An eighteen year old student was brutally bruised and beaten to death, one sad evening in the national capital. His identity is what led to the fatal incident. It got me thinking.
What then is India? What is the essence of Indian-ness? The North-East Indians will perhaps forever remain the ‘chinki’ lot that ‘eats everything that moves’, for a number of people in this country. The ones from the South will always be the ones who use coconut oil to soften their hair and cook their food. The ‘paiyyans’ will probably never be free of becoming the butt of all Santa-Banta jokes. The ‘Bongs’, of course, are a different story altogether with their radical, red bindi wearing women (who, of course are ‘readily available’ and ‘loose’) and their ‘psuedo-intellectual’, jhola carrying, kurta clad men. The hostility simmering under the surface of these seemingly harmless, innocuous clichÃ©s and long-held beliefs are indicators of a society that is basically intolerant. For the largest chunk of population in this country Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada and Telegu are not four different languages but are seen as one and the same — the language of one homogenous mass of people with dark, Dravidian features and a fetish for Rajnikanth. For a sizeable population in this country, the Seven Sisters mean nothing. ‘Seven Sisters, who?’, they’d probably enquire of you.
The North-Easterns with their Mongoloid features again are another homogenous mass. Nido Taniam does not stand in isolation. The violence that led to his tragedy is not an isolated instance of violence based on racism and casteism. There is no One India. There can be no One India. Our strength lies in our diversity, but do we really see this diversity as a strength? Or is it just another excuse to kill, mock, slaughter and fight? All Indians are my brothers and sisters. Is this just theory for us? Just another of those fancy things from our Constitution that was quoted to us often when we were children? Do we really practice the ideal of universal fraternity? Because, to me it seems that there can never be one definition of India, unless of course it is a political definition. Geographically, socially, culturally, we have many Indias. The political act that yoked together these unlikely territories under the label of one nation, forgot to take into consideration the fact that this utopian, vague theoretical concept of universal brotherhood can go dreadfully wrong and when it does, it results in the sort of violence that the nation is witness to. It results in Godhra riots; it results in the Sabarmati Express being burnt down; it results in anti-Sikh riots; it results in young Manipuri boys being assaulted in the Delhi University campus; it results in tribal women being raped and drowned; it results in Nido Taniam’s death.
We are a strange country.
When a girl menstruates for the first time, her coming of age is celebrated. She is hailed because the world gets one more fertile womb. Soon after, a menstruating woman is ostracized. Conservative societies keep these women away from their holy books and other temples of worship. The women live in perpetual shame brought on them by the stain of their blood.
When a woman is pregnant she is celebrated. Her fertility is hailed. Yet, the midwife who helps this woman in the process of birthing is ostracized. She is seen as the ‘Other’ by conservative societies.
We shit. And we readily want this shit to be flushed out from sight. We hire people to keep our shit-bowls and washrooms clean. And then we ostracize the people who remove this evidence from our sight. We brand them as mlechas or pariahs. They become the lower caste with which we do not want to associate our fancy selves.
This sense of untouchability, which gives us a right to ostracize and discriminate against, is inherently linked somewhere with the sense of pollution that we carry around us. We feel ashamed of and polluted by the excretions of our own body — our sweat, our menstrual blood, our piss, our shit. We feel betrayed by our own body. And consequently therefore we discriminate against the people who try to hide the evidence of these bodily fluids that we expel from our bodies — the barber who cuts our hair, the washerman who launders away our stains, the maidservant that we employ, the Dalit man who cleans our roads, the manual scavengers. I might not be saying the most politically correct things in this article, but this writing is not about diplomacy or political correctness — it is about showing you the other face of incredible India; the filthy face that we never want to witness. You might sit in swanky auditoriums and talk about equality, but every time you shudder if your chauffeur touches your body accidentally, you know you should know you are being mean. You might perform in street plays on issues of untouchability and Dalit identity but every time you offer your maidservant at home a ‘different’ glass to drink chai from (as one of my professors pointed out to me some years ago) you are being mean. You are the reason that Nido Taniams die. Because at the end of the day, Taniam’s death is proof of how fatal our intolerance to difference and lack of respect to diversity can be.
It is easy to initiate an armchair revolution. Changing the little things in your lifestyle which you probably don’t even see as discriminatory, because these actions are so ingrained in you, is slightly more difficult. Let’s try and start from there. Be the change that you preach the world to be.