A Murder and Anti-Corruption Protests in India

August 16, 2011

It’s crazy season now in India’s capital. But the normally darkly humorous unpredictability of Indian politics has now taken a dark turn with the tragic murder of a right to information activist Shehla Masood in front of her home in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh.

She was a twitter follower of mine (you can also follow me at @acharya_dude) and I admired herĀ perseveranceĀ and thirst for social justice. I only hope that her dreams of an end to corruption and human rights violations will be fulfilled in the long term. In the short term, the authorities must launch an investigation into this murder and take action to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators of this crime.

The murder of Shehla Masood comes in the context of a series of protests led by Anna Hazare aimed at forcing the Central government to create a Lok Pal (Ombudsman) that has the power to investigate and initiate prosecutions of corruption of government officials.

This is the second stage of protests in response to government foot-dragging after promising to Hazare that they would take up the bill this month. Now, nothing in India moves that quickly but the government’s efforts to placate the protesters have been pathetic even by the normal expectations of India-watchers. In any case, the Lok Pal activists weren’t buying the watered down bill and launched a new round of protests starting the day after India’s Independence Day (which is August 15).

The government could have taken the easy way out and allow the protests and hunger strikes to happen and see what happens. Each day in India, there are probably hundreds of protests that go on without any problems. But instead, the government, already facing low approval ratings and a flailing leadership, decided to panic and invoked Section 144 of the criminal code for parts of Delhi which forbids gatherings of more than 4 individuals. Section 144 is supposed to be used only in cases of a grave emergency. This ain’t one of those cases.

In any case, the police arrested a bunch of people including Anna Hazare to try to stem the protests (protests in other cities happened without incident). A couple hours later, the government seemed to reverse itself and released everyone. But as of now, Anna Hazare is refusing to leave the jail cell forcing the government into even more of a PR nightmare of its own making.

As of now, we definitely don’t know if the protesters will be successful. But we do know that the memory of Shehla Masood will live on as they continue those protests against corruption and for a brighter future for all Indians.

For more about human rights in South Asia, follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/acharya_dude