The biggest problem with the activists, most of whom are Left-leaning, is that they are opposed to anything that is contrary to their stand.
The Supreme Court has done well by refusing to stay the eviction of thousands of encroachers from forestlands in Faridabad. Typically, professional revolutionaries, the self-proclaimed champions of the poor, are up in arms, but the Apex Court has good reasons for reaching its verdict.
“In our opinion, no indulgence is required to be shown by this court at this stage,” a Bench headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar said. It was responding to the petitioners’ counsel Aparna Bhat, who wanted reprieve for the affected people on the grounds that they are poor people. There are around 10,000 families, including women and children, who have nowhere to go, she said.
But sentimentalism didn’t impress the Bench: “Don’t give us numbers. For how long have they been occupying this forestland? When it came to our notice, we also passed an order in April last year, giving you ample time to produce relevant documents so that you could be rehabilitated. But you did nothing. The forestland has to be cleared now…what has been happening is extraordinary. This is not the rule of law. There cannot be petitions after petitions.”
It was also reportedly pointed out that “Land grabbers can’t take refuge under rule of law and talk of fairness.”
This has infuriated the activists, but they choose their target carefully, slamming the Haryana government instead of the Supreme Court. In an article in the Indian Express (18 June), Colin Gonsalves and Anupradha Singh wrote, “The decision of the Haryana government to break 10,000 jhuggis without rehabilitation is an act of enormous cruelty.”
This is despite the fact that the state authorities seem reluctant to evict the forestland. Had it not been the apex court’s firmness, they would never have implemented its decision of eviction. Additional Advocate General Ruchi Kohli for the state complained that the affected persons are pelting stones at the personnel carrying out demolition. The court was unmoved. It said: “You know what to do. We don’t have to say anything. We want our orders to be complied with.”
The biggest problem with the activists, most of whom are Left-leaning, is that they are opposed to anything that is contrary to their stand. So, they have a most unfortunate form of argumentation—tu quoque or whataboutery.
Gonsalves and Singh write: “The state of Haryana says that the demolition is necessary because the houses are in a ‘forest area.’ If that is the sole reason, how does the state explain the existence of high-end apartments which have been allowed to stand untouched for decades now? The Taj Vivanta Hotel, the Sarovar Portico Hotel, the Pinnacle Business Tower and the Radha Soami Satsang Centre, along with numerous farmhouses, are also said to be within the same forest area.”
It seems like arguing: “Dawood Ibrahim murdered hundreds of people, while I have killed just 10 persons. He hasn’t been punished, so why should I be?”
If such logic is accepted as the guiding principle of statecraft, we will have to disband police and courts, and let the country degenerate into the state of nature. But in the state of nature, as Hobbes said, there is “war of every man against every man.” Life in general is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
The American counterparts of our desi revolutionaries are actually doing that, “defund the police” being high on their agenda. The result is soaring crime where the American Left holds sway.
What some activists don’t want to acknowledge, and other bleeding hearts fail to see, is the fact that when compassion becomes the dominant part of public policy, the worst sufferers are the poor. Paradoxical it may sound but the fact is that compassion has harmed the poor more than the corruption of politicians and the incompetence of bureaucrats.
Sympathy for the poor in our country has blended with political opportunism, resulting in the proliferation of slums and systemic corruption. The poor settle on government land, forestland, etc.; politicians, instead of seeing this development as a problem, see voters in the encroachers. The local administration and cops get involved—and corrupted. Businesses and middle class households get cheap labour. In the short run, it appears to be a win-all situation.
In the long run, however, shanty towns pose a big problem for everybody, including those living there. They remain with a minimum of amenities, forcing a subhuman existence on the dwellers. Since slums—and unauthorized localities—continue to proliferate, employers keep getting an unending supply of unskilled and semiskilled laborers, which checks the rise in real wages. This perpetuates poverty.
And when attempts are made to remove slums, pinkish intellectuals and all manner of activists try to scuttle the move. Poverty gets perpetuated. The activists and intellectuals write theses on it, get degrees from top Western universities, and keep lamenting the condition of the downtrodden. Ensuring that in the process, the poor tread downwards.
Ravi Shanker Kapoor is a freelance journalist.