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Misa, Tada, Pota, Hakuna Matata!

Half a century of draconian laws with draconian names have done us no good. But the government insists on a new one that is sure to do much more harm than Antulay could ever do, writes Pratik Kanjilal.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2008 22:14 IST

Draconian (adj)

Brutal, atrocious, bloody-minded. Derived from the Latin draco — dragon.

After the Mumbai attack, we got it right for once. India was clearly the wronged party. The Pakistanis had made fools of themselves, trying to deny responsibility for non-State actors. But then our own non-State thespian, Minorities Minister AR Antulay, walked into Parliament and insinuated a home-hatched conspiracy to kill Hemant Karkare. No wonder his government has declared him a lone operator and everyone else wants his head.

Antulay may have diplomatically embarrassed his government and breached parliamentary norms, but he has also reflected the national mood of uncertainty and suspicion. A spate of terror attacks has left behind too many unanswered questions. The institutions which should have the answers seem compromised or incapable. And when we see even the horror of Mumbai turned into political capital, willing suspension of belief seems like a reasonable response and conspiracy theories acquire the air of valid public discourse.

Now, the Congress has joined the BJP and fallen for the soft option of a hard law. It may prolong the reign of terror by cornering marginalised communities and cancel out the benefits of the proposed federal agency, which represents a real step forward. Its only benefit is political — the public will be assured that something has been done, without bothering their heads about what precisely has been done.

Draconian laws have been in force, periodically for 60 years, when Sardar Patel passed the Madras Suppression of Disturbances Act (1948) to put down the Telengana rising, though he found it repugnant to the ideals of newly-free India. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, only a decade younger, has prolonged regional conflicts for half a century. Such laws are conjured up after the State neglects to engage politically with local issues and aspirations. Even our worst insurgencies have political roots and could have been nipped in the bud by political initiatives. But we have always let them fester, then invoked the holy cow of national security and drummed up a new law giving security forces special powers to put them down savagely.

Four states are now seeking central approval for new draconian laws to lengthen an already endless list — Misa, Tada, Poto, Pota, Mcoca, goddammit whatsisname… Tapora, Bambaiyya Batata, Hakuna Matata, Brakkadakkadadada!

Sorry, a momentary lapse of reason. The onomatopoeia at the end is clearly Sgt Rock of Easy Company opening fire on the Vietcong. I’m getting as intemperate as Antulay. My mind is dangerously fragile after considering half a century of draconian laws that have not increased our security an iota. If I have to learn the acronym of one more useless band-aid law, it will crack like an eggshell. Reader, I hope your mind is in better shape.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

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