2019 is coming to an end. People across the world are not just gearing up to celebrate the new year, but to continue the fight that has ensued throughout the year – a fight for freedom – a fight to protect democracy.
True democracy is a two-way street, built on a constant dialogue between civil society and the political class. This dialogue must have a real influence on political decisions. This is why political participation, civic space, and social dialogue make up the very foundations of good governance. It is even more true with the impact of globalization and technological progress. And yet today, civic space is shrinking worldwide at an alarming rate. Civil society activists are finding it increasingly difficult to operate. Human rights defenders and parliamentarians are under attack. Women remain vastly under-represented. Journalists face interference and in some cases even violence.
In the US we saw massive outbursts against the indiscriminate acts of the ICE as they picked up immigrants from their houses. The South Asian community came together as one many a time to protect their own. But the conditions that continue to prevail under the Trump administration are still volatile. The increase in the rate of hate crimes has been significant, going as far as people being murdered for their nationalities. But the people are fighting back and the large protests and continual social media banter often frustrate the President. His impeachment by the Congress was perhaps a streak of hope in the American political scene.
Back in India, on 5th August 2019, the constitutional autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked. The central Hindu nationalist government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah, withdrew the powers exercised by that state under Article 370 and converted it into two new Union territories with greatly reduced autonomy. The government declared that values relating to democracy, equality and peace were the prime reason for the measure. But their blatant desire to build a Hindu Rashtra — a majority Hindu ethnic state — cannot be ignored in this situation. To date, the whereabouts of the Kashmiri leaders are doubtful and the true voice of the people remains seized as the valley still under an internet clampdown.
The issue of Kashmir was barely forgotten when the parliamentary endorsement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act sparked off street protests, nationwide in India. It forced millions, who have been indifferent to politics, disdain for politicians apart, to squarely confront unresolved questions relating to identity, citizenship, individual and group rights, including gender rights, and their role in creating substantive democracy. Police brutalities and vandalism have been reported from mainly BJP-ruled states: Assam, Tripura, West Bengal, Delhi, U.P., Karnataka. Over a dozen protesters have been reported killed till now.
No less than the UN Chief himself has put on record his concern over the “fundamentally discriminatory” nature of the Act concerned and the violence and state repression that has followed. But the government remains unfazed.
We can only hope that the force of unprecedented student uprisings will bring some change.
Similar student uprisings in Pakistan for the reformation of student unions in colleges is a loud knock on the door of democracy. Thousands of students in 50 major cities in Pakistan held rallies demanding restoration of their unions and improvement in educational facilities. The protest was termed as the Student Solidarity March and it was organized and led by the Student Action Committee (SAC) a representative body of different student groups.
The protests in Hong Kong, which have been going on for months now, is again a call to restore democracy in the country and revoke the dictatorial rule of China.
Sudan became the pioneer of this fight in 2019 as the voice of the people actually helped make a difference in the political scenario of the state.
What is heartening is that all these protests are being primarily led by students and the youth of the country. It reminds us of the quote of Albus Dumbledore, “Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young” and “Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.”
Perhaps its time the world leaders are reminded that democracy is for the people and not just a glorified medal that hangs around the neck of the nation.