Preserving the Right to Dissent

Aggrieved by the growing intolerance in the country, some writers and artists in the country announced in 2015 to return the honors given by the Sahitya Akademi. These authors, a total of 39, had expressed their displeasure by returning the honor as we were hurt by the killing of writers like Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and saddened that Sahitya Akademi is not taking any role in this regard as to why an institution like Sahitya Akademi does not care about the intolerance spread in the country and society. Supporters of the government tried to discredit their unique movement in independent India by calling it a ‘fake protest’ against the government. The supporters of the government dubbed the writers who returned the awards to the artist the ‘Purskar wapsi gang’ and this is often repeated today.

Although attempts have been made to trivialize the return of awards as an act of anti-nationalism, one wonders what the fact that the government is ready to frame new rules on government awards and honors even after eight years shows. Due to this incident, the entire system was shaken somewhere inside. Parliament’s Committee on Transport, Tourism, and Culture has suggested to the government that such an act of returning honor should be considered an anti-national act. It is also said in this recommendation that an affidavit should be taken that they will never take any action to return the government award after receiving it. It is a coincidence that the country is currently going through a Manipur-like situation and the issue is being debated in Parliament and on the streets, so the suggestion regarding the action to return the award in this name is expected to be debated. Insulting government honors. This mindset of associating government honors with ‘patriots’ and ‘traitors’ is an affront to democratic values and people’s right to protest. This undemocratic act must be opposed.

The step taken by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in connection with the Jallianwala Bagh incident is before us as a vivid example. In 1919, the then Nobel laureate Kavindra Ravindra gave voice to the nation’s anger and pain by returning the title of ‘Sir’ given by the British government to protest the brutal massacre of British General Dyer in Jallianwala Bagh. While returning the degree, Gurudev had said, ‘Time has come that the medals of honor are bringing shame to us’, when Gurudev had made it clear that the British Government’s action at Jallianwala Bagh was a disgraceful incident to humanity, and the honor bestowed by the Government on such an incident was a disgrace. They consider it necessary to return. He had said, “Democracy and freedom of thought cannot survive if loyalty to the government is more important than the voice of reason.”

This explanation of India’s first Nobel laureate says a lot and reminds   lot. Freedom of thought and expression is such a democratic value that to ignore it should be considered a complete denial of democracy. Government fulfills its duty by honoring writers and artists. It is the responsibility of the government or an institution like the Sahitya Akademi to glorify the talent of the country. The honor itself is being reduced by placing conditions on the honor medal or the amount of honor. Asking for a written guarantee from the person being honored that he will not return the honor for life is actually an insult to the honoree. It is the individual’s right to accept or reject the honor. It is equally wrong to think that returning honor is treason, as it is wrong to think that the government is doing a favor to someone by honoring him.

Intolerance is constantly increasing in our society today. This situation should be a matter of concern for both the rulers of the country and the leaders of the society. ‘Puraskar Wapsi’ was an expression of the nation’s sentiments against such intolerance. It is a crime to call those who do so a ‘gang’. It is true that only 39 people then announced to return the award, but it is also true that these 39 people fought for democratic values and rights. Our rulers should understand that opposing the government in a democratic system is not opposing the country.

Any step taken against the failure of the government to check the intolerance spreading in the country is not against the country but in the interest of the country. In a healthy democratic society and system, the right to dissent is a citizen’s weapon against all wrongs. Returning awards, and returning honors are examples of such differences. This example should be respected.

One hundred and four years ago, Rabindranath Tagore, while returning the title ‘Sir’, expressed his disagreement with the policies of the government in a letter written to the then Viceroy. Eight years ago, 39 producers in the country voiced such dissent by campaigning to return the award. This expression is part of our history today. This divisive step taken to protect democratic values is not a matter of shame, but a matter of pride. This right to dissent must be protected. Democratic values demand respect for dissent. It is to be expected that the country and society will not accept such an obligation as an oath to never return the honor.

The writer can be contacted at vikasmeshram04@gmail.com

Odisha's Balasore Train

Scary Face of Indian Railway Accidents

Around 300 people were killed and over 1,000 injured in a train accident that took place in Odisha’s Balasore on the evening of June 2. In this accident, the Coromandel Express from Kolkata to Chennai derailed and in the meantime, the Yesvantpur-Howrah Express came there and hit the Coromandel and overturned. After the collision, the Coromandel Express collided with a freight train, in which the train’s engine was mounted on the bogie.

In an accident near Bahnaga Bazar station near Balasore, the first Coromandel Express derailed and this train collided with the Yashwantpur-Howrah Express coming from the other side, after which some coaches of Coromandel Express derailed and at the same time, a goods train Coromandel Express derailed. How terrible this train accident was can be guessed from the fact that the train broke the track, entered directly inside, and went beyond the bogie. This accident is one of the worst railway accidents in India since independence. After this painful accident someone’s hand, someone’s leg, someone’s head, and someone’s torso were cut off at the accident site.

Commissioner of Railway Safety (South Eastern Circle) A.M. Choudhary has been entrusted with the responsibility of investigating this train accident. However, according to preliminary indications, human error is believed to be behind the accident.

It is being said that after 16 months such a train accident has occurred in the country in which people have lost their lives. On January 14, 2022, 9 people died in an accident near Domohani in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal. After that 12 bogies of Bikaner-Guwahati Express going from Bikaner to Guwahati derailed. At the time of the accident, the speed of the train was slow, otherwise, the negligence of the railway system could have made the accident worse. At that time, it was said that this accident happened after 34 months. Although not actually the case, train accidents happen regularly and people fall victim to such accidents.

On January 2 this year, 13 coaches of the Bandra-Jodhpur Suryanagari Express derailed near Pali in Rajasthan, injuring 26 passengers. On 22 April 2021, the Lucknow-Chandigarh Express rammed into some vehicles at a crossing near Bareilly-Shahjahanpur, killing five people.

Earlier, on February 3, 2019, more than seven passengers were killed when 11 coaches of the Jogbani to Delhi Seemanchal Express derailed. Every time the screams of the dead in such accidents expose the shortcomings of the hollow rail system and put the entire railway system in a quandary, but even so, railway accidents do not stop.

The death of nearly three hundred innocent people in the age of science in the twenty-first century could not be more unfortunate than this. More than a thousand people have been injured and some will not recover from the trauma of the accident for the rest of their lives. There is talk of a high-level inquiry in this regard, but if there are any errors, they are certainly due to negligence. If vandalism is possible, why can’t we ensure the safe running of trains?

ALSO READ: Why India Has Frequent Train Tragedies

Now various announcements are being made, including a CBI investigation, but there is no denying that massive human error is at the root of one of the biggest accidents in the country. The government is saying that the culprits will be punished severely, but can the top leadership of the Railway Ministry escape from its responsibility? Shouldn’t the political leadership have the courage to follow ethics like Lal Bahadur Shastri? The question is also why, even after seven decades of independence, we have not been able to bring the country’s railway network under an armored system, which can be effective in preventing head-on collisions between trains. In such a situation, how safe will the goal of making high-speed railways be in the country? This is a question.

This series of train derailments has been going on for decades, in reality, we are not learning any lessons from past accidents. In the past few decades, political parties used to compete to get the railway ministry, so that it could achieve political goals. The BJP, which had formed the government at the Center with an absolute majority for the last two times, was expected to take effective measures to secure rail travel. There has been talk of promoting privatization by running high-speed trains. Certainly, the new experiments may hurt the functioning of the central business. The entire country’s railway system demands well-planned and safe operation.

Any kind of decentralization can create inconsistencies in this way. Safe train operation should be the priority. Only then such terrible accidents can be avoided. Post-accident aid and rescue compensation announcements are being made. But our priority should be to run railways in such a way that there is no scope for accidents. The culprits should be punished so severely that they become an example. So that again no mistake can cost hundreds of lives.

Instead of cheap rail service, there should be deep security that will protect the lives of all passengers. There is a need to rid the country’s railway system of the culture of negligence and irresponsibility. India’s railway system is one of the largest public enterprises in the world, considered a lifeline for the common man. Despite the expansion of air and road routes in the country, a large population of the country still depends on the railway network for transportation.
Millions of people not only travel by rail, but it is the largest means of transportation of goods.

Despite this, train accidents have often occurred due to insufficient attention being paid to the maintenance and safety of this gigantic system. The railways need more than Rs 20,000 crore a year to maintain such a huge system, but experts are raising questions about its allocation. To strengthen and modernize the railway system, the railway budget was merged with the general budget by the central government, but to date, not much has been achieved. Every year, the budget is presented, with claims made for the improvement of railway tracks, strengthening of safety equipment, and smooth and safe railway travel.

The most important question is why railway accidents are still not under control under such circumstances. On the one hand, we boast of running bullet trains in the country, but on the other hand, we are not particularly interested in de-cluttering the already existing elaborate railway system. However, the list of frequent train accidents is long, but what is worrying is that a committee is appointed to investigate each such incident and then the incident is forgotten waiting for the next incident. No one knows what the investigation into all such accidents so far has led to.

The writer can be contacted at vikasmeshram04@gmail.com

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