Sunday, October 11, 2015

First Babri, now Dadri

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, October 11, 2015

A protest in New Delhi against the Dadri incident.
  • PTI

On his recent visit to Silicon Valley, the Prime Minister tried to sell the world the promise of a Digital India and declared that the 21st Century would be India’s. That is a distant dream; the hate politics that exemplifies the murder of Akhlaq is the current reality. And for this, the responsibility lies not only with fringe groups but equally with a government and a ruling party that has legitimised interference in all aspects of our lives by promoting a culture of bans and prohibition. It has claimed the right to decide what we eat, what we wear, what we read, what we view, who we meet, who we marry, who we worship and ultimately what we think.

If senior Bharatiya Janata Party functionaries can pass off Mohammed Akhlaq’s cold-blooded murder as an “accident” and an “unfortunate incident”, the same justification will be used when women are sexually assaulted for crossing the moral line determined by people with the same mind set as those who killed Akhlaq. Once you breed this type of suspicion and hatred, and justify the violence of your actions, no woman or man who thinks or acts differently is safe. Is this the India we want?

We might think that such things happen more frequently in the communal cauldron of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But look south. Look closely at what is happening in a State like Karnataka. For decades there was peace. Yet, the pace of communalisation has picked up and accelerated in the last decade to the point that the district of Dakshina Kannada, in which the cosmopolitan city of Mangaluru is located, has become the epicentre of communal tension.

The fallout of this is felt most by women who have become the targets of a twisted form of moral policing. In a district where 67 per cent are Hindus, 24 per cent Muslims and 8 per cent Christians, where the sex ratio is skewed in favour of women (1,020) unlike in the rest of the country, where female literacy is as high as 91 per cent, where a human development indicator like the infant mortality rate is substantially above the national average, young men and women are virtually forbidden from hanging out together. If they take the risk, they might have hell to pay.

Recent reports speak of random attacks on young people hanging out at malls, going to restaurants or going on a college trip in a so-called “mixed group”. If Hindu girls are found with Muslim boys, the latter are threatened and even beaten up while the former are warned. If girls, regardless of religion are found drinking alcohol, they are dragged out and shamed, as was done in the attack on a pub in 2009. If young men and women organise a private party, that too is targeted by moral vigilantes as happened in 2012 when one such birthday bash was broken up and the entire incident televised.

So are we going forwards, or steadily backwards? And how will this generation of young women, educated, looking forward to careers, having access to information and communication through the Internet, survive in a world where every step they take is watched? In Mangaluru, a city with a huge population of young people thronging the scores of high quality educational institutions, such an atmosphere must be stifling, hardly conducive to learning or creativity.

Today these are stories from Mangaluru; tomorrow they will happen elsewhere in India. In fact, they are happening but are not always reported.

Why should one worry about the response, or rather the lack of it, by the Central government to this growing culture of intolerance and violence? After all, law and order is a state subject and in the case of the Dadri murder, the State government of U.P. has intervened. But the combination of a silent Prime Minister and an unrestrained, insensitive and unapologetic Culture Minister (who readily expressed his regressive views on what women can and cannot do), adds up to a virtual endorsement of such actions.

Dadri is not a random incident; it is part of a larger picture that is emerging of the kind of India some people want to make. This is not the India envisioned by those who fought for its independence from the British. In 1947, we looked forward to a democratic, secular, plural India, where all religions are equal, where women have rights, where freedom of expression is guaranteed. Join the dots and you can see clearly that the idea of India that is now being pushed envisions a monoculture where you are given no choice but to conform.

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