Tuesday, June 25, 2019

We cannot give up

I don't know about you, but I have not been able to watch that video of Tabriz Ansari of Jharkhand being beaten to death. 

I will not even give the link to it even as I write this. Because it marks the culmination of a month where the expected happened, the BJP won a thumping majority in Parliament, and the dreaded playing out of the consequences of this victory also happened.  (But it is worth reading Apoorvanand on this.)

Members of Parliament from the ruling party mocked members of the opposition, including Muslims, with chants of "Vande Mataram" and "Jai Sri Ram" as they took their oath, unprecedented in the 57 years that the Indian Parliament has met. (Read Jyoti Punwani's excellent piece on this.)  And echoes of those chants reverberated in different parts of India as individuals like Tabriz Ansari were targeted and ordered to chant "Jai Sri Ram".

The depravity and brutality of the mob that led to the death of Ansari is not an aberration. We, as Indians, are a violent people.  Given a chance, we will lash out, hit, attack, lynch and butcher those perceived as our enemies.  Compassion is not a highly regarded virtue in our society. Gandhi knew this even as he appealed for non-violence. Today's leaders know this too.  But the idea of non-violence and peaceful resistance is not part of their vocabulary. They support vindictiveness through their words and by way of their silences.

Surrounded as we are today with the war cry of "Jai Sri Ram" and the silences that denote acquiescence at one level and defeat at another, what is the future?

At a meeting in Mumbai organised by Indian Express as part of its Explained series, political scientist and commentator Suhas Palshikar predicted the future in a few quiet words. 

As he explained the concept of majoritarianism in the Indian context, where a majority community will always be dominant, and analysed the fallout of the BJP's election victory in the 2019 general elections, he said that in future, pogroms of the kind seen earlier would not be needed because the message that Muslims can live happily in this country if they live like Hindus, has already been conveyed. 

This is being conveyed each time a Muslim man is lynched. He does not have to be a cattle trader, or be accused of eating beef. He is a target because he is a Muslim, a hapless representative of a minority that has to be shown its place.

And now, inspired by our members of Parliament, we have a new test of loyalty to "the nation", the slogan "Jai Sri Ram". Another stick with which to bludgeon non-Hindus into conformity. Another vehicle to instill fear and squash any notion of rebellion.

Not to forget that this government has already issued orders that Foreigners' Tribunals, of the kind functioning in Assam that are already seen as hallmarks of arbitrariness and injustice, can be set up in any state. Combine this with the Citizenship Amendment Bill that the government is determined to push through, which effectively determines citizenship on the basis of religion and runs counter to the founding principles of independent India, and you have the makings of an upheaval reminiscent of the Partition, as Harsh Mander writes in Indian Express.

I write this on June 25, 2019, marking 44 years since the midnight hour when Indira Gandhi declared a State of Emergency and locked up the entire opposition. Press censorship was imposed, fundamental rights were suspended and a shroud of fear descended on the country.

Yet, that dark and what appeared endless night, did end.  The blanket of fear was thrown off.  The Indian electorate did vote out a person and a party considered irreplaceable because there was no alternative.

We have no option but to cling to the hope that things can change, that the trajectory of events today is not irreversible, to not give up.