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To What End?

- Ramanjit Singh

Looking at the 1947 calendar and the adjacent list of common festivals and anniversaries that were being observed in pre-partition India, one gets a sense of how much we have lost. British India was much more pluralistic and tolerant than what we have today. Religious freedom was more widely accepted and protected. Minorities were safe to practice their religion and the ominous trend towards majoritarianism was kept under the lid by the British authorities.

Once we got the independence, India has seen a gradual rise of majoritarianism and there shouldn't be any doubt in anyone's mind as to what this foretells about the future of the country. Let's not even pretend anymore that the country embodies any type of democratic and secular norms. In fact, what we are seeing today is a complete failure of institutions to stem the tide of state sponsored religious hatred, where dog whistles have now turned into explicit calls for genocide and the majority remains complicit in its silence.

There's a sense of foreboding in the country, as if large scale violence against minorities might break out at any minute. It reminds me of the dark clouds that were gathering over Punjab just before partition. The rise of hate speech, the gathering of fringe groups backed by mainstream political parties, the assembly of armed thugs, training of youth on how to use swords and guns, the support of police and district officials, everything looks like a mirror image as to what is happening in today's India.

You see, India had to be different, it had to be secular, it had to be forward looking, it had to be the antithesis of Pakistan. The very idea of India was the answer to all those who doubted us, who questioned whether we as Indians can stay united and not crumble due to our own prejudices and tribalism. And unfortunately, today those same people who questioned the very idea of India are turning out to be correct in their assessment about us.

My India was made of up of all and it was not just a community of one.

Today all that India stood for is crumbling right in front of our eyes. We have lost the plot and the idea of Pakistan has won. Today we are a nation of a majoritarian rule. We live by their whims and moods, diktats are rammed through a quasi-parliament in face of a spineless opposition. We are called traitors and aliens in our own land. We are called terrorists and all kinds of names by the national award winners, by members of parliament, by the "educated" youth, by social influencers and sadly, even with all this onslaught, the majority remains silent. Our patriotism is questioned and our sense of belonging is now almost eroded by this relentless stream of hate.

I often ask myself, why are they angry? Recently, when Sikhs allowed Muslims to pray in a Gurdwara in Gurgaon (near Delhi), these same right-wing thugs were reminding us of our history of what Muslims did to Sikhs. Their tactics to divide people are so laughable and sad that I bow my head in shame. Lynchings of Muslims and Dalits are occurring on a daily basis and it is not even reported anymore in the so-called mainstream newspapers. Christians are being stopped to worship in their own churches, charity work is being falsely labeled as "religious conversion drives" that brings in right-wing groups who destroy property and harass people. Everything is accepted and tolerated as long as the "others" are the receiving end of this violence.

Being selfish helps to make oneself immune from recognizing the pain of others.

To what end is this being done? What is the goal or the end-state that we are all being forced to witness as the madness of religious bigotry surrounds us from all sides? Just like the false claim that "Islam is in danger" provided the fuel for partition, now the same playbook is being used to create a false notion that "Hinduism is in danger" in India and this is providing all the necessary fuel to the right-wing groups to go after the minority communities, against the poor, against all those who don't have a voice in this new India.

Their defense consists of "whataboutry". What about this... what about that... so that whatever action is perpetrated in the name of religion is very easily justified by some other event past or present.

Aurangzeb did this to us... now it's our turn.

A strange mindset is being inculcated among the majority by the right-wing extremists, that somehow our happiness and prosperity is at their expense. Somehow we, belonging to the minority communities, have seized something from them and they need to take that favor back from us.

You may be wondering, why I'm bringing this topic as part of this forum. I'm writing about these concerns here because we are repeating the same mistakes we made in 1947. Religious communalism and tribalism inflicted so much pain on all of us during partition, and we have hardly recovered from that trauma, and now we are again moving down into that same rabbit hole of hate with no possible way to extricate ourselves from the brink. It is our responsibility and we owe it to our children to make sure that India belongs to all and not just to the few. It is indeed the battle for India's soul, as to who is the righteous inheritor of that idea, of that ethos which formed a glue that bound all of us as a united country.

We need to worry about why we are falling in the Hunger and Development Index, why we are at par with sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to poverty, 36% of children in India are stunted as opposed to 31% in poorer countries of sub-Saharan Africa, why we have a lower labor participation rate than our neighboring countries with much less population than ours, why smaller nations have a higher GDP than India's. We are losing in all of these important metrics but the majority has settled into a macabre ideological crusade which only it is interested in pursuing, about settling past scores, about righting the wrongs of the past, about reclaiming past glory. All of this when our future looks bleak and we are being outcompeted and outclassed by the rest.

World is not going to stop innovating and modernizing as India stumbles into settling scores with its own people.

Manufactured hate and anger is emboldening the youth, it is providing the spark to the pyre of genocidal urges as you can clearly see in the type of language being used and in the plans being discussed in the recent religious gatherings all under the watchful eyes of the ruling party. The fringe is no longer a fringe anymore, it has become the mainstream in India. We are being ruled by the RSS, funded by crony capitalists, with an army of hundreds of right-wing groups and militias spread all over the country and in the social media, they are the new architects of India. Media heads attend their meetings, foreign emissaries make a point of meeting their leadership, everything is now slowly turning into a fascist playbook of well organized violence along with social and economic boycott of minorities with no end in sight.

Then I pause and ask the same question again, to what end? What is the purpose of all this that is happening in India. Sometimes it reminds me of the days before partition, the madness that engulfed everyone, where centuries of coexistence was blown to smithereens in the matter of days. Today we are seeing the same level of hate and where everyone seems to be conspiring against us. The randomness and disorderliness of this bigotry is overwhelming and unrelenting. We are running out of defenders of the constitution, we are running out of good will among the majority, we are being hounded and hunted. Minorities are living in perpetual fear with a siege mentality that they don't have any place to escape, that anything can happen at anytime.

It is in these dark times, we have to lift ourselves up and come together as one people and defend our rights, the idea which this country was built on. Long time ago, in his book "Discovery of India", Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru wrote this...

We can never forget the ideals that have moved our race, the dreams of the Indian people through the ages, the wisdom of the ancients, the buoyant energy and love of life and nature of our forefathers, their spirit of curiosity and mental adventure, the daring of their thought, their splendid achievements in literature, art and culture, their love of truth and beauty and freedom, the basic values that they set up, their understanding of life's mysterious ways, their toleration of other ways than theirs, their capacity to absorb other peoples and their cultural accomplishments, to synthesize them and develop a varied and mixed culture; nor can we forget the myriad experiences which have built up our ancient race and lie embedded in our sub-conscious minds. We will never forget them or cease to take pride in that noble heritage of ours. If India forgets them she will no longer remain India and much that has made her our joy and pride will cease to be.

This is what we need to defend, else all is lost.


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