India has been touting a soon-to-be world power status for more than two decades now, but if getting there means losing our moral compass and surrendering the soul of India, will it be worth it?
The muzzle has but one goal – to leverage shame and gag us into silence. There are many ways to make the muzzle fit. Below are but some of the variations on the theme of 'You have no right to criticise'.
When Indians talk of the political situations in India they do so with a certain despondency and sense of resignation. 'This is the way things are over here.'
Although this feeling comes from both the complexity and the immensity of the task at hand, the danger of such a pervasive tolerance of the way things are, is that it gives rise to a normalization of the abnormal and the absurd.
There was also dissonance in how the Congress party and the Nehru dynasty ruled India, demonstrated in how they spoke of their strong socialist political beliefs while keeping the electorate at an arm’s length and outside the gates of their clubs and cottages.
Some are more equal than others
The current populist movement needs also to be seen through the prism of how secularism was applied in India. More than merely a separation between religion and state, in India, it means the equal treatment of all religions by the state. However, currently in place is a system of civil laws that create a fog of confusion and lack of clarity. There are clear-as-mud civil codes for Hindu Personal Law, Muslim Personal Law, Christian Personal Law, and the list goes on.
In addition, despite negative discrimination based on caste being banned by law in 1948, and equality being enshrined in the Indian Constitution, the system continues to be practised in India with devastating social and political effects. These kinds of religious but also caste-based discriminations are one of the root causes of today’s unrest.
Different laws for different categories of citizens. The end result is that in this equation some people are more equal than others. The Hindu majority has a sense of resentment that is widespread and refuses to be ignored, but if it means evolving into a country that is neither more just nor more exemplary, it cannot be labelled as progress.
In Modi's nationalist India it is a risky business to speak out against what the majority feels is not only acceptable but even sees as historical justice. History, however, has taught us that great revolutions are often brought about by those who walked outside the lines and were, in the beginning at least, labelled marginals. In that sense, Gandhi may have been the greatest marginal of them all.
The birth of the Indian nation became the stimulus for many other leaders and movements. Gandhi's conviction in non-violence became a nation's credo and gave the idea of peaceful non-cooperation. Democracy for all, not a select. Debate versus the political screaming matches that we have become accustomed to. So many ideas that a country believed in and inspired the world to as well. This is the idea of India that I grew up with.
The unfortunate fact is that the freedom struggle did not end in a united India but a divided one. The great migration of Hindus and Muslims and the formation of 2 nations India and Pakistan. It was a religious divide that has continually hollowed out the idea of democracy and has brought us to the juncture we find ourselves at today.
A recurring, uncomfortable question
"What is happening in India today?" A question I get asked with increasing frequency. Now, in its 72nd year, the more appropriate question for The Republic might be: "What road is India choosing to take?"
In India today, the anti-Muslim sentiment grows strong. Indian Muslims everywhere feel insecure in their own country. Children have become targets for communal bullying. The fundamentalists who display conviction by shouting the loudest and rely on the most absurd of assertions, do so because they know their arguments to be hollow.
The British may have left India but their modus operandi of 'Divide and Rule' thrives on.
Far from upholding the ideals that gave birth to the modern Indian nation, our politicians regularly use both religion and caste as vote banks to control a part of the largest electorate on earth – some 900 million. They create arguments that ferment the growing divide and cash in on the turmoil.
What India needs today is a new argument, a new rationale. A fundamental guiding principle where people will not be discriminated for or against, based on their caste or religion. One that strives for legal uniformity.
Instead of factions dictating rights, it needs to be made an exclusively economic issue. A government’s contract is with its electorate. Its duty is to create the fertile ground in which its citizens might thrive. A nation's greatness should be correlated to its ability to protect, to feed, to clothe, to heal and to educate. To allow its citizens to live with a modicum of dignity.
In order to replace the religious and caste-based arguments that eat away at the foundations and infect the government institutions in place today, we need a political will that goes beyond base arguments proposed by the pro-Hindus, the pro-Muslims, the pro-Dalits, and others. A refusal to engage in communal arguments and to bend at every temptation towards violence.
We have been touting our soon-to-be world power status for more than two decades now, but if getting there means losing our moral compass and surrendering the soul of India, will it be worth it?
Nandita Sood Perret is a communications consultant and leadership coach at CTD Cultural Insights, where she helps people and companies break through old patterns, to develop new perspectives and innovative solutions for collaboration and growth.
Read Nandita Sood Perret's columns here.
First Published: IST