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The Day I Started Fearing Our Democracy

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By Kawalpreet Kaur:

“Do I look like a terrorist to you?”

“Ma’am we have orders.”

These words still haunt me at night. I am often surprised by the intensity of the emotions that it can evoke. I fail to categorize, recognize and give a name to it. First, there was anger, then shame, and now it has left an enormous sense of purposeful realization within me.

Delhi police detention of girl

It’s been almost three weeks since I have been fighting this revolting feeling within me. On the 23rd of January, as I was coming back after a regular day to board the metro at G.T.B Nagar station, I had to go about the all-too-familiar routine of putting my bag on the counter for checking, standing in the ladies line, waiting for my turn, and then boarding the metro in order to reach home.  I felt an urgency to be quick. It was already 8:30 PM and my mom likes to put that as ‘late’.  I was looking around casually when I noticed that there had been a change in the setup. Although not explicitly, but it could be felt in the mannerisms of the people around me. There were a lot of police personnel at the station, and I suddenly realized that the then impending Obama visit might have had something to do with the sudden spike in the number of security guards and a general sense of alertness that was being conveyed by them.

When my turn for checking came, I didn’t know that the step I was going to take would change my perspective on the nature of our Democracy itself.  I was detained. I was made to explain why I was carrying “those things” in my bag. And what were ‘those things’? Many questions were racing through my mind, which gave way to fear, and then a sense of helplessness overwhelmed me. I could sense the hostility of the public around me. I could hear the panic in my voice. I was shivering but it was not due to the cold. It was invoked by the treatment that was meted out to me.

The lady guard looked at me with suspicion, and asked for the last month edition of ‘Frontline that I had been holding in my hand. The article that I was reading discussed the connection between RSS and Italian fascism. It was titled RSS AND SIKHS’. It was as if she had already convicted me in her mind when she saw the lines that I had underlined in that edition. Those lines only served to prove her suspicions. She instructed me to get my bag; confused, I handed it to her.

She quickly emptied my bag by turning it inside out, and as a result, my wallet, followed by an empty tiffin box, books, and assignments, were spilled onto the floor. This time, I was hit by a wave of panic. The lady picked up and scrutinized the three books she had found on the floor. She asked me not to touch anything and wait. I was made to stand in a distant corner since I had been blocking the way. When she returned, she was accompanied by four male officers, carrying guns. They signaled her to go back, and she obeyed with a smile. One of them approached me and uttered, “Why are you carrying this?”, ‘What?’ I asked trying to contain my shivering. They pointed at my books and said,”this“. One of the books was on Kashmir violence, another was on Hindu extremism and the third was titled, ‘Understanding Jihad.

It was as if, at least to the guards, the books suggested that I was a terrorist.

I had to remove my long boots, and go through an elaborate security check twice. I bore all this with a deep sense of humiliation. The taller one amongst them turned and politely asked me to show a valid ID and leave. I was shocked. I had done nothing. When had reading something become a crime? In the heart of the capital city, the State had rendered me helpless. The statements and arguments of the guards were aimed at identifying my religion. Once they realized that I was not a Muslim, they felt no need for further proceedings. That day my religion had saved me.

On the way back, I realized that I could have saved 45 minutes of my time had I shown them my college Id before all the trouble began. I have been struggling with all the ethos of democracy that have been grilled into me. I will always remember that night. I was shivering, perplexed, and shocked at the turn of events. My family still felt threatened by the phone call that the security guards had made. My parents asked me not to read such things in public. Everyone  was trying to console me by saying that freedom of expression is limited, that reading about Jihad is controversial. Some were justifying the acts of the police by saying that the guards were acting in national interest. No one paused to define what this national interest was, or how should it be protected. People seemed threatened by the idea that we could question the actions of our guards, policemen, and leaders. The next day, when I entered college, I was supposed to be a part of the celebration of democracy in the name of Republic Day. And I found myself rammed by contradictions. I went to the podium after that function was over and tried to talk about what I had been through. I started speaking about the previous night, but was hounded by protests. They asked me to follow procedures. They accused me of not informing them about the content of my speech before speaking. Their fear strengthened my resolve to speak, for  I knew that they were threatened by my truth. They fear that it will unravel the mockery that democracy has come to represent. But I also felt weak due to the contradictions of my own thoughts and feelings.

I was filled with a profound realisation that democracy is failing thousands of people daily. Some people have been harassed by the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), some by the capitalistic policies, by religious bigotry, by AFSPA. The violence against women, children, and LGBTQI that is meted out by our state officials is heart wrenching.

What does the freedom of our country even mean when we are made to think and follow accepted notions like a herd? We are controlled through State sponsored self-censorship of our thoughts.

On the one hand, the Modi Sarkar openly endorses ‘Ghar Vapsi’ and ‘love Jihad’, and any voice of dissent is deemed anti-national, can I say “aache din” are here?  It seems like switching to Dinanath Batra’s books and the bandwagon of Modi bhakts are the only “safe” options! Can I exercise the freedom that has been guaranteed to me in the Constitution? That night has made me a proud dissenter. However, a nebulous sense of hope still remains. The hope that guided our forefathers has taught me to have faith in the Constitution, and most importantly, in the citizens of the Republic.

You must be to comment.
  1. Paul

    Sad,If Possession of literature related to extremism can get you in trouble.There might soon be a time when even checking about them on internet would also be scrutinized This incident reminds me of my mother who used to insist not to carry any books on terrorism or even conflicts (perhaps we are better served only if we carry Tinkle).

  2. Safi

    Good one . You were lucky your religion saved you (: wouldn’t have been so easy if it was a muslim . Especially a muslim boy (me). Straight to the police station for ”questioning” . Its a sad state of affairs . Im an architect , a musician , a traveller , a foodie among many other things . but all that is put aside when I introduce myself . The problem is that the divisive politics and policies being implimented by the people in charge . The problem is the people who know this is wrong and aren’t speaking up . The problem is my parents time and again asking me to not show any heed to these subjects or ever comment or talk about these things on social media platforms . The problem is us not using our god given brain to simply see what is good and what is bad . I salute you for speaking up the next day . Im glad you realized what democracy has melted down to in todays time . Im glad you wrote this article because if even one person understands the point that you are trying to get across . . it starts a chain of educative thought .

  3. anchit makkar

    sorry for the things that you had to undergo on that day
    but do you think that terrorist bear a special face or appearances or looks
    i am not here to mock or say anything disrespectful to you in any sense but that was a security protocol they needed to follow .don’t make it a big deal.
    though you are asking for fundamental rights that are provided to us by our constitution but its their duty to safeguard them. had these people not being performing their duty there will be no rights for you.
    the books you were carrying are on questionable matter. so, there is nothing wrong if they question you regarding those. I tell you thebooks with titles jihaad and rss have many things in them that can easily mislead anyone, if you don’t believe me go to a small town and visit a book store there and you will feel that what i am saying is true.
    moreover all of us want a corruption free delhi. then why question few security personnels performing their duty. is this not corruption if they dont perform their duty well

  4. Archit Agrawal

    This is problem with us indians .. we are angry,hyper and sad when we are detained for no reason(as we think) but we never think that security doesnt feel happy to detain anyone .. if they get a slight doubt, they detain and its their job(not any political agenda).. i am from disclosed security office but its our job.. literature and everything is fine but if we find ne1 doubted we interrogate. . Citizenz should not take it as personal defamation or mental distress(as we are doing it for everyone’s benefit not for any govt. Benefit) .. we are standing 8-10 hrs straight for all citizen saftey and not for our saftey.. you may be wrongly detained but security personals have their duty above everything.. we indians just have habit of complaining on govt. But somthings we dont understand is national security that too in nation of over 1 billion people of every caste and religion and background .. it works much better keeping in mind for every citizen saftey without thinking about a lady getting late for her home.. if they misbehaved with you in any manner,then it is point of shame and disgrace and point of conolain.. but every doubted person is taken as convicted so we can judje the way person reacts to the panic and helps us to give our judgement. . It may be wrong thinking of personal benefits but its our job and procedures to give a safe society..
    even holding a literature which is controversial can create doubt.. we respect freedom of speech and literature but it is our job to doubt

    1. ABs

      Very true sir. You, sir, have my respect.

  5. ABs

    I am completely in support of the Security Officers. They have orders, and they have to follow them. You were in possession of literature talking about extremism, Kashmiri Violence and Jihad, the words are enough to evoke a certain, shall we say “reaction” in Security Officers. Who knows, they may have served in Kashmir, or may have known someone who had. It is not easy to be a Soldier, and people like you, (although with good intentions I am sure) are quick to whine and complain if you are late, or are inconvenienced in any way. These Officers face the possibility of a violent death guarding a thankless Republic. Cut them some slack. True, the instant reaction to most people in situations where Armed Guards ask them questions, is that of panic, which you have so aptly described. Turn the tables and put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Picture yourself in a area in which a college student, much like yourself, actually has a bomb in her bag. It has happened in the past, and continues on a daily basis in Kashmir. College students are mostly used for extremist work, because they are easily swayed by ideology.

    You think that this routine checking is difficult? It is typical of civilian outlook on life. Please try to enlist in the Army, and try to fight the terrorists yourself. They spare no one, they have no mercy, and the people who put on those uniforms are the ones who pay the price for keeping you and your family safe. It is easy to be romantic and talk about oppressive policies like AFSPA, picking up a gun, and defending your nation against the likes of Ajmal Kasab isn’t.

    As for LGBTQI rights, I can only say one thing, change will come the day we, as a society change. Homophobia is not a new concept, and neither is sitting around complaining about it.

    Free Speech is a sacred right, one that seems to be often abused in today’s world. Freedom of Speech does not mean that I go out on the street and support terrorists, does it? No. I am sure that you wish to do the right thing, abide by Humanity and Humanism, but we must also understand that the other side, that of terrorists, bigots and violence is kept away from us by the very men and women in Uniform who you wish to complain against.

  6. Anbhu

    Jingoistic State, medievalist subjects, bloated mediocre executive, unruly barbaric leaders…. There is no redemption for this artificial nation. Live like animals or leave for greener pastures.

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