice rights was shockingly mum, about the entire demolition happening right under his nose. Of what use are his usual tactics of dharnas and selective fights over centre-state control, when he cannot even intervene to assure the safety of his own Delhi citizens. Assurance aside, his silence on the issue itself was tantamount to his complicity against his citizens. Having a bulk of his voter base as residents of these slums and encampments around the city, his refusal to take cognisance of the demolition goes on to prove how much of their concern lies with him. And what of the fifty-one-year-old 'youth leader' from the Grand Old Party, who often springs on the political scene with sharp, witty rhetoric and comebacks on social media sites such as Twitter? Why did he not find the issue pertinent enough to get involved? What is the use of opposition when they sit and watch the city ablaze? Why can't the city's chief minister stand up for his own citizens?
Before the bulldozers, there was what the media politely addresses as 'communal tensions', and what politicians see as an embodiment of their vote banks fighting the vote bank of another's. Yet, we must remind ourselves of the ideals that guide the Centre's supposed ideology of 'integral humanism' being at its core, as well as the aspiration to make our country a 'positively secular' one (this too is in its constitution!). Evidently, such humanity would naturally manifest in the 'humanitarian' party punishing minorities — in the present case, Jahangirpuri's predominantly Muslim residents. Brinda Karat was noted as having said that "our team met people there and found there were no notices given and that it was completely selective", clearly establishing the sectarian agenda of the BJP. The targeted harassment of the minorities is nothing new, but the residents of Jahangirpuri will have to deal with something much larger than loss of shelter, belonging, and occupation. They will have to deal with a Central government that is intent on punishing them simply because of their religion (so much for the principles of positive secularism stated in their constitution), a chief minister who conveniently goes selectively silent, and the other opposition leaders who don't want to get their paws wet.
So where does hope lie? It lies not with the big political parties, their agendas and their vote banks. It lies with the likes of Brinda Kara — the individual who, despite her unpopular political leanings, fought for the rights of Jahangirpuri residents simply out of her quest to attain justice for those who may never even vote for the Left parties. Hope also lies in the people of Jahangirpuri who, despite 'communal tensions', helped one another, keeping the angle of religion aside. At the end of the day, the residents of Jahangirpuri themselves were all they had, aided with a few Supreme Court papers preventing further demolition. People in times of destruction and suffering are collectively all they have (along with legal help, possibly). Having organised and been a part of multiple trade unions and workers movements, Brinda Karat knows this. This is not a salute to the Left, as prominent Leftists of the Delhi circle were equally complicit by their absence. This goes beyond mere electoral politics as we need more leaders like Karat, regardless of them being from the left wing, the right wing, or the wingless!
The writer is a Law student, OP Jindal University. Views expressed are personal