As Independence Day closes, jingoistic and empty narratives in politics are deafening the ears. Closeted in our homes, we are watching the very fundamentals, on which our nation was built, being steadily dismantled. With a new idea of India that Modi has unleashed, we are going towards a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, the very idea of which we have fought against for decades.
The nationalistic narrative that gets heightened on specific days celebrates the demon of oppression that we vanquished in 1947. Sacrifices made and battles fought with resilience and blood are vivid in public memory. For generations who did not witness these and the hopes that act as a balm to the wounds of partition, cinema and written texts are keeping memories of that part of history alive. These narratives will remind us how the road to freedom was splattered with blood, yet, unity is what took us to independence.
The narrative has shifted to finding a demon within to vanquish and celebrate supremacy. In Modi’s India, that demon is the minority and every free voice that critiques the Modi thought process, embedded in the idea of Hindu supremacy by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Our ideas of victory have always been tied with those of defeating someone. Here, defeat would be of the very existence of religious, gender and caste minorities.
This idea found a policy in CAA-NRC-NPR. And it met with equal resistance, probably the greatest resistance since the Emergency in 1975. But with the advent of the coronavirus, the resistance movement was forced to dissipate. The stubborn insistence of the Modi-Shah government to not roll these back, and to stay resolutely silent on highly vocal, and watched protests indicates the complete disdain for a democratic dialogue. In a country where survival takes precedence over everything else, the resistance had ploughed on, with new faces and newer names entering political discourses, coming with an awakening of those who assumed that being apolitical was an option.
And despite this, we find ourselves woefully helpless, as the powers continue to force and build their divisive agendas. In the face of a pandemic, Ram Mandir gets precedence, cementing the narrative of Hindu supremacy. And for several of us who have been a part of political protests and dialogue over years, fighting against this idea in the microcosm of the home, all the way to the streets, we have no choice but to watch helplessly, as every battle our country has fought so far seems to be ending in our defeat.
For citizens who have a voice, this helplessness is acute. When we cannot be out there, physically making ourselves heard in enviable numbers, we are forced to merely express our opinions on social media platforms — where either they are reduced to empty rhetoric or find their audience within echo chambers. Else there are the trolls, who, with vitriolic violence and hate, attempt to smother voice of reason, bolstered in their impunity by powers that legitimise this by inaction, and often by acting the exact same way.
With steady voices that have been critiques of this thought-process being systematically targeted and intimidated, the ones who aren’t are keeping the muted battle raging. But how? And to what avail? None of us even once assume that social media outrages can replace actual walking on the streets to demonstrate dissent. How else do we use our voices? In a world where free speech meets attacks and physical movements end up becoming irresponsible outbreaks, how do we continue to impact the situation?
Having a voice means something only when you use it. But the tenor of the voices of dissent must become louder and find newer ways to express. We are watching as history is being eclipsed, little children are being subjected to religiosity in academia, being wrapped in the idea of culture. The first thing to do is to step back and question every single sentence, word and action that we take home that seem benign. Dismantle these thoughts in our living rooms so that the next Whatsapp forward that talks, yet again, of the government’s triumphs gets stalled. These forwards are nothing more than hate messages and empty, diabolical half-truths.
The second is to find braver, newer ways to demonstrate. Today, with surveillance making George Orwell’s 1984 a dystopian truth, time seems to have come when personal sacrifices are inevitable if one must stand on the right side of history. We’ve been prepared for this, but what we must recognise is that these threats are realities and can be upon us faster than we know.
We are losing institutions that would’ve held our democracy upright. How do we fight the dismantling of these? We have been reduced to the judgement of individuals to hold up the fundamentals of our Constitution. This helplessness of nowhere to turn to and a fast decay of hope of change, merely waiting for the ‘wave’ to dissipate itself where disasters are being hailed as achievements, needs to first be articulated. And then, we need to collectively and systemically find a solution.
It must be articulated simply, even for those who struggle for everyday survival. We must simplify this complexity for everyone to see and how it is apathetic. We must make visible the failure on the government’s part to expect displaced migrant workers, desperate to go home, to pay Rs 500 for their tickets, while themselves spending crores of the taxpayers’ money on temples and grand new vistas, which are merely phallic symbols to demonstrate superiority.
We need to build the narrative of inclusivity with the end gain demonstrated. We will need to stand together, just as Modi’s supporters stand today, to have alternate conversations that we need desperately. We will have to accept that what seems a losing battle right now will be one soon if we are unable to do the needful.
We have to use art, language and narrative to reach where Modi has with his false ideas of hope. We need to gradually acknowledge our helplessness first, and then change it into actual tangible ideas. For every academic and activist the establishment arrests, we’ll have to mushroom 10 more voices that are as strong. Our present will determine the future we will live in.
Having a voice means something only when it is used. And even if we are the last on the battlefield, may we go down as fighters for the idea of love, inclusivity and secularism that we hold dear.