Inter-caste, inter-community, inter-state marriages are unremarkable events in urban India, today. On the other hand, many parts of rural India remain gripped in orthodox beliefs and it becomes a life and death affair. More than that, it provides an opportunity for unscrupulous politicians to try and harvest communal votes by fanning people’s emotions. Much too often, government machinery that ought to be functioning strictly and cold-bloodedly according to the law is suborned into playing the communal game by its political masters. This is why the protocol in communal matters has to be very strictly laid down and implemented by a highly professional administration.
It is possible for the well-to-do classes to ignore such issues most of the time in the belief that people should stew in the juices of their own making. However, ignoring ever larger sections of the population on an increasing range of issues has led to entire stretches of India being surrendered to forces inimical to democracy, be it the khap panchayats in Haryana and Western UP, the Reds in tribal India, or separatists elsewhere. All of this is has become what is known as ‘fly-over’ territory – the wealthy and powerful flying from one point to another without concern for what lies below. Unfortunately, instead of such areas shrinking, they are expanding.
The disturbances in Roorkee on the issue of an inter-community marriage going across the state line into UP are symptomatic of this phenomenon. Uttarakhand remains by and large free of narrow-mindedness in this regard. However, what is to be done if the problem spills over from UP, or the prospect of Lok Sabha elections has political parties drooling at the mouth in the expectation of encashing it? Is civilised society going to wait always for such incidents to create sudden complications at unexpected and inconvenient times, or should it become involved in pushing back the borders of such territories that do not abide by the spirit and letter of the Constitution?
People have seen only recently the sudden break-out of communal violence in Muzzaffarnagar which neither the system nor the government has been able to deal with. It has left thousands of people permanently affected in a plethora of ways. In spite of claims made by the ruling party of the state and the wisdom of ‘experts’ forever lecturing the nation on secularism, no answers have been found to this specific incident. In fact, every time such an event occurs, whether it is limited to a runaway couple or entire villages, the hurt inflicted cannot be undone. There is a limit to how much pain and suffering people can endure before the social compact begins to collapse.
The only solution, therefore, is to nip the problem in the bud. First, by developing a thorough understanding of the issues involved – not through prisms imported from foreign lands but worked out empathetically by Indian sociologists, legislators and others. Then, by establishing a network of laws that anticipates and is applicable to every conceivable situation. Also, every individual crime needs to be punished without fail.
In the present situation, Uttarakhand must exhibit its commitment to the law and justice. This state, at least, should declare itself liberated from the shackles of mindless orthodoxy and deliver to its people the fruits of a civilised constitution.