When I was doing my engineering in computer science, I used to think of ways of how technology can help the society and contribute towards making a more egalitarian world. We were never taught that in engineering college and there was no space for discussing anything social, economic and political. These professional colleges systematically keep you away from the knowledge and understanding of social institutions. During graduation, I used to give home tuition to school going children and teach them social science and mathematics.
That way, I was doing my schooling again because honestly school never taught me to think, question or learn. It only taught me to cram things, attain merit on that basis and just get all the appreciation you need to be a ‘good kid.’ Merit is a very capitalist idea in a factory like school setting but it helped me convince my parents and relatives that women can do good in studies. I used to fit in their stereotypical understanding of being an intelligent, hardworking kid.
During undergrad, I started reading books by critical thinkers like Ramachandra Guha, Yuval Noah Harari, Arundhati Roy, Rana Ayyub and others and I started developing curiosity about things like never before. Engineering seemed hollow and shallow to me, it was all good to learn new skills but there was no human connection and no touch with the society and its people.
I started planning to join a social science college but had no money and, to convince my parents to do a master’s degree was impossible. I am the only graduate woman in my family and according to them, I had studied enough. I joined a start-up and worked there for one year, saved some money and then applied for a master’s course in Women’s Studies in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
The odds of me not getting selected were high (me being an engineer) and even higher was the cost of living in Mumbai and actually pursuing the course that would not get me a well-paying job. Fortunately, I got into it and somehow with the support of my friends, I managed to pay my fee as well.
My journey began and I started reading things systematically and the lectures of my course gave me the perspective to understand those readings better. Initially, it was uncomfortable for me to grasp everything and some readings used to be overwhelming enough to make me sad for extended periods of time.
I realised that maybe because of my gender, class and life experiences, I am marginalised but still privileged in so many other ways. Recognising my privilege and accepting it was very difficult for me because I used to think that my life has been the most difficult one because of my parents’ extramarital affairs, its impact on me and my personality and also because of patriarchy in general. I learnt a lot from my friends and through our classroom discussions.
These classes used to be very different and there were students from diverse background unlike engineering. There were women who were the only ones from their village to be able to make it to higher education and there were women going through a divorce, while pursuing the course. It was inevitable for me to reflect more on what my idea of society was (in private schools and engineering colleges) and what our society actually is.
In this period, I believe I have become a better person and I look at things differently. Slowly and gradually, I started thinking critically and I think that my idea of what constitutes the critical thinker also changed. I now study, understand and question anything and everything in the world.
But today, I am scared.
I am scared that I am everything that I am not supposed to be in this new India. I am a thinker who questions the ruling party and its propaganda machines, its unfair and unjust laws, its Hindutva ideology and vision to divide. I see vivid dreams of mass killings and I am mostly scared to go to my library after the Jamia and AMU police brutality. I feel scared after putting out dissent on social media as I know that they are tracking all of us.
Yesterday, I had a dream which has shaken me to the core! All those people who speak against the government were visible to police and to the RSS karyakartas. We were all running to save our lives but they were just brutally killing our loved ones, our parents and our children. I was trying to hide, but my existence could not be hidden anymore. I was out there being brutally beaten by lathis and just waiting for the death to come.
The streets were crowded with police, the Sangh Parivar workers, and the critical thinkers, the intellectuals were the others, the ‘terrorists.’ Good people who genuinely want to do good for the society, who believes in the constitution and who are mostly empathetic were all being portrayed as the bad ones and the actual bad guys were being cheered by the majority.
They were being cheered for being brutal, hateful and they were celebrated for doing mass killings. In my dream, I was looking at the happenings and was thinking helplessly that nothing is more dangerous than the infiltration of mind with hatred and bigotry. My heart told me, “Look what they have done to my people, they have made them real demons; full of hate and no compassion and empathy for anyone who is not a part of their hate-spreading Hindutva project.”
In the New India, being empathetic and thinking being feels like being a criminal. You are not allowed to love, care or empathise with marginalized communities, with students and other intellectuals. It has become a new crime to be compassionate, to speak the truth and uphold the idea of constitutional justice and, being a Hindu extremist male is the new ideal.
Parents, relatives and people in power expects you to be hateful and if you are not, you are ‘urban Naxals’ or ‘libtards’ whose minds have been indoctrinated by books. History books, our freedom fighters and our intellectual leaders are the new demons for them in this intimidating India.
What do you do when irrational, hateful bigots are the accepted ones in the society and that is how you are expected to be in new India? Parents are telling their children that they will not be sending money if they dare speak for the minorities and against the government. Those parents who always wanted us to excel in studies are now the upholders of WhatsApp university knowledge and disregard our emotional and intellectual labor.
This reality that sounds like dystopia has become everyday life for me, my friends and students across universities who are studying social sciences. We are right away called anti-national, irrational and stupid and there is no respect or regard for the work we do.
When I am told by my friends from engineering that I am spreading hate through social media, I feel hopeless. There is anxiety and bad dreams do visit me every day. We, the students, do not like this New India and we feel ashamed of coming from the families where parents, relatives and even some childhood friends are worshipping the Modi government whose sole purpose is to spread hate, divide our people and just ruin the idea of India.
In these dark times, I keep reminding myself that “a lie told a thousand times do not become the truth” and we need to stand by the truth.