By Astha Savyasachi:
“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those whose maintain neutrality in times of moral crisis…”
– Dante Alighieri
This piece might sound a bit effusive in its tone. It might also appear to some as a diatribe. But today, where only demagogues rule, a vehement and persuasive piece of writing is bound to come.
With the nation burning in the flames of communal violence, false nationalism, political and social bigotry, and turning into ashes, silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Being neutral might be misapprehended as being unbiased, but the question here is how you perceive neutrality and when do you adopt it because at times it turns into indifference.
Being neutral might land you up in a safe house. But in such a malevolent atmosphere where a person is lynched to death based on an unsubstantiated rumour that his family killed a cow and consumed its meat (although the report clearly says it was mutton), neutrality will no longer serve any good. As much as the mob was a sinner, we must equally perceive the neighbors, who didn’t raise their voices, as the black sheep in our society.
It is not a tolerance vs. intolerance debate. Here, the intention is to make you realise that neutrality, that too in such times as these, can turn society into a dead duck. From this point, none of the stakeholders in the society can help redeem it.
What makes some apprehensive of raising their voice against something unjust are examples like that of Rohith Vemula who was forced to commit suicide just because he was dauntless enough to stand against the powerful but wrong. He had to pay for sticking to his stand with audacity.
But this is not all. He showed us the silver lining in this cloud and made us realise that there are still people who would fight till their last breath for justice and would stand out among the numberless but neutral and silent people.
“If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality,” said Desmond Tutu. And even more important, who knows who would be the mouse next time.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
– Martin Niemöller
Obviously, an intolerant society gives rise to indifferent citizens and it goes the other way round too. It’s a vicious cycle. And rising intolerance is a result of what we are banning – beef, movies, books, websites and the list goes on.
It was written beside the table where they serve food in one of my relatives’ wedding. “Keval shakahariyo k liye” (only for vegetarians).” It made me realise how intolerant we are in terms of even culinary habits.
A society where an adult has no right to choose and follow his sexual orientation and is looked down upon and belittled because he/she is not the individual (the conventional one) that our holy books allow. And there is no mercy for even the ones who belong to the ‘straight’ orientation. They have to face grave consequences if they (unfortunately) fall in love with somebody outside their religion. It might get branded as ‘Love jihad’.
We are heading towards a society which might be developing fast in some aspects but remains stagnant on many issues. We are a society where even today Dalits are barred from entering certain temples. There is partiality even for the terrorists. When Islamist terrorists become ‘jihadis’ they are looked down upon, which they should be. But the Hindu terrorists become Hindutva heroes. It is quite possible that the people responsible for the carnage against thousands of Muslims in Gujarat hold senior positions in the government.
This has become a country where a student for his dissent against rampant intolerance prevailing in the country is treated with even more intolerance. And the series goes on. No matter how hard we try we would still fall short of fully elucidating the growing intolerance in the country.
When we brand a feeling with a name, the repercussions are disgusting. When the nation is branded as ‘Bharat Mata’, then we snub away all the actual feelings and concern for the nation and envelope ourselves with pretentious and overbearing norms and dos and don’ts to please our so-called Bharat Mata. It becomes a place where we are forced to accept that her citizens can’t consume beef, can’t raise their voice against her, can’t criticise her and so on. We have all been wrapped by a magniloquent nationalism which stands with army officials who lose their lives battling for the nation (we must stand by them), but not with a manual scavenger who lost his life while scavenging human waste; or a sewage worker who descends into gutter with both his arms and legs into that hell and stays there for hours and loses his life sometimes. What kind of patriotism is this which differs between the two and turns a blind eye to the latter?
The students (at JNU) had to pay for speaking their minds out and not flattering the government (which is expected from all of us now). JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on the charge of sedition and criminal conspiracy and many people justified it. The country once again proved itself to be intolerant by doing so.
And he was brutally beaten up on his way to the court. Yashpal Singh, a lawyer who thrashed Kanhaiya said in a sting operation, “We beat up journalists. We thrashed JNU professors..everyone. If you live in the country, you will have to talk about the country. That’s all we know. Then Kanhaiya came. To tell you the truth about Kanhaiya, the police was supporting us fully.” He added, “I will get a petrol bomb. No matter what cases are filed against me. I will not leave him even if I’m charged with murder…I want to go to the same jail and visit Kanhaiya’s cell, and beat him up there itself.” Such a genre of patriotism, which is no less than hooliganism, is debatable.
Getting down to brass tacks, with all this happening around us remaining neutral would be a graver sin than belligerence.
Staying amidst so much fanaticism, parochialism, provincialism, misogyny and what not, where it’s menacing even to step out of your house if you are not a blind proponent of the oppressor is definitely challenging. But what is inspiring is that there are people still standing against all odds and are breaking the walls of silence.
Somewhere deep inside we all have to question ourselves and stop being ‘neutral’ because if you’re not against it, you support it. Let the fascists realise that India is bigger than their conspiracies. And, when needed, we can and we will stand against all the odds, even them, to save our integrity.
“Samar shesh hai, nahi paap ka bhagi kewal vyadh, jo tasasth hain samay likhega unka bhi apraadh (The war is still on, and the warrior is not the only one to blame, those who are neutral, their crime will be noted by Time)”