Updated: January 26, 2022 8:43:36 am
When 27-year-old Shriram Meghwal, flanked by policemen in khaki, became the first Dalit groom to ride a mare in Chadi village of Rajasthan’s Bundi district on Monday, he was making a powerful Republic-day eve statement, or two. That it should still be remarkable for a Dalit groom to ride a mare to his bride’s residence, in the manner that upper-caste grooms usually do, speaks of how much of the republic is still a work in progress. It illustrates the bold leap of faith undertaken by India’s founding fathers and mothers. Through the Constitution of the newly independent nation, they were writing out their hopes and ambitions for democracy in a setting that had none of the pre-conditions deemed essential for democracies to succeed — India was seen as too illiterate, too poor, too caste-ridden, too diverse. But look again at the image of Meghwal on the horse and it is also saying something more to a nation celebrating its 73rd Republic Day. The picture is incomplete without the policemen who accompanied Meghwal, and all those who made that proud procession possible — as this paper reported, around 60 personnel from three different police stations were deployed for the wedding. They were part of the standstill that hadn’t been broken all these years, but they also enabled Monday’s breakthrough. The message in the image, then, is also this: A republic is made by the job done, every day, by men and women like the police personnel in Bundi.
If the police personnel of Bundi upheld, even if belatedly, the republican guarantee of freedom and equality to citizens, another republican promise — due process to all, without fear or favour — was broken by officials in UP trying to recover the cost of property damaged in the protests against a discriminatory citizenship law. They played not only prosecutor, but judge and jury as well, giving themselves sweeping powers to assess damage, estimate costs, and fix liability, with many of the accused not even getting a hearing. As this newspaper’s investigation showed, a rickshaw puller, fruit seller, milkman and eight daily-wage earners, among others, were made to pay, and no one was even aware of how the arithmetic was done or by whom. These officers are also men and women whose job it is to uphold the constitution.
The police officers of Rajasthan and the administrators of UP who do their jobs, and fail to, are vital to the republic. They bring into sharper relief the fact that the voter is no solo actor, and elections are not the republic’s only tryst with destiny. At the same time, it is also true that in a country that continues to make and remake itself through its politics, and where political power trumps the governing principles of all other domains, elected political leaderships often get to decide whether or not the district administrations, thanas and lower courts fulfill their mandate. Each citizen constitutes the republic but it is the citizen who wields power in its various forms — from registering an FIR to issuing a summons, weighing evidence to sitting in judgment — who secures it, or lets it down. That is why, as the nation heads into another important round of state elections, the 73rd R-Day celebration carries a valuable reminder of what is, again, at stake. Happy Republic Day.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on January 26, 2022 under the title ‘What’s at stake’.
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