We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars, wrote Oscar Wilde. That feeling between hope and despair, brilliantly summed up by the writer sums up the sentiment of much of the world as a new decade makes its appearance.
As 2019 drew to an end, an already fractured and unequal world looked even more fractured and unequal. In large parts of Africa and in the entire Indian subcontinent, hunger remained a ‘serious’ obstacle to people’s well-being.
Several parts of the world teetered on the brink of civil strife and war even as people emerged on the street to fight injustice and brute force. States became more powerful, armed its security personnel to the hilt and turned them against perceived enemies, both within and beyond the borders.
States and authoritarian leaders turned deaf ears to reasonable demands, demands for dialogue and for dignity. Democracies increasingly looked like plutocracies and oligarchies in which a few, powerful people determined the destiny of millions of people.
Money spent on preparing for war increased phenomenally than money meant for preserving peace. Even as there was growing admission that capitalism has failed and needs to be reformed, despite growing realisation that survival of the fittest is leaving the vulnerable behind, there is a push back to socialism and communism, the two words deemed ugly by the capitalist world.
The world may have woken up to the threats of climate change, thanks to a 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl, but world leaders cannot agree to a course that will benefit mankind and not serve just their own interests. Even more alarming is the warning that democracy is on decline in many parts of the world including the United States and India and that democracy may well fail.
While it will be debated for long whether democracy failed India or India failed democracy, the ease with which the state put democracy on its head, subverted institutions, disregarded democratic checks and balances, has been disturbing. Indian statesmen lied to the people of Kashmir before taking the unilateral step of divesting them of guarantees given by the Indian Constitution.
Political leaders in Kashmir, even those who supported India, were placed under detention. Members of the Parliament and the state legislature were arrested without any provocation. And yet the judiciary failed to uphold the rights of the individual, ignored Habeas Corpus petitions and allowed the state a free hand to deal with perceived threats of national security.
The year also saw the Indian state giving priority to building war memorials, statues, a new Parliament building and a new house for the Prime Minister while cutting down budgets for universities and raising fees. It witnessed states like Uttar Pradesh turn against its own citizens and the elected chief minister pledging to extract ‘revenge’ for loss of property due to public protests against the unconstitutional amendments to the citizenship law.
The Government, which had promised women’s safety, has neither implemented women’s reservation nor been able to make the country safe for them. Clearly, the year 2020 holds serious challenges to Indian democracy and the people. But then it is customary to be optimistic at the beginning of a new year. There is thus no harm in wishing, indeed hoping, for a better tomorrow.