New Internationalist

From India to Libya: democracy or hypocrisy?

India – an emerging economic and political ‘power nation’, a nuclear power, ally of Israel and the largest ‘democracy’ in the world – sits at the edge of the high table of world powers. Yet, as Arundhati Roy writes in September’s New Internationalist magazine, thousands have been tortured and killed in ‘nightmarish interrogation centres and army camps’; others charged with sedition. Corruption is a way of life and runs through all social groups and sectors of the country (and like corruption anywhere, we are all invariably complicit).

The actions by the Indian government against its own people force us to think carefully about what we mean by democracy, dictators and other grand political narratives. Take, for instance, the anti-Qadafi narrative, which is presented in binary political terms of good and evil, making it impossible to offer any critical analysis without being labelled pro-Qadafi. The irony is that prior to last December, three North African dictators who have since been buried under the mass of people power were all on deeply intimate terms with the very powers that now cheer their demise.

We now learn that Britain and the US, while condemning Qadafi’s record of torture, had no qualms about engaging in rendition to Libya a US terror suspect knowingly tortured by the dictator. Such hypocrisy is mind-boggling. No amount of rhetoric from the West or the UN that this was a ‘humanitarian intervention’ can now be taken seriously. In the words of British human rights lawyer Gareth Pearce: ‘we put our noses in the trough and fed from it.’

Gaddafi by VectorPortal

The notion of democracy is seldom queried. But in what way does India really differ from Libya when it comes to repression, torture and imprisonment of political dissenters? Dictators like Qadafi should not be defended, but the simplistic ‘good versus evil’ uncritical narratives presented to us by large sections of the media should surely be questioned. NATO forces have bombed Libya for the past six months – yet no-one asks how many civilians they have killed. Nor is it mentioned that the bombing has led to the humanitarian crisis that Libyans now face. Black Africans accused of being Qadafi mercenaries have been detained, lynched and killed despite any real evidence for all but a handful: how easy it is to target vulnerable migrant workers. Yet what are those ex-SAS and private armies recruited by rebel forces and NATO, if not mercenaries?

The Libyan rebels have been taken at face value because they have overthrown a dictator, but we are now beginning to know who many of them are and it’s not a pretty picture. And something which gives me a great sense of foreboding is the fact that Libya’s new masters, the National Transitional Council, have reportedly thanked Sudan (and its own dictator) for its support.

The West has always seen Qadafi as a demon, even when they chose to add him to their ‘best friend’ list. Yet we fail to question the rebels, even though it is more than likely they too have committed atrocities and continue to do so.

I am happy to see the end of a delusional megalomaniac who far outlived his time. But in doing so is it necessary to also deny the positive things – 80 per cent literacy, free and decent healthcare provision, education and housing – that he achieved? Is it not possible to acknowledge these as well as the terrible things he did? If not, then how does India remain the darling of ‘democracy’ despite the torture and repression of millions of Indians?

Surely we should be able to question the inconsistencies and double standards in the policing of states, which results in one state being considered worthy and another as ripe for regime change. As Jon Snow recently tweeted: ‘Always be wary of regime change that is almost universally welcomed by ‘Western’ governments.’


Illustration by Vectorportal under a CC Licence.








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  1. #1 Abhay Dang 08 Sep 11

    While I appreciated the article and your writing, I am perplexed how you bring India into the picture? It is true that we in India are suffering extraordinary levels of corruption, and some also have their human rights so painfully violated, yet the comparison with the political situation in Libya is wholly unwarranted. Unlike Libya, we have a vibrant political landscape with parties subscribing to all sorts of ideologies - leftist or rightist, ethinic/linguistic/regional or national, religious or secular. We also have a free judiciary, and guarantees of civil liberties, including the right to freedom of speech and protest. The fact is, that though life is pretty difficult with so much corruption, we can and we do stand up and engage in non violent demonstrations. These are rights that you don't have in Libya, where repression is officially sanctioned right from the top (the ruling elite). Our Constitutional system, though imperfect, will never allow such massive levels of human rights violations as are seen in the Middle East.

    You may also want to read about 1975-77 Indian Emergency and its aftermath.

  2. #2 Abhay Dang 08 Sep 11

    Another important point is that democracy is a self corrective system. I just noticed that you also write on LGBT issues. In India, the High Court has decriminalized consensual gay sex. Section 377 was partially struck down as unconstitutional. Another article salutes the Indian Supreme Court's verdict where arming civilians to take on Naxals was quashed. There are many many other landmark judgments from our superior courts. Also, the Parliament has also passed some good laws like RTI, NREGA, etc. Thus, I would say that it's a mixed bag which will ultimately (maybe in the course of 50 years) get better. We may take one step back at times, but we will also take 2 steps forward.

    Therefore, comparing an electoral democracy that in principle guarantees rights to all its citizens and has a somewhat working redressal system with effects checks and balances, with an authoritarian megalomaniac unelected dictator is not wise. Despite all our flaws, we have an outlet where we can go and express ourselves and our frustrations.

  3. #3 Who Cares 15 Sep 11

    Useless article. Why do you bring India into picture? In India, corruption is not as big as people are showing. Things work, and we are a global power. Like it or leave it.

  4. #5 Sokari 19 Sep 11

    Abhay Dang@ You clearly did not read the blog post as I am not comparing India to Libya. I am questioning the notion of ’democracy’ and ’dictatorships’ . As you state India is a democracy that :’in principle guarantees rights’ in reality these are selective and people are arrested and tortured, disappeared and so on just as in a dictatorship - that is the point I am trying to make and you may also take the time to read Roy's interview.

    @Who Cares - Indeed! This is a matter of opinion and your handle speaks volumes.

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About the author

Sokari Ekine a New Internationalist contributor

Sokari Ekine is a Nigerian social justice activist and blogger. She writes an awardwinning blog, Black Looks, which she started in 2004, writing on a range of topics such as LGBTI Rights in Africa, gender issues, human rights, the Niger Delta, Haiti and Land Rights. She is a IRP 2013 Fellow.

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