Harsh Mander is a human rights defender, social activist, writer, columnist, and former bureaucrat.
He talks to Meghnad S about the importance of dissent, the Indian society’s perception of poverty, growing institutional apathy towards the poor in the country, and how the Narendra Modi regime has used the coronavirus lockdown to strengthen its control over the functioning of the society.
Speaking about how the lockdown has affected the expression of public dissent, Mander explains that he has “obsessively” written and spoken about pressing matters throughout the lockdown and reached out to people, but “there is a certain energy and passion in a gathering”.
The country has recorded so many injustices during the lockdown but the people haven’t hit the streets, he says. However, he adds, “India has sort of not had its George Floyd kind of response.”
Asked what he means by the "partition of hearts", Mander refers to the speech for which he was named in a 2020 Delhi carnage chargesheet. His speech, made during the protests against the new citizenship law, he recalls, called for people to take to the streets in a peaceful manner. He points out how the parliament and the judiciary have failed to ensure that the majority doesn't turn majoritarian, so the only place where change will happen is in the hearts of the people.
Mander also talks about India's institutional failure to look after its poor, leading to mass migration during the lockdown, the importance of dissent, and the conundrum that a bureaucrat faces in trying to change the system from within.
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