The history of the Indian freedom struggle is one fascinating journey, and I often wish I could travel back in time, into the hay days of the freedom struggle. Who knows, maybe I would end up in one dingy old room with subdued lighting, somewhere in Chittagong where a group of young students are secretly planning to raid the British armoury. Or in the midst of impassioned cries of ‘Inquilaab Zindabaad’ inside the Central Legislative Assembly, because Bhagat Singh and Batukeswar Dutt had just thrown bombs, and officious looking people, both Indian and British, are scurrying around, looking frightened. Or even right in the middle of a milling crowd, listening with bated breath as an unassuming looking bespectacled gentleman in a military outfit conjures fire with his words, and assures freedom in return for blood.
Then, there is the death and the gore, the anguished screams and the bloodbath. The torture and the riots. Dead bodies piling up like rubble, in the drains and on the streets, unnamed and unmarked.
One such incident, as we all know, was the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, an incident that not only shook India but was also condemned by the British Government in London. It was one of the most shameful episodes of the modern British rule, one which finds itself among the bloodiest, and most reprehensive of acts undertaken by the colonial rulers in over 200 years of rule. It has found its place in literature, films, documentaries. For Bengalis, the episode holds a further significance since Tagore gave up the Knighthood bestowed by the British as a symbol of protest against the incident.
100 years since that unthinkable tragedy, when humanity completely deserted those who were in control, and a helpless group of people were murdered with ruthless indifference, where do we stand? As responsible citizens, as humans?
Exactly in the same place, methinks.
True, we are now a free country, and as citizens of a sovereign nation, we have our democratic rights. But, how many of us are actually aware of our constitutional rights? How many of us actually exercise them? In a country of over 1.2 billion people, how many of us really feel free? The freedom to speak, express, make art, participate, and even eat and live?
We have managed to drive our colonisers away but others have taken their place. Earlier, we were slaves to a different country, now we are slaves of our own countrymen. It is the logic of politics to divide and rule, to create conflict among the people so that their interests get diverted towards petty issues, and real socio-economic, political issues, like poverty, lack of education and crime, get relegated to the background in favour of insignificant non-issues, like whether or not women should party at night!
State control is maintained by reinforcing the false consciousness, by making people believe that it is how it is, and this is how it should be. We are shown laws, and policies and industrialization, our rockets are going to Mars, some of the most extraordinary brains of our generation are Indians, we live in the perpetual consciousness that our nation is the next big superpower. And grown it has! But a superpower does not become so by standing on the blood and bones of its people.
We cannot break out of the shackles of slavery as long as we allow politicians, and godmen, and religious heads of states to dictate our lives. We can’t let them keep us deluded in the false belief that we are being taken care of as a people, by a concerned welfare state. In fact, we are being taken care of! Only, not in a way that eradicates poverty, or superstition, or false religio-cultural beliefs about what we should eat, and how we should dress. Not in a way that breaks through casteism and barriers of man-made social stratification. But in a way that perpetuates the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, reiterates superstition and reinforces regressive stereotypes. The state and innumerable interest groups take care to see that the conflicts and the stereotypes survive so that the civil society gets little opportunity to see through the veil, to look at what really matters, that is the condition of the people.
Every time a ‘godman’ makes an outrageous comment about how women should behave, and how rape is an acceptable, even desirable form of social behaviour, we should not simply flood social media with remarks and memes about the bizarreness or the regressive nature of the comment. We should also note that this, apart from being the rantings of an obnoxious, depraved mind, is also a devious ploy to make women tow the line. For as long as one part of the human race remains uneducated, uninformed and subjugated, and men remain busy trying to keep the women in their lives ‘in control’, there could never be a fully informed, progressive and united resistance against the so-called authorities.
As long as men, in all their naiveté, believe that the most important thing in their lives is their power dynamic with women, the state, the pressure groups, and the different social institutions with their different political agenda, are safe. They are secure in their knowledge that they will be in power, that there will be status quo, for who would resist them? Who would tell them that they are unable to provide secure living conditions for women, that the dignity of women remains abysmal in the nation? For, after all, men and women are embroiled in the gender roles that have been given to them, they cannot see beyond, they do not have the time or the knowledge that would help them see past the illusion. So there would be no resistance, no one would point fingers at the fact that it is the duty of the state to provide a conducive environment to ensure that a woman does not get violated physically and mentally every day. Instead, it controls them, and tells them to dress decently. And if they get ‘out of hand’, rape them and murder them. That way the real issue, which is a complex interplay of religious, social and political factors, remains buried. And the authorities continue to enjoy power, and remain indifferent, fermenting further hate, and divisiveness.
It is to be noted that this vicious circle, of driving the attention of the civil society away from the real lived conditions, is an age-old practice, tested and tried. No one political party is solely responsible. At each stage, in every society and in every historical time, this is how it has been and will be. We are an enslaved people, and we fail to see it.
That is what the British did too. For every time there was a riot, the British played their cards right – pitch the gullible Indians against each other, let them fight to death while we quietly loot their coffers, bleed them dry.
In 1919, when General Dyer commanded his men to open fire on a bunch of completely unarmed people, with nowhere to run, he was making sure that the Indians towed the line. The monstrosity of his decision is testament to the fact that the lives of the people meant nothing to him. And therefore, he left them to die — man, woman and child alike. What is scary is that, as we enter the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, we find that in a free nation, the indifference has only been sustained, taking different, perhaps more subtle forms. And the control has become complete, for thanks to modern technology, we do not even know when and how we are being controlled. The ghost of Jallianwala Bagh continues to haunt us, subtly, but surely.
“Ab bhi jiska khoon nahi khaula
Khoon nahi wo paani hai.
Jo desh ke kaam naa aaye,
Woh bekaar Jawani hai”