“Humanism is the only – I would go so far as saying the final – resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.” – Edward Said
I am everything that my government likes. I am an Indian. My surname suggests that I am a Hindu. My surname also suggests that I belong to that category of Hindus who wear a string around their neck and chest to prove their superiority among other Hindus. But the tragedy strikes when it is realised that I don’t believe in conventional religious beliefs. My image of a perfect ‘government’s man’ starts breaking down. The idea of me being a ‘perfect’ example for the government seems to take a different turn, as the identification marks celebrated by the government no longer carry any significance for me. The very same marks that made me ‘likable’, now turn me into a formation of absent features, utterly detestable for the government.
The moment I start acting, I don’t just act against the government’s beliefs, but also against the structures imposed on me. It is a fight against the societal myths that tried to turn me into one of many.
A government generally wants its population to be clearly divided into two categories. The ones they prefer, and the ones they oppose. The distinction is very clear. The people who bear the signs that the government prefers are believed to be in ‘favour’ of the government. And those who don’t are ‘against’ it. And then there are people, who have all the signs required to impress the government, but ideologically prefer to oppose those signs in general, and therefore any government that supports those signs.
But, there is a certain difference between the people who don’t carry those signs and the people who do carry those signs but oppose them. The people who do not carry those signs are the ones that government uses as its propaganda tool. Through falsification of facts, they try to influence those who carry the signs into ‘uniting’ against them. And the people who carry those signs but oppose them are the ones that break this ‘unity’. They become living examples of dissent and disruptors of government’s propaganda. Those who carry these signs have a choice to be with the government, but the ones without the signs have no choice; they are the victims.
The government’s process of identifying me is divided into two steps. Firstly, the government identifies me as one of its people. Then, it notices the dissent and identifies me as being against it. For my part, it is also a two step process. First, I identify the government as being a government of the country where I live, and therefore expect it to be benevolent. But then I identify the government as being a supporter of the signs that I oppose.
The government’s opposition to my dissent is a result of its generalised idea that every single person carrying those signs should also follow them. My opposition to government’s ideas is a result of my logical recognition of the absurdity of carrying arbitrary signs that the government likes. So, for the government, my place in society shifts. Similarly, for me, the government’s role also changes.
When someone refuses to be just ‘one of many’, or tries to be neutral, they remove themselves from the ‘many’ and create a new space where they are at the forefront. The person used to be a dot in a long line of people. Their existence was almost invisible, as they merely represented a sign: just an example without any individualistic presence. They were only there because they were like others.
The moment I recognise a different path, I start finding signs that should not be there. And when I accept new signs and relate to them by opposing the previous ones, I start existing. My existence becomes visible through the opposition of conventions.
Human beings make choices. Whatever the situation is, we choose a side that suits our opinion. And sometimes, we believe that we should not take any sides – we should remain neutral. But, how neutral is neutral?
Sometimes, we try to avoid a situation because we feel that our stand could mark us as belonging to a particular group. We feel that we should remain unbiased – maybe out of fear or mere opportunism, or maybe because of our inadequate knowledge of the situation. Whatever the reason, while taking the decision, we believe that we have taken a neutral stand and more precisely a safe stand; our stand is not going to affect the situation or leave a biased impression on other participants.
But, while taking that neutral stand, we are actually performing an act of taking sides. However impartial neutrality may seem, in reality, it means taking your own stand, which is unconventional, on an issue. I called it unconventional because we generally believe that one has to say yes or no to an issue to qualify as taking a stand. We believe that not siding with any of the ‘extremes’ in a situation makes a person neutral.
But, in a situation which demands a person take a particular side, even if it seems ‘extreme’, and when a single person’s selection matters on a macroscopic level, it becomes evident that the people who stay neutral take the side of injustice (in most cases). If I have got the signs that government favours and I don’t oppose them even when I see ongoing transgression in the name of those signs, then my neutral stand is no longer impartial. It puts me on the opposite side of justice and in favour of the baleful activities of the government.
To quote Dante, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” In moments of social crisis, one either sides with the just, or the unjust. And those with the above-mentioned signs bear a greater responsibility to oppose the prevalent structures, as they have the weapons and the privilege to break these structures.
A step towards sanity against authoritarianism is also a step towards humanity against religious desecration. If the government is like a moving train, its people should be lucid enough to decide whether to take that train or not. And more importantly, only perspicuous comprehensibility could make people understand that the driver of the train could be the leader of the spiteful government, but it’s them, the people, who have the right to decide whether to provide the driver with the fuel to run the train or not.
The whole universe can be explained through structures. Break down those structures into smaller parts and we will know whether the face and the core are the same. The asymmetry between the face and the core is what destroys social ethics. According to a BBC report, “India’s economy is growing at an annual rate of more than 7%, the fastest of any major country.” But also, according to a Times of India report, “India continues to have serious levels of widespread hunger forcing it to be ranked a lowly 97 among 118 developing countries for which the Global Hunger Index (GHI) was calculated this year (2016).”
The space between a government and its people should not be one of fear. It’s the people who choose a government. But disaster arrives when a government starts choosing, among its people, who it wants to provide all its favour to. Equality should not be an abstract metaphor but a perceivable reality. A reality that will provide justice to people according to their needs. A reality that will talk about equality not only among the people who follow the signs favoured by the government but among humanity in general. A reality that will make people mourn for the suffering of people they haven’t even met. A reality that will stretch the boundaries of ‘imagined communities’ until they become one.