I am saddened and confused by what’s happening in India. I am not shocked. Targeting minorities in an attempt to find political raison d’etre is not a new tune. It’s just the target that varies. First Muslims, then Sikhs, then Muslims again, then Hindus, then Christians, then North Indians and of course, always Dalits … so many to choose from, and my list is not exhaustive. You and your minority/majority can also be a target. They can almost be chosen at random. Though, of course, it’s simpler to choose minorities that don’t have the resources to hit back.
But it is not the violence itself – whether it is the spate of bomb blasts across the country that have finallly managed to make ordinary citizens afraid or the recent striking down of Christians in Orissa or the beating of North Indians in Maharashtra – that shocks me, because we have lived with violence so long. It is the violence of the previously non-violent, the so-called liberal English-speaking upper classes.
Previously, the mob-mentality would be deplored in these circles. We knew better. We were not going to be manipulated by politicians playing on our passions, because frankly, it’s easier to resist on a full stomach. But now the hatred seems to have crept through. And that’s what shocks and saddens me.
Led by a post from Mad Momma, to this article in Mint*, I began to read the comments with increasing dismay. While some of them engaged with the question posed in the article itself, a large number were on the lines of ‘but they are converting Hindus’*. These were voiced with hatred and vitriol that I couldn’t understand. More disturbing, they were voiced with the underlying assumption that this justified mass murder and theft.
Since when did we stop seeing through the fundamentalist rhetoric and start believing it? Is this our own version of a country under Bush? Has the fear overtaken common sense and basic morals which should tell us that very few, if any, actions justify violence – and none, violence on a mass scale?
At a dinner party a few months ago, when everyone was a little tipsy, the discussion came round to POTA. This law allows security agencies to hold suspects of terrorism for upto 180 days without filing charges. Sounds reasonable huh? Those terrorists deserve what they get, whatever is done to them in those 180 days and whatever statements are forced out of them. Except… what if they’re not terrorists?*** What if they’re some person that someone in power has a grudge against, or who’s property someone is eyeing or… The possibilities are endless, especially with a corruption-ridden police force like ours.
Of course, all this doesn’t matter until it touches you or someone you know.
And so, one middle-aged gentleman started ranting on the lines of ‘those Muslim motherfuckers deserve what they get. Throw them in jail I say’. Egged on by the host of the party, who I admit, is prone to excitability and gassing on topics he may not be well versed with. What shocked me was not the content but the vitriol. The hatred that made it seem fine to burst forth at a dinner party in someone’s living room with such anger against another community in general. Many people might think these dark thoughts ocassionally in the privacy of their own minds. Then, hopefully, better sense prevails and they shut their mouths. If for no other reason than politeness and respect for the other communities present. But now it’s become perfectly acceptable to air this vitriol, this dirty laundry of the soul in public.
I am confused in situations like this on whether to shut up or take a stand and start an argument. Especially when people have had a lot to drink and especially when older folk are involved. Finally, I murmured my dissent and the wife of the host shut them up. In future, I will not be so ‘tolerant’. As Broom said, in an eloquent post that I cannot find to link to, we must speak up.
A Muslim friend based in India I was chatting with told me how people have even being expressing these sentiments to him. That Muslims should be killed. Either forgetting that he is Muslim or assuming that he would understand they didn’t mean him. He is confused about how to respond because he feels an obligation to listen to other viewpoints. What crap. Some things are offensive per se and nobody should be allowed to say them to you. To speak them is to make them happen.
I am currently reading Two Lives by Vikram Seth. I thought this would be an uplifting biography but fortunately/unfortunately it has touched upon the Holocaust and made me cry. Maybe because so much has been said about what happened to the Jews that it has come to stand for the very worst of what human beings can do to each other. (a request here – are there other equivalent or worse instances? and can you highlight them? I’m trying to sqaure in my mind the reasons so much is said about the Jewish genocide as opposed to other instances. I have not yet heard – probably because of lack of detail – of such prolonged and systematic deprivation and killing of an entire population).
And it seems to me that it all starts like this. Or rather, when erstwhile liberals with enough money and food to be able to think clearly begin to look the other way or justify violence, that the battle is lost. We are at a very dangerous stage in history.
*Which sounds almost exactly like a similar article we read in university but where the question was about Dalits, and provoked some of the same bewildered comments about ‘relevance’.
**For the record, I feel the Church must give conversion a rest. Charity need not come with a spoken on unspoken encouragement to change faiths. I’m not sure how many Dalits are still converting to Christianity because of the discrimination in Hinduism (if somebody knows, do enlighten me, but try to be semi-factual at least). I do think the furore over conversion is unnecessary though because it’s too small a minority to ever threaten the majority religion in the country but hey, who’s stopping to look at numbers when there’s looting to be done?
***And what if they are? Does violence deserve violence? If we partake of the hatred does some of that rub back onto us?