McNulty: I’ve gotta ask you. If every time Snot Boogie would grab the money and run away… Why’d you even let him in the game?
McNulty: Well, if every time, Snot Boogie stole the money, why’d you let him play?
Kid: Got to. It’s America, man.
The above conversation is from “The Wire” (television series). The kid’s character is an uneducated boy who is a small part of a big drug chain.
The strong current of respecting somebody’s liberty and recognising this as inherent American culture is embedded deep, even in a section that is far from basic education and deals with drugs. This really disturbs me. It’s not always that you see people making the choice of what to think.
The quote above is for a large population in India that regularly faces the dilemma of what to think about particular incidents, norms, rules and people at large. It’s not false that constitutional morality is far from being deeply rooted in us. I intend to limit myself to young fellows whom I represent. The scope of this article is not to make distinctions between ideologies and recommend the right one. The objective is to make the hazy notions of being neutral, ideologically left, right or central as clear as possible. And dive into the contestation of what is just and more just, right and more right, wrong and more wrong.
At the risk of generalization, let me say that a large section of youth is regularly faced with ideological confrontations in many spheres. This section is largely unaware of ideologies and their political and socio-economic complications. Be it public sector versus privatization, development versus tribal rights, open economy versus state monopoly, rationality versus religious fanaticism, tolerance versus intolerance, minority rights versus minority appeasement, and so on. This section is largely at the receiving end of arguments and counter-arguments through social media platforms.
Now, this section needs to form their opinion and take sides (if they want) based on the information they receive. Herein lies the dilemma. Who is righteous and to what extent? Am I to justify the side I take till the end? Should I form my opinion according to the ‘side’ I had taken before? Should I concern myself with issues and policies that do not and will not affect me? Moreover, is empathy subjective?
This brings us to the point where we need to make a distinction between ‘forming opinions’ and maintaining ‘neutrality’. Are both mutually exclusive? It’s hard to say. Should you form an opinion about the debate about Bhima-Koregaon riots if you are not Dalit, Maratha or Brahmin? Should you if you are one? Is it absolutely necessary to pick a side when someone from a minority community is lynched?
Should I share news links of Thakur-Dalit clashes over who should use a road, even if I belong to either side? Should I be concerned if some caste, religion or custom, which I may or may not belong to, stops a person from loving their partner? Answers to these questions are not difficult if one does not get swayed by false contentions.
It must be understood that not being biased does not mean being indifferent. To ‘choose’ a side does not necessarily mean to choose that ideology. More often than not, people shy away from such incidents due to the possibility of being seen as associated with particular subaltern voices, which historically have certain stigma attached to them. Being ‘neutral’ provides an easy way out. It gives an escape from the back door where one absolves themselves from all implicit obligations towards society.
It’s crucial to understand that becoming distant doesn’t mean one is devoid of values. India’s foreign policy could be a prime example. We adopted a policy of non-alignment and not neutrality. We were not indifferent towards injustice inflicted in the world and expressed our opinion and disregard against any aggression, be it by USA or Russia. We just refused to align ourselves with any country or ideology, in favour of humanity.
Does belonging to a particular religion make you its sole guardian? Does being ideologically inclined mean that you don’t put your own thoughts under scrutiny?
There is a famous poem by Martin Niemoller, written during Nazi rule in Germany. It’s too well-known to be repeated but the ending is worth mentioning. The speaker says he kept quiet and did not speak when they came for others, but then one day, “they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
It does not matter if you are a student, engineer, lawyer, actor/actress, doctor or UPSC aspirant – we need to check that we don’t loose values and principles of justice and equality. We should commit ourselves to not ignore the voices of Dalits and other minorities. If you choose to adhere to an ideology, religion or any faith as a way of life, make sure that it guarantees liberty, equality, justice and above all, does not undermine dignity. One must be rational enough to discard your ideology, religion or faith if it undermines any of these principles. Let us pull down those demagogues who are ignorant of trust and social commitment. This could be your metric for choosing ‘sides’.
There shall be no doubt that we need humanism as an overarching principle to decide the discourse of our society. The fact that we live in a plural democracy under a visionary constitution should be enough apparatus for us.