From civilised to brutish: Witnessing the unmaking of a proud nation
India is going up in smoke and not just from the fires of the funeral pyres of Covid victims. The present dispensation has burnt up the Indian narrative that one could be proud of among friends abroad
I am afraid I do not recognise my beloved India any more. I would never have believed that seven short years could have changed centuries of cultural resilience and civilisational equanimity that was characteristic of both India and all its religions at different points in history.
Whether it was Jain or Buddhist kings, Mughal or other Islamic dynasties or even the British, through the eras Hinduism remained the peaceful, all-absorbing, tranquil and assimilating religion as we knew it until recently. Barring, of course, the caste differences, though within those boundaries there was general acceptance of the scheme of things but those were different times. Now, suddenly, in the modern democratic era India has an ugly face in the name of Hinduism and I simply cannot bear to look upon it.
I do not wish to genderise this ugliness but what does one say when several men get together to beat a woman black and blue, disrobe a woman; eight other men rape, in front of her parents, the sister of a man who eloped with one of their daughters; other upper caste men rape, before her young male child, the wife of a Dalit man who refused to perform some customary duty expected of him?
Agitated by these incidents, I was talking to a fellow journalist when she said something I found difficult to disagree with. We have both travelled extensively abroad and she asked me to compare the behaviour of the most common, ordinary, even annoying man in those countries with that of even the most, sophisticated, privileged one in India.
“Didn't you notice the men abroad, even the annoying ones, are generally nicer people who can be described as gentlemen and that appellation rarely fits any man in India, rich or poor? (I disagreed, there are some Indian gentlemen for sure but they are exceptions.) Most of them are boorish, arrogant, unrefined and generally so unattractive even if they be physically handsome, that one just does not wish to pursue any friendship with them. That’s why my best friends are women which my friends abroad find it difficult to understand.”
But ruminating about it in deeper terms, I thought this assessment was true not just in the Mills-and-Boonish sense. There is an upper caste male aspect to their loutishness that has been brought to the fore by the RSS and the kind of majoritarian politics it has unleashed upon India.
Perhaps actions like gang-raping an innocent eight-year-old Muslim girl for days just to drive away her nomadic parents from the village in Jammu and Kashmir or gang-raping a young 19-year-old Dalit in a field by upper caste men to break her confidence in herself, carrying bombs around or wishing for genocide of Muslims always lurked in the minds of a certain class of men in this country.
But the existence and application of stern laws to the perpetrators of such crimes kept most such thoughts under cover and prevented them from translating into action. But now with the law and order machinery completely corrupted in certain parts of the country, the issue is not just about gender justice or rapes of Dalit or minority women by upper castes.
Why was no action taken against those who put up details of many women on the Net for their auction? Are we living in times of slavery that women can be bought and sold like cattle? Why was so much violence allowed to be unleashed by the ruling party against the opposition during the panchayat polls in Uttar Pradesh with so much impunity? One need not emphasise that most of the ruling party contestants would have been upper caste and those in the opposition in that state lower down the social hierarchy.
Recently a friend of mine from a western nation wrote to me asking if she could send me anything from her country – medicines, PPE kits, oxygen concentrators etc – for me or my friends to tide over any personal Covid crisis we might be facing. When I told her I was facing none because I lived in a relatively progressive part of the country which was managing the crisis well, she said, “From the reports we read or see here we do not get to know where all those funeral pyres are burning. It looks like the whole of India is under the smoke of those fires.”
That really shook me up because, inadvertently, she had hit the nail on the head – India is going up in smoke and not just from the fires of the funeral pyres of Covid victims. The present dispensation has lit a fire under every Indian citizen's body and soul, almost ignited all its institutions, incinerated the camaraderie between classes, castes and religions brought together after centuries of discrimination, rendered the life of the ordinary Indian citizen into ashes and generally burnt up the Indian narrative that one could be proud about among friends abroad.
And this is not even mentioning issues of governance or how they have destroyed the economy, rendered millions of people hungry and homeless, made the justice system in this country a travesty, made brute force a more valued commodity than refined discourse (and one is not even talking of the lynching of Muslims in this regard) and generally made India either a laughing stock in the world or one to be pitied, as my foreign friend did me recently.
At one time she would never have dared to offer me any charity because, as we had discussed during our study at a Paris institute, Indians were the highest wage earners anywhere in the world – except, of course, in India. Though as someone who had never visited India until then she would not have known the reality of the latter bit.
But even in civilised times why Indians prospered abroad and not so much in India was explained to me by a foreign ambassador. “Because Indians going abroad are generally highly educated and follow all the rules, breaking none.”
To elaborate, he explained, even the king of Sweden would stand in a line at a bookstore to obtain the latest copy of a best seller and refuse to accept precedence from a fellow citizen. He would await his turn. In India, the son of a VIP would think nothing of breaking a queue (though it is far-fetched to think he would be lining up at a book store, like the Swedish king).
"Do you know who my father is!?” is the general sentiment by which things progressed in India, whether threatening a traffic cop after jumping a signal or a bank manager while seeking a loan for an enterprise sure to fail. And that puts paid to merit, competition and progress with the incompetents completely incapable of doing the jobs they acquired by brute force.
That is the crux of the issue today -- we are a nation of incompetents who are real brutes and subdue the less privileged by force. Even the British and Mughals could not accomplish this task over centuries. My salute to the Hindutva brigade for rending the Indian fabric in less than a decade.