It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
Incredulity, belief, wisdom and foolishness notwithstanding, superlative degrees of comparison are trending in India today. For every argument you put forward, there are three rebuttals. Unfortunately, none of this is in the democratic spirit of debate, but a fervent compulsion to prove one narrative, and one narrative only, as encompassing.
As a former student of philosophy, I find it important to tell you that there is no universal truth. It just doesn’t exist. Just like Smriti Irani’s degree. (Not that that’s a problem, but this is supposed to be a wordplay on truth, so just go with it.)
Before it upsets you that my comment was elitist, let me clarify that I will not, through the course of this article, pretend to be something I’m not. Given India’s sprawling social, historical, and political fabric, I come from considerable privilege. And at the risk of sounding preachy (though I hope it doesn’t sound so), I find that at this specific crossroads, the least I can do is accept my privilege and use it to smash exactly what keeps it alive.
Yet, despite my privilege, I am in danger in today’s India. Simply because I choose to think for myself. And, if you are guilty of the same, then you are in danger too. What is important to note here is that this fear is the final manifestation of the state-sponsored violence that is being inflicted on citizens at this point.
It is no longer physical, the violence. It now cracks down on you like an ideological whip, shaping you into the exact kind of nationalistic marauder you’re supposed to be. This is a narrow and claustrophobic definition, which will take generations to dilute.
The idea of India that we, as children, were asked to write in every Republic Day Essay Competition is something we truly thought we would grow up into living in. (Well, me, at least. Is that naivete or privilege?) For heaven’s sake, we never thought that Shah Rukh Khan playing a character called Major Ram Sharma was an issue. If anything, he was a better Ram than the mythological character.
Let me break it down.
As a member of the anti-national youth, I am mad. I am mad that this is what I have to deal with. I am mad that a bunch of adults voted in this government in 2014, but now, those who were kids then, have to deal with decades of damage. Literally nobody who is serious about giving their exams wants to talk to PM Modi about it while the country is reduced to chaos.
As someone with a job in a flailing economy, I am mad. I’m nervous about any investment I make, skeptical about taking loans, and just downright irritated because no one takes my concern seriously. Why, you ask? Because “women don’t know anything about money.” Kudos to our Finance Minister for inadvertently but generously endorsing that stereotype. This was an opportunity of gigantic proportions and could have pushed us forward immensely, but alas! Uber just ruined it all.
As a woman, I am mad. The impunity with which crimes against women continue to be committed is appalling. When the media decides that one such crime is more gruesome than the other, political leadership does nothing but appropriate it for their own benefit. Divorce, consent, harassment, are as much political issues as they are personal issues. That doesn’t mean you make vote banks out of centuries of oppression.
As a product of India’s public education system, I am mad. College is one of the few equalising spaces that exist in the country. Therefore, it is not surprising to me that some of our premier universities were the first to be attacked. But what this signals is a dangerous downfall.
Antagonising the majority of the nation (as of 2020, 65% of India is below 35 years of age), is a smart move. It makes them angry against the government today, but tomorrow, it makes them angry against the establishment. The insides of a disillusioned mind are without hope, and that can be a fatal blow to a republic.
As someone with parents from two different faiths, I am mad. My right to exist as a citizen in a secular country is being threatened with fancy-sounding plans that seem to have no substance. In my honest opinion, anybody who cares about your surname while befriending you deserves the very worst of a Takeshi’s Castle task set.
As someone who is privileged to have multiple meals a day, I am mad. The only reason you and I have food on our plates each day are our farmers. The farmer crisis has never been worse, and this government’s apathy regarding the situation is, frankly, worrying. Agriculture and rural economies are the backbone of the country and remain extremely vulnerable while you and I debate in comment sections online.
Yet, as a democratic citizen, I am determined to be unfazed. This is a careful creation to keep your minds away from the fact that Modi and his Cabinet couldn’t govern the country if you gave it to them on a Monopoly board.
My biggest fear remains that should the outrage against the government reduce at any given point, we will be met with crucial institutions and the basic structure of the country going completely defunct. As important as it is to fight the arrows shot at India’s secular fabric, it is equally important to hold the government accountable for reducing our quality of life, maintaining which, is literally their only job!
This Republic Day, while I spend a lot of my time being mad, I hope that collectively, we’re able to realise our true potential and rise above the mincemeat that is being made out of us. We’re above just one identity defining us. We’re above giving in to foolish narratives that do nothing but jeopardise freedoms that people have fought for generations to get. We’re above two men telling us what to do.