‘Hate’ is inadequate to describe what India is witnessing

We should feel abhorrence for what has been done to us. Instead, we are filled with the joy of bloodlust that someone else is suffering. How deep is the pit that resentment can dig?

A Muslim man being beaten up by a mob during 2020 Delhi riots. (Image for representational purpose only)
A Muslim man being beaten up by a mob during 2020 Delhi riots. (Image for representational purpose only)

Ranjona Banerji

The language of hate is one we seem to know best. And yet, the English language is running out of words to describe what is happening in India right now.

How many ways can one say hatred? Violence by the State or State-sponsored agencies against Indians? Islamophobia? Destruction of democracy? Apathy of the administration and administrators? Misgovernance? Callousness?

You can look up a dictionary, pull out some dusty copy of Roget’s Thesaurus if the online suggestions aren’t good enough, but after three substitutions you are into contrived and arcane territory.

Does “intense dislike” match hatred? Can “savagery” replace “violence”?

The constant thrum of physical assaults, brutality, verbal attacks, sly provocations should have become unbearable. Why do we appear to have got used to it? We fight amongst each other.

Some feel that growing mob brutality comes from encouragement by fascist forces. Others feel that concentrating on “provocations” is a distraction from other pressing issues of livelihood and life. Still others object to both terminologies and retreat into sociological terminology and historical justifications.

As these public squabbles continue, the intensity, severity and vehemence of India’s anti-democratic forces only get stronger. More Muslims are attacked, more Dalits are attacked, more women are attacked, more Christians are attacked, more Sikhs are attacked… the list will not end here.

A group of former government officials, Constitutional Conduct Group, recently wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, imploring him to speak out against the “frenzy of hate-filled destruction in the country”. You see that the language is the same. But is this request fair?

Who directs this hatred?

That is the question that almost no one wants to take on. Because the other words which we need desperate synonyms for are “cowardice”, “fear” and “shame”. We are struck with one, shivering with the other and the third we have lost completely.

As long as someone we dislike has been killed, we are happy. We are willing to have our livelihood destroyed, to die from a badly managed pandemic, to barely manage to scrape by, as long as “the Other” is worse off than us, preferably dead.

Therefore, the person who is part of the bulldozer crew, is he or she going to do anything other than pay the blandest lip service to the damage being done? If he or she does even that much.

Instead, what the BJP has done is push out a Muslim member of its party to tell us that Muslims are not under attack in India, that there has been no discrimination against minorities in the past eight years. There is no end to the cruelty that fascism can impose. Not even fictional sociopathic, psychopathic serial killers are as brutal and foul.

Some former civil servants, a smattering of judges, a few retired armed forces personnel try and uphold and defend the shreds of democratic shelter left to us. But these are not enough. The bigger battle has to come from civil society and here we are bereft. The hatred has eaten up the media, the people you know and the people you desperately wish you did not know.

What, you may well ask, about other politicians? Let us be honest. They are struggling. They have been caught unaware by the ferocity of the violence. Perhaps in some small way, they were even party to it, without realising the consequences.

The cocktail of religion and politics has been toxic for India. And while one party rides the crest of that toxic wave, how many political entities can claim with total innocence that they have never tried it? And how many of us citizens can state with all honesty that we have not succumbed to this hatred either?

Even something as vital as the politics of community rights for the underprivileged and historically subjugated has been horribly twisted into a travesty of itself, and just provided fascism with one more whip to lash us with.

I’ve run through most of the thesaurus for “violence” in these few words, whether you realised it or not. And I have rejected “animus”, “loathing”, “detestation”, “abhorrence”, for the sort of hatred which has been unleashed upon us.

Because they cannot adequately describe how low we have fallen, how badly we are being crushed and how we are unable to rise.

We should feel abhorrence for what has been done to us. Instead, we are filled with the joy of bloodlust that someone else is suffering. We should detest the denial of democracy to other people. But we would rather feel hostile to the ‘Other’ and celebrate the harsh jaws of the earthmover.

Maybe there are no words.

But by our actions, we know what we have done to ourselves.

How deep is the pit that resentment can dig?

(Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. Views are personal)


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