From ‘Love Jihad’ To Padmavati: Fear Is Stopping All Of Us From Standing Up For Our Rights

By Janhavi Welukar, student of PGP in Development Leadership at ISDM:

As part of my ‘Realizing India’ journey, my group and myself visited a district in Bihar. This journey is basically a rural immersion, wherein we interact with various stakeholders within a rural community.

We interacted with the people of a small village of 81 households. On the first day, the people were somewhat scared to speak to us. They viewed us as some sort of authority that had come to investigate or conduct some kind of a survey. Under this assumption, they were visibly wary of talking to us. After the initial hesitation, a man told us about an incident that had taken place in the village – because of which the atmosphere in the village was that of a painful calm.

A young boy aged 18 had been murdered in his own farm by a sickle, after being abducted while he was asleep right outside his house. He was in love. While he was still reeling in this euphoric feeling, his girlfriend was married off forcefully to a boy of her caste.

The girl’s new family caught the girl talking to this boy over the phone. The boy did not even live to see the dawn that day – he was murdered before that. This was almost like the second part of “Sairat” in the making – but that’s not what caught my attention.

The story begins with its consequence. The incident had taken place just a month before we arrived there. As we interacted with the villagers, they divulged more information about the incident – about how, why and when this had taken place. On our last day, we got to know that the entire family of the murdered boy had left the village and no one knew where they had gone.

This came as a shock to me when a sari-clad woman, holding a sickle and cutting the crop, narrated it to me whilst working in her farm. A police complaint had been made and the due process of law had been followed. Yet, something powerful enough had led the family to uproot themselves from this life of theirs and embrace a whole new environment. They had not only left their assets behind (as a house, a farm and some cattle) – they had also left their memories, emotional attachments and the people behind.

This is never an easy decision. To never look back is one of the hardest decisions for humans who revere living in retrospect. Then why? Why did they just leave? You know, that’s the thing with humans – fear and shame are very powerful drivers for them. They were scared for their lives and shameful of what had happened. Even though they were not at fault, they bore the brunt of it, in addition to the loss of life of their loved one. Oh, such pain!

Within the same month, one of our faculties had narrated a similar painful migration of two people who had lost their families in the Gujarat riots. It had brought tears to most of our eyes. And now, just a few days ago I read about the burning of this man in Rajasthan in the name of ‘love jihad’.

I am fairly disturbed by all of this. From the most empowered of us in the urban communities (who can fight against odds) to the bottom 20% of us who do not have such good fortune, fear has become a common driver – from Karan Johar to this small family in a small village in Bihar, from AIB to the people who were lynched under the flawed notion of ‘gau raksha’, from Deepika Padukone to the person who was burnt semi-alive in the name of ‘love jihad’. It is fear that is stopping us from speaking up, and from standing up for our rights and the rights of others who deserve as much as we do.

While I was in school we used to recite this poem in school as a part of our assembly prayer. I think it is time for us to remind ourselves and the nation the lessons that this poem conveys. A poem written before India’s independence is true and relevant even today. I present Rabindranath Tagore’s poem:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

I end with the hope that not only my country, but we as humanity also awaken, and smell the coffee, before it’s too late for us and our generations to come.

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