Mourning the loss of everything from freedom to biscuits, jobs and reason 

As the government goes into an overdrive to celebrate the first 100 days of Modi 2.0, individuals must speak up for those who cannot

Mourning the loss of everything from freedom to biscuits, jobs and reason 

Sujata Anandan

As the second Narendra Modi government prepares for an advertisement blitzkrieg in celebration of its 100 days in office, I mourn for my country, it’s people, a society perhaps lost forever to everything that is good, cultured, refined and informed.

My concern is more for the nascent generation who by the time they are in their teens will know nothing but the boorishness of our current leadership, the vindictiveness that prevails in our polity and extends to a certain section of our society, the violence, the lawlessness, the lack of scientific knowledge, the over emphasis on myth and mythology...

My worry is also about the lack of a just society which is returning to the pre-Independence India of discrimination between castes, communities and religions, denying citizens their basic and fundamental rights, creating groups of second class citizens with fewer rights than some self-appointed custodians of privilege...

In less abstract terms, I am devastated by the shutting down of the iconic Parle-G Biscuit factory in Mumbai, of the thought that the biscuits I had loved since I was a child will no longer be available – I had so taken for granted the aroma of the biscuits wafting in the air as my train ran past the factory every day on the tracks behind it...

I am also brooding about how a farmer's wife walked miles and miles towards the nearest town seeking work as a domestic help to save her children from starvation and death as all their crops had failed the previous season and the government was offering no minimum support prices that would sustain them through bad times ...

I am afraid of the resentment that slum dwellers and those in lower middle class housing are beginning to show towards those living in air-conditioned high rises and driving round in Mercedes cars after they themselves lost their jobs when the auto plants they were working in for producing the cars shut down and they have no jobs to find ...

I am frightened by the fact that graduates and post-graduates are applying for jobs as peons and cleaners because there are none to suit their education and qualifications...

But I am terrified most by two things that happened recently - that the government could lock down a state and shut off its communication for a whole month and the rest of us are so slothful that we do not protest or worry about the possibility that our own freedom may get similarly curtailed in the future.

And second, that a former union home minister can be arrested without a First Information Report , a charge sheet or a trial without even a shred of evidence against him, just on the whim and fancy of the powers that be – I wonder what then might happen to a common man facing a similar situation and it disappoints me that our learned judges who grew up in an India that set store by just jurisprudence and upheld the constitutional values of liberty, equality and fraternity should allow this to happen...

So as the Modi government celebrates all of this, I can only mourn the destruction of all the values of liberty and justice that were taken for granted in my growing up years – I was not allowed to smirk or laugh at anybody else's misery as Narendra Modi did after demonetisation; I was not allowed to speak ill of the dead as Modi did of Rajiv Gandhi, I was not allowed to mock the less abled as he did dyslexic children; I was not allowed to lie about myself or anything else.

But, more importantly, I was taught – taught the values of education, knowledge, good behaviour, politeness, taught my culture and the value of refinement but above all taught the values of humanity, compassion and brotherhood – by my parents, by my teachers and above all by the leaders of my country, those past and then prevailing.

I read Leon Uris' ‘Exodus’ in my teens and then Khushwant Singh's ‘Train to Pakistan’ long before I saw the films. They were my windows into a world devastated by holocaust and fascism and hatred of the other. When I was briefly studying in Paris, I was terrified when a poor, jobless, drunken man approached me menacingly and said, “Hitler was right. People like you should be thrown into the oven.”

It was not just the colour of my skin that he hated but the coat I was wearing – or rather more correctly that I, a coloured Asian was wearing that coat. A nice quality faux fur coat (I do love the good things of life to the extent I can afford them) - bought on a scholarship allowance which otherwise I would not have been able to afford.

When I travelled to the former Soviet Union after the Perestroika and Glasnost, I was startled that my interpreter, a medical doctor who in my own country would have been way above my own modest economic status in life and wouldn’t have to moonlight as an interpreter, asked me to bring him lots of baby food and medical supplies in return for his translation.

The Rouble then was of no value, not just the authorities but the people too would snatch away any dollars they spotted in your wallet and, of course, you could not hold a loaf of bread in your hand without causing a food riot.

As the Modi government celebrates, I fear the coming of all of the above to my own country – food riots as the economy tanks and joblessness grows, class riots as the poor resent the rich in their silks and chiffons, their suits and boots, a holocaust as Kashmir explodes after the clampdown, an exodus of not just people but also riots worse than during Partition, a bloodied society that might take another half century to recover.

And yet, I hope. Despite everything that is going wrong in the country, a journalist in a small town still has the courage to expose a mid-day meal scam where school children are given only salt with rice or rotis; the cook who made those rotis is unafraid to speak the truth and stand by the journalist; a judge has the courage to call out the police for a shoddy murder investigation, a bureaucrat the fearlessness to take on the government for the denial of freedom.

As the IAS officer who quit the service over the clampdown in Kashmir said, “When institutions fail, individuals must speak up.”

I speak up, too.

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