The curious case of Indian Nationalism

The history of India is a long contested one. Not only has its origins been contested but also the ‘Idea of India’ in itself is a comparatively recent historical trend. If we leave alone the nationalist discourses in the British Raj which flourished as the most useful counter-ideology to that of colonialism, there has rarely been references made to the collective consciousness of the Indian people – as belonging to the common land. And this is mainstream history – one which has for centuries neglected the voices of the women, dalits, adivasis, religious and sexual minorities, ethnic and linguistic groups. Think of any group which has been fighting for their rights, or struggling to fight for their rights today – you will see they have had almost no presence in any kind of ‘history’. Where does the entire gamete of national identity and nationalism fit for these millions of people, needs better introspection.

We have all seen instances of the collective consciousness poured out in the streets. The recent Delhi gang-rape case saw the middle classes come away from their TV sets and the shopping malls. They came together and protested, unparalleled in the recent public memory – also got an anti-rape act in place, the moral pressures ensuring that the prime accused died in a much too deserved shameful manner. There were outraged people, wanting to lynch him and his partners in crime causing the most painful death, demanding for chemical castration and death penalty and public executions, again unparalleled in the recent public memory. We were all very angry. The people of the country were rising. A revolution, to take the guarantee of the security of its citizens, was in place, people told. If it was collective consciousness or mob fury, I am not entirely sure. I have till today not been able to establish for myself if I should support whatever comes as support and solidarity from an increasingly detached and dehumanised class, or be critical or dismissive of it. I leave that view open.

There are decades of struggle ongoing in several parts of the country, they have not received as much love and affection of the media and ruling classes as the concerns of the urban elite. A power cut in Delhi or Mumbai for a day gets hours of nervous reporting, poor adivasis dying in order to prevent their land from being taken away is never interesting enough. A rape and murder of a young dalit girl is mentioned in passing – as if its nothing to worry much. It indeed has stopped surprising me, because the public apathy to them has shown neither sympathy nor remorse for the millions of such cases. It is not just what is ignored, it is also what is highlighted. The fallacy lies not just in making these people invisible, it is also their protests which are highlighted as the ‘single biggest threat to democracy’. When the state did not hesitate to lathicharge and use tear shells on a peaceful protest demanding stringent rape laws; what makes people stop thinking that flesh-piercing bullets are not being used against their own country-people. What makes them not believe that the landmines are used by the security forces, executing orders of the state, to silence opposition – to pick out and choose people who do not let their lives and livelihoods snatched away in a flash. Is it the supreme idea of the nation – the idea of public good – is it the idea of the supremacy of the state, as the protector, executer and arbitrator of inviolable rights and fundamental duties? What if the state has failed to perform its primary role, what if it has conveniently stopped performing its primary duty. Seems a bit scary for a generation blaming individual corrupt politicians as the reason behind everything that is wrong with the country today.

This is the reality for many millions of people, who have nobody to go to in times of desperate need. The middle classes are too busy trying to eke out a living in small towns and cities, to try and run with the pace of their lives. The NGOs are too busy to develop plans to ’empower’ them – building models for alternative life and livelihood for them. They usually don’t ask these people to question why they need an alternative in the first place. All these people have with them is themselves, to organise, mobilise and put up a collective fight – to fight with the overarching state. When one such successful campaign gains momentum and is read about in some newspaper, it is dismissed as an attempt of foreign countries trying to disrupt the ‘development of India’. Seems quite ironic an opinion from a population obsessed with foreign brands of clothing as a favourite choice. ‘Anti-patriotism’ and ‘Anti-development’ are buzzwords. It actually fits in line with the present idea of India – one of systematic exclusion, injustice and historical oppression.

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.

Martin Luther King Jr.

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revolution

Once there was a girl
She was called Revolution

People called her all the names
They said she was good for nothing
They said she was way too young
She was even asked to not to speak to anyone

She had no parents
No one really loved her
She wanted to make a lot of friends
But people kept their children away from her

She had heard stories of children
Trapped in castles, and caught in caves
She didn’t want a rescuer, she just wanted to live
Cindrella never impressed her, nor did her tale

The world did not want her to live
They tried to stab her, she fell on the ground
She had tried to raise a voice
When there was no one to cry with the others

They came in huge numbers
Caught her hands, folded her legs
Kicked her in the abdomen, tried to slit her throat
She fought back, kicked these men in the groin
Pulled their hair, ran and looked out for help

There was none to be found, she still didn’t lose hope

She screamed to the human inside everyone
Asked them to save themselves, if not her

There was a huge cry, like a distant war
People came out of their homes

The noise was too much to bear
The sound was too shrilling to bear

They carried Revolution in their arms
Held it close to their heart
They had to do that, Cant you still feel why?

The noise was too much to bear
The sound was too shrilling to bear

Confessions of a Random Chatter

Technology can change the world. Those were the first things I was told when I entered my first job. No I am not a software engineer. I am not even a technology enthusiast. But this is the ideology of the development agency that I had joined. Armed with the hopefulness with which one starts work in the development sector, I declared the same for myself. I do not know if this a feeling you get when you have officially stepped into the second half of your twenties or its just me, I am simply and plainly weird, but I felt I wanted to learn about ‘youth participation and technology’.

I was recently waiting at the airport cafe, trying to squeeze in the least expensive meal in my budget. No wonder I ordered a single Aaloo Paratha for the smallest sum of Rs. 120. The cashier had made such a face when I had ordered it, and then also offered to pay with my card. Not a credit card dude, just the debit one. I was just not willing to part with the petty cash I had. Anything can happen in Kolkata, I had to carry physical money for that. “What if the taxi-wallah overcharge me and I have to go to an ATM to withdraw cash, that too in the night. Wouldn’t that be un-cool?” The cashier actually smiled at me, although it looked as a rather annoyed one. He even discouraged me to order that Aaloo Paratha. He said it would take around 15 minutes. I was determined. I did not have anything to do either (I had arrived 2 hours earlier), except stare at my laptop and try to connect it to free Wi-fi. Even that I was not able to do in the end. The only thing remaining was to actually call someone on the phone and bore to death with all the happiness that came with going home. I decided to do the unintentional. I opened my eyes and ears to the nearby table who had some teenagers running around in the place. At the risk of sounding ageist, I shall emphasise that I did not like them that instant. They appeared rowdy, unapologetic, and loud, really really loud. That was another reason I could not ignore them. But I pretend to believe otherwise.

I had not eaten a real meal in quite some time. In the rush to make sure that I do not get late, I had ended up being quite early. This was really unlike me, and I had no idea how one should react in such situations. I ended up ‘pinging’ a few friends, wanting to enquire how they were doing in their lives, but really wanted them to ask me about my own. That is the purpose of ‘pinging people’, didn’t you know?! These chats were amusing, so were the next-table conversations. I shall illustrate both of them here.

Me : “Hey bro! Whats up…how is life??!”

I had no idea why I used such messed up version of my grammar, especially with the little things like pronunciations. Double question marks, no regard for correct placement of capital letters. My English teacher would have cried a thousand lives. I sat idle for a time till my chat messenger showed me that the message had been delivered. It took a while, because my friend on the other side was either away from an internet connection, or was speaking to somebody on the phone. This precious piece of information was a part of my training manual which was imparted to me when someone told me first about this newest cool thing in town, it was called Whatsapp! I was very happy to hear of it. The monthly SMS packs were now history, this friend had argued with me. I was not sure. Two months later, when I bought a smart-phone, I believed.

My bro replied after 9 minutes.

Bro : “Whats up brother?! Aaj meri yaad kaise aa gayi? (How come you remember ‘me’ today?!) :P”

I was aghast at this open blasphemy. “I was the one who had last called him, bastard!”, I thought.

Me : “Nothing much. Just waiting at the airport. Going home at last. 🙂 🙂 ”

I do not think he was bothered about my happiness. Rather than a “Wow! So happy for you :)”, he replied, “LOL!” and then said “ttyl! Gotta rush. Girlfriend waiting.”

“Bastard!” I again thought. My Aaloo Paratha was ready by now and I pounced on it with all the available complementary supplements – pickle, curd and green chillies. I was determined to not waste a single one of that 120 rupees.

“What the F Sneha, (I did no censoring work here) how could you do this to me?”, I heard some guy on the next table shout. Although there was a considerable amount of noise in the food court, it was still quite audible for everyone. He had made sure he was loud enough.

“What did I even do, you na only said you wanted to sleep. I just wished you gunnite.”, Sneha said. (All characters are named fictitiously, because I frankly do not remember their actual names. I am not being condescending here. Cut me some slack.)

“I was just telling you how my some-X-Box-game-I-don’t-remember crashed, and I lost all my points, and you just ‘Awww(ed) me and went to sleep. That is so insensitive. We are dating. Is it wrong for me to expect a little more support’? Bolo. Tell. Tell na”

I was both perplexed at the conversation and awe-struck. This dude here looked creepy like hell, and he sure did speak creepy, and he had a girlfriend! Respect Bro. I paid some silent praises for him. And then looked closely if I wanted to be like him. No, I muttered in haste.

“Last week also you did the same only. I told you some-random-mutual friend-who-was-sitting-next-to-them had broken up and I was with him. Rather than asking me how he was doing, you again ‘Awww(ed)’ me. I do not like this at all.”, he continued.

By then my Aaloo Paratha was over. I was waiting at the same table and unsuccessfully trying to figure out how that goddamn internet connection worked.

“Come no baby! I am sorry na. Acha baba I am telling you I did not mean it like that. Please give me a hug now.” There were some mutual friends sitting around who threw giggles at this, but seemed busy with their own phones, checking if their crushes had ‘liked’ their profile picture or not.

Lets be honest. We all do that. Or is it again only me? Why am I always that weird guy?! 😦 😦

After having that brief chat with my bro, I turned my attention to a close female friend. “Enough with these bastards. All of them do not care about me!”, I had thought again. I hadn’t spoken to this friend in a while. She turned out to be on a vacation with her girl-friends in Goa. But she still managed to extend the courtesy for an immediate reply, and even apologised for not being able to chat. She even promised to call me next week. I was so happy. “These guys only call me when they need money from me”, I declared to myself. Her chat had a lot of funny faces, popularly called emoticons. I used to love chatting with her. She used to throw multiple hearts in a single line and give me online hugs. I always replied with the happy faces. I never threw a heart back. I knew she was dating someone else. “That would feel offensive”, I always thought.

I was hungry, and the conversations on the next-table also could not be missed. I ordered one more Aaloo Paratha. The cashier pointed me to the large banners which also mentioned that they had some customised meals at cheaper prices, sensing that I was hungry, but also feeling miserly. I hurriedly took my plate and rushed back to table, apparently because I had left my laptop openly. But secretly, I just wanted to not miss these new mannerisms that I thought were extremely new for me.

“Also, when I sent you that goodnight kiss yesterday, you did not even reply then, although I could see that you were online and replying to messages for the next 16 minutes. Tell me, are you cheating on me.”

This dude was on fire. Although the girl was trying to calm him down; at times by ‘babu-ing him’ (which he also accused her of doing in excess, and in public, apparently to humiliate-him-in-front-of-his-friends)’ and at times by raising her own voice, he did not seem to even budge a little. “He has decided he will clear all of these things today”, I thought. He indeed sounded quite pissed.

“Dude dude! LOOK AT THIS. Come come.” Some friend who was sitting there the whole time jumped up suddenly. He was so spaced out with his phone that he did not realise that the temperatures were high. But to my surprise, nobody said a word to him. All of them, including the boy and girl held hands and watched it. It was the newest Justin Bieber Song. I had a strong prejudice against this singer/rockstar/youth icon. I think more because of his ill-reputation in my peer group, than with his actual singing skills. The song played on full volume on the newest iPhone. All the business-people who were busy making presentations now finally looked up, murmured a few things, and went back to staring at their laptops. I just ordered another Aaloo Paratha.

The rise of the collective consciousness : Hang those Bastards!

The history of the modern world, as well as those of the medieval and ancient world is full of wars. Wars which were told to be fought for the protection of the countries, to defend it against aggressors. Ever since humans started living in established settlements, and started calling it ‘civilisations’, wars were always fought. The batons differed – it was religion at times, crusades and holy wars, to those aimed at establishing a land of pure race, the extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany and the rest of Europe and today of the Arabs in Palestine. An undercurrent economic motive always laid siege, but it was mostly unspoken at times. Dalits and Adivasis and other regional minorities were massacred, violated and exploited in the name of preserving caste purity and implementing God’s orders. Self-thinking women were sometimes declared witches, brutally raped, murdered and their wombs crushed in genocides all over the world, sometimes for using them to teach the other people ‘a lesson’, or at most times to simply resist their standing-up for themselves, and against years of exploitation. This blatant violence has also translated in the modern urban world to those who do not fit in the binaries of the man and the woman – not befitting their cosy worlds.

The desire to form and maintain a homogeneous society, I believe, is stronger than that of maintaining status-quo. All the wars have aimed at forming this society, and in the process ‘systematically eliminate’ all those who stand opposed to it, or do not fit in this homogeneity. The rise of the Hindu Rashtra is not so different from this war – its a cultural war of caste and religious normativity, and although it does not explicitly announce ‘war’ on the others, the idea of superiority breathes at its core. It can only be through this capture of the minds, where one is unable to move beyond this imagined and superfluous greatness which is accorded to them, that makes them able to demarcate non-fitting people as ‘second-class citizens’. Once this is established, anything – rape, loot, murder, genocides, angry reactions, arson, prejudices, everything can be justified – it only takes an appeal to this assumed superiority, and the rest is taken care by itself.

There will be people to exploit this feeling and this vulnerability, who will come and go, and the collective consciousness of the people will be left asking for more. The vehemence with which societal attitudes have let go of basic humanity, to protect itself against uncertain and unknown enemies – those we are pretty sure will bomb our houses and our markets, if even given a chance. We can now let the others guard us at all times. We can allow them to watch our homes, our lives, our letters and our faces, lest we die in its absence. All instances of violence have had a history, a backlash, a greed or an instinct. Except the serial killers romanticised in the early eras of cinema, all instances of violence stem from these.

Today the need for cultural assimilation by this same pioneers of the Hindu Rashtra is more of a rhetoric to protect one’s culture and identity, and in the process appropriate everything else that others have – even their lives. Not that Islamic Fundamentalism does not exist, it very much exists, and on the same axes as the appeal to serve their own interests – and to its wrongful extension to the rest of the Muslims, as such the case with Hindus. But to misappropriate history to show militarised religious hatreds as justifiable actions, and show it only as ‘a reaction or a response’ is one of the core and most coveted ways in which religious hatred, and religious fundamentalism is extended. And it is done in a way where it can never be externally visible, unless one can move beyond this idea of thrusted superiority or forced inferiority, in other words to actually implement what all of these people claim to follow – ‘humanism’.

The collective consciousness has today been made the subject of justice. How is it that abhorring killings satisfy the emotion of public safety? How is it that killing all those who are not ‘us’ makes us feel more secure? What it is this collective consciousness indeed? Is it mob fury? Is it the lust for blood, for violence, for open agony to satisfy a deep sense of hatred; or is it some divine sense of righteousness which guides the minds of all good citizens? Whatever it is, why has it been allowed to take over all forms of ‘other consciousness’? Are people, who speak so much of individual choice, afraid to listen to their own ones, and rely on the collective – to put the blame to an abstract population, unable to be traced to their own. Why have we all become murderers then, even though we never pull the trigger? Why do we want to hang every one of these bastards, and still want to have a sleepful night. It abhors me, and it frightens me, but it makes me stronger.

“I shall not be hanged, I shall not be hanged”, I murmur in my sleep.