Three people I know and who do not know each other told me last week that they are thinking of leaving India and making a life abroad. They were all deeply disturbed by the Dadri lynching incident and the growing climate of intolerance and violence around us. They all expressed concerns about bringing up their children in a nation where hatred is normal, even a virtue. I feel their pain. I have also not stopped worrying about the future for weeks, though I’m not contemplating leaving the country. Not yet.
Many others I have spoken to in my circle of acquaintances (and let me clarify here that I’m referring mostly to educated, urban Indians in well-paid jobs) dismissed these incidents as collateral damage in electoral politics. Historians like DN Jha (link) and Aparna Vaidik (link) have shown that this is nothing new; cow protection has been an important aspect of pastoral lives but beef eating and cow slaughter have long been sensitive issues, used cleverly by politicians and monarchs to appease certain communities and demonize others. The people who were doing the shrugging seemed to regard themselves as distanced from these ground level politics, while those who felt disturbed imagined that this particular brand of politics, previously at a distance, was now poised to invade their relatively peaceful and protected lives.
Dealing with a climate of fear
Whatever situation you find yourself in, there is a palpable sense of fear that is forcing many of us to take sides. The climate of fear is urging many educated Hindus who have previously regarded their religion as a matter of private belief, separate from their public lives, to acknowledge that their sense of security stems from their ‘Hinduness’. Aware that their actions and words are being judged for how Hindu they are, this is a group that is now deliberate in what they say or do. They are sandwiched between what they are and what they want to project of themselves. They are struggling with the morality they practice and the moral code that is slowly being imposed on us.
Educated non-Hindus too, make a choice. The blending of many religions into the broader umbrella of Hindutva is an obvious strategy of the right wing forces and I truly wonder how cognizant practitioners of these faiths are of this inexorable sucking in of non-controversial faiths into the big umbrella of Hindu belief. For educated Muslims, keeping fear at bay must be a very very deliberate and difficult process. Those who are promoting this atmosphere of hatred must also take responsibility for the growing radicalization of educated Muslim youth in India, and the increased threat of terrorism that our country faces as a result.
The educated Indian is an unfair target
Then there are the die-hard liberals (and I refuse to stigmatize that word), who genuinely believe in the diversity and pluralism of India, who support the idea of choice and who are suspicious of a majoritarian view. I would call them idealists. These are the people for whom hope is an important word at this time. For they seem to be the true targets of this new brand of aggressive Hinduism we see around us. Devdutt Patnaik acknowledges this when he calls the discourse around beef-eating a “symbolic attack on the ‘educated Indian’ who did not stand up for Hinduism in the international arena” (link).
To me, this is a baffling situation. How does PM Modi expect industrialization (Make in India), technological growth (Digital India) or urban investments (Smart Cities Mission) that will catalyze India’s economic growth to happen without the contribution of the educated Indian? Is he supporting the atmosphere of fear expecting that educated Indians have no choice but to accept the hegemony of a dominant Hinduism and carry on with the productive lives they lead? Does he not realize that an atmosphere of fear, violence and suspicion works counter to one of productivity, innovation and entrepreneurship?
No place for fear and parochialism in India’s transformation
For in becoming educated and urban (by default it would seem), it is true that we (and I speak collectively here, as a nation and a community) move a teeny weeny bit out of the stronghold of family, religion, clan and caste. In becoming educated and living in a place of multiple and varied influences (ergo, the city), we do begin to acknowledge and even appreciate the tastes, the expressions of those unlike us. We develop some tolerance, we learn to prioritize actions that take us forward over those and re-negotiate the older codes of religion, caste or clan so they can serve us better. It is in this process of self-discovery and prioritization, in the journey between what we were and what we want to be, that we take risks and contribute the most to the world around us.
At this time, India’s economic objectives seem to be hinged around the expectation the above journey will be one of hope and success. The atmosphere of fear I wrote about above, is a bid to re-focus the core of our identities away from our education and expanding minds inward to a place of fear, bigotry and parochialism. The atmosphere of fear is putting in jeopardy everything that our nation has worked very hard for, including the eradication of poverty and child malnutrition and the provision of decent living standards for all Indians. As Kalpana Sharma points out (link), it’s not just religious minorities but women too, who are becoming targets of a deeply vicious misogynistic moral code. Do we want our young people to become the skilled workforce (ref: Skill India Initiative) that will help India leverage its demographic dividend, or would we rather they lynch a beef eater or strip a woman who dared defy convention? What kind of economic growth will a nation of fighting, insular people achieve?
This is an appeal to all educated Indians. Let us not be silent and accept the blame for something we are not ashamed of. Why should we be ashamed of focusing our energies on studying, learning skills and deploying them for the betterment of ourselves and our country? Certainly not! We need to recognize the terrible impacts this atmosphere of fear and hatred will have on ourselves, our children and our nation. We need to petition the government to contain this. If we do not speak out and take action, we will have no choice but to toe the line, or leave the country.
I came across this graphic today on twitter.
Predictably for Indians, the top concern is religious and ethnic hatred and not inequality. While I understand that communalism, regionalism, casteism and all the other ‘isms’ are media favourites, political favourites and hot topics in drawing room discussions, I find it strange that ‘poorism’ is not of much concern to the Indian people. I’m not getting into the methodology that Pew might have used for this and whether their sample was sufficiently representative of the varying income levels in India, but what the survey is saying corroborates well with what I observe around me.
Those of us who research and practice in the area of poverty and human development are usually preaching to the choir when we express our concerns. Most Indians, sometimes including the poor, are not really concerned about the issue of income inequality in India. Is it that we have normalised inequality? Or is it that we believe in the passiveness of the Indian poor who will never rebel? Or do we really believe that India is decimating poverty rapidly enough for it to not be a concern?
I don’t have the answers, but I sure find it interesting. Also, perhaps if we focused more on bringing down inequality, the other ‘isms’ might matter less? What do you think?
Writes Bob Cesca on the Huff Post blog about hor Martin Luther King’s dream is still, well a dream: ‘The violation was known as “vagrancy.” If you were a black man in the South following Reconstruction, and you were unable to show proof of employment on-demand to the police, you could be arrested and delivered into what Douglas Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name, called “neo-slavery.” Beginning in the late 19th century through World War II, various Jim Crow laws required that African-Americans carry pay stubs or, if they were lucky, a letter from an employer; some form of evidence proving to a police officer that they had a job.’
He goes to note that recent laws that enable arbitrary stopping and frisking, demand of immigration papers and Voter IDs in some cities and States in the US are just modern versions of the same sort of discriminatory laws used against African Americans earlier.
In India too, the urban poor are often stopped randomly and asked for identity or employment papers. Indeed, there are drives to ensure that employment is not offered without police verification about the citizenship of the employee. Whereas in the US,a defaulter would end up in jail, in Indian cities he doles out bribes to police constables and carries on, further embittered and impoverished.
Colonialism, racism- we never defeated them. They are here in other virulent forms. Class bias, insecurity tantamount to paranoia fuel discrimination perhaps more widespread than ever in human history. Clearly, with resources perceived as limited and a general fear psychosis across the planet as economies limp along, we are not moving toward a society of increased justice and tolerance.
So what must we do about it? How do we teach our children to think beyond the confines of the war all around us? If we don’t, aren’t we signing away the last opportunities to enjoy our beautiful world?
I told Aadyaa a story about a carnivorous plant last night. She was really upset with the idea that a beautiful flower could snap up a butterfly! Stung by the unfairness of this, she struggled as Udai and me tried to explain the concept of survival and the food chain. Overpowering and annihilating another creature for survival is so fundamentally different from doing it for malicious ends. And then, I thought, we believe we are in a race for survival in which there isn’t enough to hate with the ‘other’!
It really isn’t that dismal folks! There is enough to go around if we can be rational and logical about our needs, place the best human values at the core and collaborate to achieve breakthrough solutions to problems.
Aadyaa is raring to go! She is a few months beyond five and studies in a progressive school where they take it fairly easy in introducing basic concepts and she has just about finished covering the alphabet. However, she is a big fan of Udai, who is nine and is grade 4. Result: We have a super aggressive learner on our hands right now. She wants us to assign her 3-digit addition problems and we struggle to ensure that they do not have the carry-over issue to deal with. She wants to read and write.
Today she has been working on writing out a description for an illustration she has made. This is happening in the other room. So there is a writing pad going back and forth in which I write out a word and she copy-writes it onto her creation. I haven’t yet seen the product of all this activity, but am totally amused by her little frustrations and triumphs.
Learning is such a fun process. Why do we make it such a drudgery? Why do we link learning to fear- fear of failure, fear of punishment? I see the joy Aadyaa takes in discovering each new fact, each new formula (Udai was the same in pre-school) and in contrast, I see Udai starting to get bogged down by the compulsions of learning, and starting to somewhat lose the excitement to discover new ideas. There must be a good way to keep excitement levels high through middle and senior school! Technology, perhaps, could be a good tool, but I see school hesitate to go that way for various reasons.
Thinking back, I found some subjects painful, especially in grades 11 and 12, but now I see the lethargy was either because of poor quality teaching or too many distractions and I’m none the worse for that short phase. For the most part, I have found learning a lot of fun and continue to do so. In fact, I can learn and study all my life! On that note, let me get back to my work….a part of which is trying to find flexible ways to pursue a PhD in migration and urban planning.
Ok, I managed to click a few pics of what she is upto….here you go!
‘Small Remedies’ by Shashi Deshpande. I just finished it today and I must say it has completely absorbed me for the past few days. Such fine insights into how we think, and particularly about the many fears and insecurities we harbor and how much we lie to ourselves.
A line of thought that particularly struck me- that ultimately we only want to keep away the negatives from our life; everything we do is about that. But the thing is, disaster, misery, disappointment and many other negatives await us, round the corner. Of late, I’ve caught myself having irrational fears at the strangest moments. I miss a call from home and I wonder if my child is unwell. Rahul doesn’t call at the end of a flight and I wonder….the more you have invested in certain relationships, the more you fear for the ones you love.
I am aware of the pointlessness of fear. I really want to break out of these cycles of negativity. Reading the book made me realize that we hold on to the fears because we perceive it as a proof of our love, because we seek our own attention through it, because we are ashamed to express these fears and let them out of our system. We feed on our fears and become objects of pity in our own eyes. Yes, its ridiculous, but life is very strange.
I guess it is important to reinforce the positives in your life. I’ve taken to doing that every time I experience negative emotions. I tell myself to enjoy all the good stuff while it is there. Life is short. Its good to live the moment, take the pleasures on offer and move on. For not moving on is the only option we do not have.
Aadyaa’s been unwell and clingy for a week. She and me suffered the same infection, so it’s been draining out for both of us. Yesterday, she threw a tantrum and wiggled out of school. This morning, we were relieved when she was bright and chirpy and raring to go.
Happily, she hopped and skipped her way to the bus stop, after negotiating that she would come back home by car and that mum (that’s me!) would come to get her. The big, white bus draws near us and stops. She’s smiling, but it’s a frozen sort of smile. Kids climb in. Udai and his friend Anisa wait, wanting to help Aadyaa by letting her get on before them. Then she freezes. I carry her inside, the parent on bus duty offers to seat her next to him, the conductor and others speak kind words. But nothing works, nada. Before I understand what is happening, she and me are off the bus. I wave it away and stand there, defeated, dazed.
Moments later, panic sets in. I know I can’t afford to let her miss another day of school. She has missed many days, there have been holidays in between and every passing day off school is making her feel awkward and maladjusted at the thought of facing schoolmates and teachers, distanced and out of sorts with any sort of regular routine (it us weeks and weeks to get her started at school, that’s the history!).
So there are hot words, trauma and we manage to rush and drop her to school. More clinginess, loads of patient handling (I swear I have no idea where those kind words came out of, all I felt like doing was howling!) and finally, she let me go. Its four in the afternoon now, and the clinginess has persisted after I picked her up and got her home. I have barely been able to go to the loo! Have managed to be at my computer only with great difficulty.
If I am so traumatized by Aadyaa’s clinginess, what must be her state of mind to be so clingy in the first place? I do understand there is some deep sense on insecurity, an inability to deal with changes in her life, that manifests in her wanting to keep her parents always before her eyes.
And me? Why am I so impacted by her behavior? I’ve been thinking about it the past few days and I see how hopelessly intertwined my ambitions, need for space and my expectations of support from my family are. I see her clinginess as another form of fetters; I lose hope that I will ever be free; free to be creative, free to follow my dreams, free to be me.
It’s a scary thought, to realize that I see my children in this way. I don’t want to think like this, but I cannot control my thinking either. I take a deep breath. I say to myself; this too, shall pass. And I remind myself that this world, its crazy pace, its pressure, the beckoning of fame and riches, the ego, is all an illusion. In reality, I am but a speck of dust.