By Baljeet Kaur:
Being born into a liberal family, I learnt to maintain my focus on education, freedom and human values throughout my life. Even religion came to me as a subject of learning, understanding and introspection. Being an Indian was always a matter of pride and my first identity.
All through my childhood, I used to feel glad to be born in a society which celebrates freedom of thought. A society which was not only considered to be tolerant, but was also known to celebrate each others’ festivals, and respect their customs and beliefs, families where daughters were not only given an equal opportunity, but were also considered as supportive of their parents as sons, a culture where castes were remembered only as some old memory associated with ancestors, which we were glad to leave behind, a democracy where reservation was seen as an additional tool of support to those who were disadvantaged earlier, a nation where all states were progressing and prospering, a community where dowry, female foeticide, marriage within castes, untouchability etc. were the customs of past, and upon which we had contemplated and decided to abandon.
But a few incidents awakened me to the realities of our nation.
First was the mention of one of our major political parties in our NCERT civics textbook which further elaborated their ideology as ‘Hindutva’. I have still not been able to come to terms with the fact that how a national party could push aside the secular nature of our constitution and promote the ideology of a single religion. Second blow came to me when one day my brother and I were walking down our school corridor and somebody called out ‘12 baj gaye’. I was dumbfounded! Fortunately, before this incident, we had attended a summer camp organised by our community where we learnt about the heroism of our forefathers who, due to being in small numbers, went out at night to the locations of the enemies to rescue the female members of other communities. When we tried to confront the kid, he ran away. The only thing to be happy about at that time was that my brother was ready to defend his faith with facts and courage.
Sometime in the year 2008, the TV serial Balika Vadhu started. There was huge media hype around the show because of its subject matter. I, on the other hand, was enraged because I believed that this show might bring back the custom of totally forgotten child marriages. But my mind was blown when I came across the pre-episode message stating the fact that 43 % of girls are given into child marriages in India. And in the year 2010, one of my classmates mentioned to me that she and her family were unhappy because her elder sister had given birth to a girl. All their gifts which they had bought to give to the baby boy would now go wasted!
I always escaped from discussing or reading about the event of ’84 riots. In fact, I remember myself being really sad when I read an article in class XI, written by an eminent personality revisiting those unfortunate turn of events. I believed that it’s not possible for such incidents of mass murders to happen now in India, and so we should forget it and move on. But the fact is that these massacres are as recent as 2013 in our country.
The reality is we call Muslims ‘terrorists’, ‘mullah’, ‘Pakistani’; we call people from seven sister states ‘chinkies’, ‘cheene’, and even ‘momos’,Â ‘Bihari and Madrasi’ have now become swear words; my neighborhood Aunt will still wash her home when a Muslim friend of her nephew enters into the house, lower castes are still untouchables and not accepted even as the house-helps!
I have often heard people saying that they were just joking when they made any racist remark and other people should be supportive of the humour or the ‘pun-intended’. Some of us, who are educated and know that we can be punished by the law for making such remarks, have developed new phrases which cannot be termed racists. We tend to be proud of that! But who has given us the right to make fun of someone’s sentiments? Who has given us the right to make a person feel bad about one’s community over which they had no control in the first place? Who has given us the right to force a person feel guilty about one’s religion or gender? Who has given us the right to question someone’s identity and make one feel as one doesn’t belong to India?
We need to understand that these little jokes among friends are the beginning of hatred in communities. These later take the form of abuse, emotional torture, assault, rape, murder and massacres. These remarks are used by our leaders to awaken the devil inside us which doesn’t shy away from killing their friends and neighbours.
Similar is the case with our neighbouring nation which has always been considered as our enemy. Our hatred towards that country and its people has become a part of our daily lives. We can go to any extent to show this while cracking jokes and using swear words. But how can we hate those people who when leaving their houses aren’t even sure whether they’ll return back to their loved ones or not? Why don’t we understand that these differences and vengeance are the unfortunate outcome of the decision makers of our countries? The public on both sides have little to do with it, besides bearing the brunt of those decisions till this time.
The recent death of a young resident from North East India has although involved media and political parties into debates, but we can hardly trust them. What we can still trust, is humanity. We can still trust our culture of living in unity.
Nobody is born equal; whether it is the difference of gender, color, race, religion, caste or country. But we always want to see similar people, both in outlook and in thoughts. We derive psychological satisfaction by living with our own people and escaping the risk of interaction with ‘other people’. These beliefs, remarks and hatred are the results of such risk aversions where we want to eliminate the ‘other’. But diversity has always been nature’s way. And hence, we shouldn’t try to move towards uniformity. We need to recognise unity in diversity and move away from the practices of bringing uniformity in diversity. We should learn to accept the differences and appreciate the variety which has always been part of nature. Some call this being in ‘agreement in disagreements’.
In a nutshell, the time is to identify and accept that this is a problem in our country. Let’s start questioning, why we do it? Let’s move towards the change which we want to see. To make it happen, just start placing yourself at the receiving end of such discriminations. How do you feel when somebody calls you fat? That too, when you know that you yourself have no problem with it. People still make you feel bad about it. Similar are the cases of gender, caste, religion and country. It’s time that we start understanding the message of films like ‘Delhi 6’ and the very recent ‘Shahid’. It’s time that we feel the emotions and pains of our fellow beings. It’s time that we start discussing about these issues with our friends and family.
We should inculcate the concept of embracing and supporting diversity in our value system. Because they say nobody is born racist!
“My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”
Thomas Paine, philosopher and writer (1737-1809)