February 28, 2020
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'Obedience Pushes You To Fascism'

The IAS officer who put in his papers in protest after seeing the unprecedented state and administrative complicity in the Gujarat carnage.

'Obedience Pushes You To Fascism'
Gireesh G.V
'Obedience Pushes You To Fascism'
In his 22 years in the IAS, 47-year-old Harsh Mander has served as district collector in six tribal districts around the country. Always deemed a man with a conscience, two weeks back the bureaucrat put in his papers after he visited Gujarat and saw the unprecedented violence, the inexcusable apathy and bias on the part of the police and administration. Excerpts from an interview with Murali Krishnan:

Why did you quit the IAS? Was it as an example to other bureaucrats?
There are two factors that guide the bureaucracy—conscience and obedience. I’ve always believed one’s conscience has a higher value as obedience pushes you to fascism. Bureaucrats are servants of the people and not of the government. How can one be faithful to partisanship especially when it is part of state policy? Bureaucrats enjoy a lot of power. It is in these moments their services are called to test.

Do you believe there are bureaucrats in Gujarat who are pained as much as you are but have been unable to act?
One has to act independently, impartially. In the dark moments of Gujarat, some stuck their necks out. It happened in Rajasthan as well when riots happened there. But unfortunately, these were all exceptions.

You have made some suggestions to the NHRC about evolving a code for bureaucrats. What are they?
Just listing out the functions of the bureaucracy in riot-like situations. An executive magistrate, for example, is empowered to call in the army under CrPC provisions. He need not wait for orders. It’s crucial to get the NHRC’s stamp as well to see that these recommendations are implemented. More importantly, civil society will know the role and functions of the bureaucrats.

Is there a perceptible difference in the way bureaucrats have begun to think and act over the years?
Up to the early ’80s, the rules of the game were clear and most bureaucrats considered themselves duty-bound to act impartially. But then after the anti-Sikh riots in 1984, the Meerut and Khurja riots of 1989 and that which followed the Babri Masjid demolition, things have changed. The sense of security has broken down.

Also See: Cry, The Beloved Country

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