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.
Bunches of unwanted Indians are being sent off to Pakistan pretty often nowadays. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has conveniently asked all Indians who want to eat beef in the face of a beef ban in Maharashtra to go to Pakistan (“or Arab countries or any other part of world where it is available”). In April this year, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad requested (for the umpteenth time) all such Indians to go to Pakistan who do not agree with their policy of Hindus reproducing vehemently so that they can outnumber Muslims and correct the demographic balance. Whatever the reason for the banishment, I am baffled by this business of sending the unwanted to Pakistan!
When we were little children and the two Indo Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 were still relatively fresh in people’s memory, Pakistan was a regular butt of children’s (everyone’s actually) jokes in India. The toilet was, in a twisted form of jest, commonly referred to as Pakistan. Every time someone suffered flatulence, they were asked to go to Pakistan!
I must have sniggered at this as a kid, but I’m no longer amused. Is Pakistan some sort of dustbin that is willing to take in unwanted and ostracized Indians, whether beef lovers or Muslims, ‘seculars’ or liberals? Or is Pakistan the name of something quite different in the heads of the extreme right? A place where the unwanted can simply disappear into? An equivalent of the Nazi gas chamber?
This rhetoric about Pakistan has to be explained. If any Indian who questions the Hindu right wing has to be banished, then they must spell out what they mean by such a banishment? Is the threat of Pakistan simply intended to silence dissent, a sort of replay of the Partition that will strike horror in the hearts of Indians and make us question where our loyalties lie and in the process make the naysayers appreciate India more? Or is it a more sinister threat than that?
It could be true, that inverse relationship between brawn and brain. I haven’t been as alert mentally since I started going to the gym regularly, but today I’m resolving to snap out of that stupor and get back to my blog and my work with total concentration.
I’ve been following the controversy following Home Minister Shinde’s remarks about Hindu terror. And thinking about the intense feeling of discomfort I have about that particular faction of our society. Yechury’s editorial in The Hindustan Times today about zero tolerance reveals the sordid history of the RSS and their commitment to military means to achieve their wins. It also exposes the essential fascism in their ideology. This scares me (despite growing up in a very much Hindu family). Because I was brought up in independent India with the clear understanding that secularism is very much a value we fought for and want to keep fighting for, that this is a deeply ingrained belief.
As I grew up, various incidents influenced me- the 1984 riots, Babri Masjid, Mumbai blasts and the general observations of how citizens in a city as cultured and nuanced as Lucknow got polarized and compromised in the crush of religious fear and machoism. Yet, my belief in secularism as the ideal to aspire towards never wavered.
Today, an urban practitioner in rapidly urbanizing, rapidly growing India- I hear disparate voices all around me. I know that religious identity continues to be the strongest one for many in this country and, while I do not think that is wrong, I am pained by having to accept that secularism no longer seems to be the agreed upon framework of taking this country forward.
The world over, religious fanaticism seems to be overpowering the voices of tolerance. I often wonder, why? Is it cyclical, moving closer and then way from fanaticism, clannishness? Or are we essentially an irrational and violent race and occasionally we get lured into more rational thinking by great people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King who for some reason all seem to happen around the same time?
In my analysis, it all boils down to managing anger. Just like we learn to manage anger and frustration in our personal lives, or should at any rate, collective anger also needs to be managed. When the management tool becomes skewed and leaders would rather incite, and preach retribution and revenge, violence and terrorism appear as very logical alternatives to those in a group. In the absence of reason, no one is able to break the tit for tat and the war goes on…
This is a war on our senses, on our liberties. It is a war that threatens to annihilate the beauty from our lives and marry us all into a culture of violence and retribution, which can only lead to sadness and more anger. It is a vicious cycle. We must break out of it. Secularism is one way to break out of it. Perhaps we must change the way we see secularism- not as a society sans religious affiliations, but as one where each group is tolerant of the faith and the cultural practices of the other strains that co-exist with it, an within that larger fabric of India, Asia, the world.
I would respect that Hindu leader that came out and punished perpetrators of violence from within its folds, same goes for the Islamic leadership. Religious leaders must condemn violence and be unabashed in naming all those who incite it. If they continue to shield murderers, no matter which religion they belong to, they are doing a huge disservice to us all. By luring people into the false cocoon of us-versus-them on hand and by alienating all those of us who refuse to support violence, on the other.