When did we become a beastly country?

The Indian subcontinent, for a variety of reasons, turns humans into animals, wrote Nirad C. Chaudhri in 1964. Half a century later now, he has been completely vindicated

A Muslim Assamese was shot and thrashed with batons by the police when he came chasing a policeman during an eviction drive in Darrang, Assam
A Muslim Assamese was shot and thrashed with batons by the police when he came chasing a policeman during an eviction drive in Darrang, Assam

Avay Shukla

Circe is the mythical Greek goddess, a sorceress who ruled the island of Aeaea; any shipwrecked mariner who landed on its shores was turned into an animal-- wolf, lion and swine. In 1965, Nirad C. Chaudhri wrote a book of essays on India which he titled ‘The Continent of Circe’. It was his postulation that for various reasons, the Indian sub-continent turns humans into animals. Nirad Babu was roundly condemned for this sacrilege and retreated to Oxford in a self-imposed exile. But half a century later, he has been completely vindicated--we have become a country of beasts.

Anyone who has been surprised by the police violence and deaths in Darrang district of Assam or by the murder of a Kanpur businessman in a Gorakhpur hotel by six policemen must have been in a coma these last seven years. Because the hatred, the viciousness of majoritarianism, the intolerance, the complete lack of compassion for Gandhi’s ‘daridranarayan’, the total lack of accountability and growing religious fanaticism building up since 2014 were there for all to see.

Its poisonous tentacles have gone beyond the Hindi heartland, even into the hitherto untouched north-east; it has infected government agencies and services, including the Army and the IAS; it has captured most of the media; it has occupied the mind spaces of society to a point where men have lost their reason and have become, well, swines.

It began, of course, as all bad things do, with the government of the day. The strategy functioned/functions at three levels. One, push through policies to disempower and de-identify all minorities, especially the “abba jaans”. Secondly, encourage second rung leaders to make provocative statements targeting minorities, dissidents, farmers, journalists and even inconvenient industrialists, so that the message is clearly understood. Third, let loose the hounds as in Muzzafarnagar and NE Delhi, with firm directions to the police to act as facilitators. The rot has set in deep within the government itself.

The brutality shows when a young rape victim is forcibly cremated at midnight by an administration which then tells a court that absence of spermatozoa means no rape took place; it shows when 500 farmers are allowed to die at protest sites and the Prime Minister cannot spare even one word of sympathy; it shows when students are beaten up in their hostels and libraries or when millions are disenfranchised as citizens of the country on the basis of a dodgy immigration policy and when you can be shot dead for having a lathi in your hands.

Responding to the dog whistles from Delhi, the administration has become totally insensitive, as exemplified by the Niti Aayog CEO’s assertion that we have “too much democracy”. Sovereign violence is the answer to any protest, cases against victims the response to mob lynching. The police in most states are now totally unaccountable, encounter killings Standard Operating Procedure, sedition and UAPA weapons of first resort.

Even the elite civil services have been infected by the virus of power lust. The SDM of Karnal, who interpreted the CrPC to be some kind of a Handbook on Savagery is, unfortunately, not the only civil servant to do so, he is only the latest example of what happens when the bureaucracy imbibes the perverted values of its political masters. There have been at least seven documented incidents in the recent past alone when officers of the level of District Magistrate/ Sub-Divisional Magistrate have displayed utter savagery in dealing with the public.

An IAS officer slaps a young boy on a road in Shajapur district of MP for no ostensible reason; the SDM of Surajpur in Chattisgarh hits a young man and forces him to do sit-ups for violating quarantine rules; a DM in Tripura barges into a wedding function, intimidating and arresting people at will for the same reason; a Collector in Chattisgarh slaps a man and smashes his cell phone on the road for some imagined slight. A magistrate has no legal authority to use physical force on a citizen, and each of these acts amounts to a criminal offence, but no attempt has been made to discipline them.

This lack of compassion or concern for the ordinary citizen has not spared the judiciary either. Taking due care to not antagonise the executive, it has fallen prey to the same disease. There can be no other conclusion when journalists and activists are kept in prison for years, when habeas corpus petitions are allowed to remain pending, when no action is taken on cases of fake encounters, when it takes a court three weeks to decide whether an undertrial who suffers from Parkinson disease can be permitted a sipper for drinking water, or when a woman who accuses a judge of improper sexual advances can be dismissed from service and put under surveillance.

The less said about the major part of the media--print and television--the better. They resemble nothing better than a pack of hyenas feeding off the offal thrown at them by a contemptuous executive. Their complete lack of humanity and empathy was more than evident in the coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation, the exhumation of the still warm corpse of Sushant Singh Rajput, the demonisation of those who protested against CAA and NRC or the state assault on students. The media has mortgaged not only its ethics but also its soul to Mammon.

But most disheartening and saddening of all is the brutalisation of our society as a whole. Under the onslaught of a government and a party that has an EVM where its heart should be, our collective social values have all but collapsed into a stinking pool of prejudices, ignorance, triumphalism and religious intolerance.

Everything--every repressive action, every incident of state or vigilante violence, every police atrocity, every lie by the government, every distortion of history--is seen through a religious prism, which sanctify and bless all misdeeds of the government and its minions. Underpinning all this is nothing but hatred--for Muslims, intellectuals, questioning students, protesting farmers, liberals, human rights activists, migrant labourers, landless Dalits.

There is no use blaming platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook. They do the work of Dorian Grey’s picture--honestly reflecting back to us the ugly reality of what we have become as a nation but refuse to admit.

I am reminded of two lines form Lord Byron’s Child Harolde’s Pilgrimage which were inscribed by the distinguished jurist H.M. Seervai on the first page of his book Constitutional Law of India:

“A thousand years scarce serve to form a state/

An hour may lay it in the dust.”

(The writer, a retired IAS officer writes a blog, ‘View from Greater Kailash’. Views are personal)

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