Finding a voice against hate and calling out the silence

I am glad the opposition has finally woken up and called out Narendra Modi on his silence over the violence against and denial of basic freedoms to the minorities

Finding a voice against hate and calling out the silence

Sujata Anandan

Congress president Sonia Gandhi is right – the present regime perhaps intends to keep us Indians polarised between two communities and forever at conflict with each other. But I do not like to hate anybody.

Oh, I am no epitome of non-hate. I can hate as good as anybody but there has to be good reason for that hate. I still hate that so-called friend in my teen years who had tried to humiliate and body-shame me at a vulnerable age that took me years to get over. But I would still not kill her. I hate that chowkidar who stole into our home one afternoon as my mother was napping and stole away with our valuables just as I was returning from college – my mother had left the door shut but unlocked and he trampled over me when I fell as he pushed past me in his hurry to get away. But would I want to kill him? No. I hate my parents' superior friends who made fun of my father for always being considerate to my mother by calling him joru ka gulam and labelling my mother as something she was not for merely being educated, capable, independent and wanting much more for her children than they were prepared to give theirs, particularly their daughters. And I have forever hated a particular teacher for manhandling all the girls in our class on pain of failing us in the subject if we dared protest. But shed their blood?

I think I hated with good reason generated by the individual unsavoury behaviours of those I hated. I did not hate because they belonged to any particular community, religion, creed or gender. But now I am being asked to hate fellow Indians simply because they are Muslim. Why should I hate any Muslim girl for wearing a hijab or a Muslim man for wearing a skull cap? My teen friend had made fun of me for not daring to wear a mini skirt at a college theme party and being the only girl there in a long South Indian skirt. Fortunately, even as I hated her for shaming me, I had people there, not necessarily friends, girls as well as boys, who came to my support and pulled her up for tormenting me. I, therefore, choose to return that favour to those friends, among them a couple of Muslims, by not calling them out in what they choose to wear. I also choose to return my thanks to my parents' Muslim friends for supporting them in their dreams for their daughters and encouraging them to send us to college when their upper caste friends warned them they would be in deep trouble if they allowed us to become properly educated working women. I choose to do that by letting other Muslims like air-conditioning repair men and plumbers and electricians into my home to fix all that had gone wrong – they have always been polite, prompt reasonable and skilled at their work. Why should I hate them for merely belonging to a different religion? And I choose to return to the world the favour done to us as 14 year olds by a Muslim attendant in the science laboratory at school who cottoned on to the molesting upper caste teacher and hung around every girl in the lab being attended by that teacher and acting as a simple deterrent to that man's lecherous ways. I choose to return this favour by welcoming girls in burquas, hijabs, long or short skirts into my work space without raising eyebrows or laying down rules. And I choose to remember with fondness the lone scooterist going past my mother and my sister as they stood beside our broken down car in the pouring rain – with no help, no taxi or auto and miles from our home. Do I return his riding to the nearest garage and bringing back a mechanic with hate? He stood over that man in that downpour, guarding my mother and sister against any trouble until he had fixed our car and returned the mechanic to his garage. Only at the last minute did he yelled out his name when my sister called out to him as he was leaving – Khalil. We have never forgotten that sole saviour and called blessings on his head almost every other day, hoping he is doing fine wherever he is today. Everytime I hear of a lynching or attack on the minorities, I hope he and his family are safe. So why should I have to hate others of his community just because of a different faith?

Hence, I am glad the opposition has finally woken up and called out Narendra Modi on his silence over the violence against and denial of basic freedoms to the minorities. I am glad to see that it is not just the Congress and its president who is leading the charge but notable leaders like Sharad Pawar and chief ministers of different states acrose the regions are also signatories to the memorandum. It may or may not be the start of the much-needed unity of the opposition in the country but what is significant is that the opposition is finding its voice and willing to take on the fascist forces in the country. I do not really blame the bigots and haters for being what they are but I definitely do have a problem with the so-called secular liberals who rein in their voices and choose to sit on the fence seeking the right opportunity to jump lanes. You either are or are not a liberal who believes in equal rights for all. If you are, there is no point in maintaining a stoic silence through the anguished cries of those massacred – you have to speak up against the atrocities, stand up and be counted. Even if you are in a minority of one. There is simply nothing to be gained by cowardice.

Now, Modi's silence? That is quite of a different order. The world knows he is no liberal or secularist and that’s why his silence. It is a deliberate silence which encourages the bigots in their blood letting. But silently approve of it as he may, he is the prime minister and he cannot choose to turn a blind eye to the discrimination and violence. However, if he were a cleverer man armed with the kind of sophistry needed of a politician of his nature, he would know what to say or do. As such he cannot speak without a teleprompter or if he can, only in dog whistles and demagoguery. His silence is as much to escape global opprobrium as to encourage the bigots. Breaking that silence, one way or the other, could alienate him with one group or the other. So the opposition hopes too much. But hope it must and not relent in calling Modi out for his silence.

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