In defence of dissent

Five years ago, before the reins of power changed wheels, shiny cities and sponsored media outlets had already emerged as grand opinion-makers. Television, hoardings and large scale-emergence of web portals had built inroads in the lives of its audience. The grand play was already at work, advertisement and branding became buzzwords, as necessary tools on how the game of politics was played. A year later, the current disposition was already in power. Polarisation, with effective strategy managers had paid off.

India, a country of over a billion people has one Supreme Leader, infallible; loved and revered by all. One who is feared by opponents, chosen by history to lift the lives of those condemned to despair and poverty. One who protects, with his life and honour those who stay true to the rashtra, and do not wander off with propaganda. A leader unmatched in wit, humour, and style.

Or something that was shouted from rooftops, for everyone to believe. Let us not speak of these people then, for once.

Let us speak of those who did not get a say in what their lives were going to become. Those crores of people who live a life already on the margins, with entire populations forced to live off meagre wages – sometimes near you – cleaning the dishes, building the bridges, dusting the streets. Let us speak of those who till the lands and produce food that we eat. Let us speak of those who never got back what they had been robbed off. Let us speak of the millions who everyday lead long, difficult lives – of those who are on the streets, fighting off everyday diktats from self-styled godmen who pose as leaders of a nation.

We cannot speak for them, though. Any attempt to do so continues to resemble parochial hangovers of the urban elite and the middle classes. They do not need your charities; they need their rights.

When about 40,000 farmers including adivasis and other forest dwelling communities marched from Nashik to Mumbai in the hot month of May 2018, a realisation struck the city. An obligation to listen to them crept up. People who were unaware were caught off-guard. The same ruthless city extended whole-hearted support when many people and institutions came out and supported the protestors. They came marching, on foot, jeopardising their already-falling incomes, because they do not want their children to do the same. It was not a march to simply demand things, but to come out where they would get some visibility – where finally their voices could be heard.

Had social and political institutions responded to them, our cities would not have been witness to what was essentially a watershed moment in the recent history of peoples’ movements.

Most states have seen large mobilisations of people in the streets, fighting it out, every day. Communities living in regions rich in natural resources face an unprecedented crisis. While the mainstream development agenda treats minerals, mines, water bodies, forests and mountains as commodities for ‘commercial exploitation’, the millions of people whose lives are then subjected to uncertainty and exploitation are deliberately ignored in this process. If this is not colonialism in the guise of modern democracy, what is?

At the mandatory public hearing meetings of a supposed development project, far away from these cities – the police fires at will, register false FIRs, coerce people wanting to enforce legal provisions, or threaten those who want to ‘disrupt’ nation-building. It is also not an isolated instance, and has slowly become the norm.  How long does it take before those running vested interests come out and denounce them as ‘anti-development’ or ‘maoist sympathisers’ or ‘foreign-funded miscreants’? How much of it gets silent sanction from each one of us?

These are the same kinds of people who marched to Mumbai, silently in the night so children and their exams do not suffer due to traffic diversions. Their lives might still not change even if Lok Kalyan Marg becomes Race Course Road again, or Deen Dayal Upadhyay Junction is renamed Mughalsarai, or the Niti Aayog resume its work as the Planning Commission. Their lives will change, and so will ours if we can learn to make our so-called leaders and institutions accountable for their actions and inactions. If we can promise this to each other, to come together like those 40,000 people did – strangers to each other but united in cause and action.

Farmers protest march from Nashik on the way to Mumbai arrives at Thane at late evening on Saturday. Express photo by Janak Rathod, 10th March 2018, Mumbai.


Yes, we should not elect to highest offices, hate-mongers and those who do not believe in values of a modern, democratic society. Yes, we have enough of them already. And yes, a dystopian society does not seem much far away. But is there some hope within us, at the end of this tunnel?

I realise that many people might not find it so, for their lives are different than the rest. Many would not take a moment to call this propaganda. But these people in protest are real, you know, living on, fighting on – for themselves and for the rest of us. They demand freedom from apathy. They demand justice and equality.

Who do we speak to then, if not to each other?




Zameen Se Bandi(gi) : The Tale of Love. A protestor’s note

Bhu Adhigrahan Nahi, Bhu Adhikar Chahiye (No Land Acquisition, We want Land Rights) echoed the Parliament Street when almost 20 thousand people gathered in the capital on 24th February to protest the Land Ordinance which the Modi government had hurriedly passed on 30th December 2014. The protestor’s logic was simple – when the people of the country (those poor, ailing, not middle classes, mostly rural, already forced on the margins) have repeatedly said no to an aggressive and pan-national development logic in to take shape in their backyards, it was idiotic for the new government to believe that it could do away with clauses of social impact assessment and requiring consent required for acquiring land for development projects without attracting their ire. They are all reassembling, even more strongly on May 5th, again in Delhi, to reassert their opposition to the ordinance, and take forward the campaign for land rights. Meanwhile, ordinance-burning campaigns and resistance across the country has increased, inviting many illegal arrests, police firing and atrocities on the protesting people from an impatient government.

20000 people assembled in Delhi on 24th Feb to demand the withdrawal of the Land Ordinance. The media mostly dubbed it as the Anna Movement, but he mostly sat there as the guest. It was social movements and other ‘ordinary’ people who led the protests


What followed early in 2015, were opposition parties joining farmer unions, trade unions and social movements across the country to multiply the opposition. The Congress party defended its version of the 2013 Act – while the ruling party maintains that it will solve the ‘critical, even emergency issue’ of the need of land, much needed for setting up industries. Their logic is simple too – development is directly proportional to acquiring more land as industries need land, and the land hence must be acquired at all costs. No longer can the development of the country be allowed to halt, claims everyone in the ruling coalition at the behest of the PMO, some ministers very unconvinced with the argument themselves.
The unleashing of a singular belief in the trajectory of growth and development is a gory dream we gulp down with a tinge of nationalism. While the presented logic usually removes realities of people who do not benefit from this development idea, any other need is considered going back centuries of civilized world order.

burning ordinance
We burnt copies of the ordinance in Delhi, in solidarity with protests across the country, against draconian, and non-consultative legisaltions


Read  Usha Ramanathan’s analysis on the land ordinance  here.

As a citizen of the country, is it a crime to call out fellow citizens and point out failures to move towards pro-people policies, even when loud thumping by the new government dismisses all opposition from individuals and groups as a ‘political ploy’ or just a bunch of ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-growth’ people, shouting hoarse over everything they want to do to take the country ahead?

The magnificently publicized ‘Make in India’, Smart Cities and Industrial Corridors are the avenues where all the supposedly acquired land is to go (even when millions of hectares of land lie unutilised or in SEZs or in government land banks, or simply under the capture of forest departments). While the Indian government’s logic regards huge corporate industrialization as the only saviour of the country and the economy – its methods and ways are extremely questionable, if not only the intent. Even the Supreme Court raised question of the re-promulgation of the land ordinance on 3rd April 2015, giving the government 4 more weeks to reply on the charges of using Emergency Powers under Article 123 of the Indian Constitution.

(Left) The extent of the proposed Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) (Right) Women affected by the mega project wearing topis for scrapping the project.
(Left) The extent of the proposed Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC)
(Right) Women affected by the mega project wearing topis for scrapping the project.

What is the emergency then? One side may again argue that development is the need of the hour, we need land for development and more industries is equal to more jobs. This logic too, is simple; yet powerfully captures aspirations of a class who has seen the dream they were shown magnificently. Over hundreds of hours of work of PR agencies and shouting leaders – to imagine what nation do they want! How many peasants, farmers, workers, adivasis and dalits even come close to represent their views when their lands, lives and livelihoods are so vigorously debated, and becomes a cause for upheaval in the national and international arena, specially for a government which does not bother too much to care too much about protests. It sees them as an anomaly, an abnormality of sorts – led by anti-national and anti-development brigades.

The criminalisation of dissent and portraying everyone who differs with a single-point agenda of the government is a dangerous trend, especially when no justifications are given in the Parliament or outside, to the demands and concerns raised by the judiciary, activists, farmer and trade unions, journalists, academicians and the intelligentsia. It is simply my way or the highway – perhaps democracy is too much an impediment for the Modi government – who gave a call for Minimum Government and Maximum Governance as the motto of the popularly elected government.
The BJP has found itself in a peculiar position here. On one side, the parent organisation and ideological guru – the RSS has its own agendas en-route to the formation of a Hindu Rashtra. The government has also not done much to differ from the ideologies, except playing down idiotic remarks made by their ministers and MPs against religious minorities, conversions, ghar wapsi, taking away of rights – civil and political. [You know, all to save the nation from the menace that are non-(upper caste)Hindu. Very Good Maths. A+]



But will saying out anything against this would not earn people the tag of pseudo-secular, a dreaded term used by Internet trolls to dismiss all opposition to the stupid ways and objectives? Is this how the 21st century for India will go, in the hands of ever increasing power hungry people? Will ordinary citizens not understand the pain with which the people on the margins are saying no to the efforts of the Dream Man India has stumbled upon? Is the government the only source of making laws and force ways of life – will people never be consulted, their needs never given priority? Are some people more equal than others, indeed?

The loosely used ‘anti-national’ phrase does not bring a smile to people who work day and night to protect the environment, read, discuss and put forward legal opinions all advocate the need for pro-people, and not pro-corporate agendas. Perhaps it does not bring a smile on the donors of thousands of crores to political parties – hence this aggressive campaign. But to hear that from the government, even the PMs mouth only encourages them further, for they must have struck some wrong chords. Why will the PM and the entire executive work overtime to declare a bunch of people as wrong and working on falsely driven agendas? They actually must be making some serious damage.


Avoid 5-star activism : Modi (No Can Do, Baby Doll, Ummah!)

The question of land and acquisition is the story of the farmer, and the landless, the dalit and the adivasi. It is the story of the woman who works day and night in the family, to keep the stove burning. It is the story of millions of people still waiting for getting their constitutional rights recognised – to preserve what is left to preserve, and to build howsoever much they can. The government can only destroy the environment, not create. It is for the local people who have held on which gives us the air to breath, to produce food which we eat and to preserve rain cycles as much as they can.

What governments do is license it out to others to destroy it, dig more mines, build thermal and nuclear power plants, divert rivers to industries – destroying and displacing communities in the process, sanction the conversion of farmland to produce smoking chimneys. Indiscriminate consumption in the name of progress is the progress of only a few, not the many – and certainly not of all. It takes away all that we need to hold dear, and hands it over – sometimes through legislation, and mostly through brute force.


50,000 people assembled in Jashpur, Chhattisgarh against forced land acquisition, and for demand of constitutionally recognised rights over natural resources.

Economic policies today no longer take the conditions of citizens into account. It builds a rhetoric that is backed by all that is powerful – all the wings of state power, the dominant castes and classes, and inter(national) institutional of the first world jumping to finance projects in the third world. Not many spare a thought in the middle of all this for the farmer suicides, for the landless women depending on a 300-rupee pension, for the huge threats to environment and the living reality of climate change. These are mere roadblocks in the discourse of independent nation-building. Nothing must stop marching armies of the nation even when it has to take on its citizens – to build, build and build.

Build on lives?

Then build some more. And a little more after that.

P.S. – Relax, I am not being paid by foreign agents who want to destroy any development activity in the country. I am speaking what I have felt, witnessed and imagine my nation to be – to believe in the people of the country. I claim my active citizenship, my right to dissent and to imagine a future free from the violence of the state. And not put all my trust only in a bunch of people who would want us to believe that it is okay to build houses over the bodies of dead people.  I won’t live in such houses or eat that food.

It would haunt my soul, forever.

Scribbling it out – For the ‘Thought Police’

A few things have been troubling me, and before it engulfs a larger portion of my brain than it already does; I feel I need to write it down and try to make a little sense out of it.

I have, also by the virtue of the constitution, and of universally respected and accepted rights by the simplest virtue of being born as a human being, the right to think. We do not yet (maybe yes) live in the Orwellian world where Big Brother ruled, as it was described. We are close, yes; but there is still no ‘maintained’ squad of the ‘Thought Police’ as he described in the timeless classic, 1984. Maybe it exists in different ways – it is only a matter of time it takes physical shape.

Why I dragged a world-renowned writer to seek justification for my arguments, I am not very sure. But when I think of all that keeps happening around me, nothing else in classical literature comes closer to explain the idea of this society which I am trying to understand, and illustrate. This is not an apologist effort or to slowly convince people to come to my side of the arguments. It is simply and plainly an effort to self-reflect, and to establish a cause-effect relationship for the future.

I do not like the Prime Minister my country has; I never did. I also realise that He is merely an image of so many things I detest that I am unable, and even unwilling to ‘look at the brighter side’. On countless occasions have people asked me why, attacked me and cursed me for saying this out loud, or thinking this out loud. This ‘argument’ today has no place in my priority of things. If someone had really wanted to understand the numerous reasons, they would have actually made the effort. But it is done mostly for the joy of heckling, I guess. I believe the question should have been framed the other way round. I should have been equally aggressive in my ‘comments’ – asking them to justify their opinions. But I never did. I lack(ed) the courtesy and energies to do so with such an alarming rate of people – to ask these questions.

Today, when I see a man up there, revered with loud thumping of people with social, cultural and political privilege, it is deeply unsettling. It unnerves a few tempers. Maybe we are indeed speaking for and with different people. Our honourable PM represents the interest of people who revere him, cheer him, throw open their pockets, and put their trust in a man who says with the roar of a tiger that he will do what he will do – dare to stop him; and people vexed with their despair of everyday life kowtow to the most supreme being.

It is no secret that the corporate money which fuelled the media-intensive campaign is now starting to get its returns, in bulk. Look at the series of constitutional amendments which have been attempted, and passed – and try drawing the lines yourself. I have been meeting people from the villages, groups and institutions which are bearing the burden of the entire ‘development’ – the claimed mandate for the current government. It has forced many to the brink of their own survival, and many are desperate to seek help for bringing into effect constitutional provisions for safeguarding basic values of human rights. When even travelling to a Tehsil office eats away so much of their income, and when District Collectors come marching in with their sepoys and force them to sign ‘acceptance orders’ to take away their rights – imagining legal right and recourse to natural justice is a little far-fetched, and at times even utopian!

It would not only be naïve to ‘wait and watch’ (as many argue) but also idiotic to let things pass. I can bring out examples of dams, mines, slum demolitions and building of malls, among the many things when I say this; but I realize that the entire debate will end up with rhetoric arguments on the development agenda (including some from my side). If only I could list down on a single piece of paper (I intend to do it at a later stage – when I can have the energy and the resources at my disposal) the coercion at the ground, the attacks on groups wanting to invoke and uphold constitutional rights, of growing polarization in the society and the fear all (not so fancily privileged) sections of our society) are experiencing, both in reality and in looming threat!

I also realize that there is growing clamour of ‘Modi-critics’– which turns off many people who really want to engage. Someone told me some time back while I was trying to evade this topic on a beautiful jolly evening – “I am willing to listen. Tell me why you think what you think.” I was lured in for an hour of exciting conversation. All it took was two minutes before the person brought out arguments on the need to be a superpower, moved on to some random statistics on military growth and what not. I was disappointed. “Read my blog and we will come back to this”, I sheepishly said before going back to cooking. During a recent train journey, of complaining of bad food in the trains, a fellow passenger said – “Modi has come. Now he will take care of this. Sabko tight kar dega.

It is one thing to not want to do something about things, and expect a superhero to come solve all your problems. But it is completely irresponsible to also make irrational choices, when millions of people are actually standing up and saying things you were not willing to hear, or know. It pisses me off , a lot!
The ‘mandate’ of the country is to be respected, and I am not wanting or willing to ‘demonise’ people who think exactly how the social, economic and political elite want them to think. And I am also pretty sure this mandate will change direction if and when ‘people’ find their interests are not being fulfilled. This is the strength and the limitation of the existing electoral system – which gives us the power to only change governments, unless people really want to engage in the concept of ‘active citizenship’ (which by fact moves well beyond criticizing politicians and parties at the corner chai stalls – now morphed into social networking sites).
The politics of the country is not my business alone. And is not your business alone. It is a historic moment today in an evolutionary process where a variety of groups of people are wanting (and struggling) to make ends meet, and live in peace and prosperity – but not at the cost of their lives and livelihood, not through the taking away of natural resources in favour of huge corporations, and not by letting the idiots of the Hindutva brigade roam free. Till the time it continues to exist, so will my protest.
What we choose to do, and think is indeed with us now. Let us not point guns at each other without taking an effort to think and understand. Let us not claim supremacy of caste, religion, gender, race or anything for that matter when human suffering does not appall us – and it does not shake the human inside us. Let us not claim to be belonging to a higher evolutionary process in the history of humans when we can actually point out why some innocent people deserved to die, and laugh about it or justify people who applaud such actions.

It is a gruesome and violent society we live in, but we do not necessarily have to live in one.

Let us change this too. Let us start with oneself then.

One at a time?

The personal is indeed political: Sharing stories, connecting the dots


India Elections 2014 is under the watch of everyone. There would rarely be a soul in this country today which would be unaware of ongoing elections in the country – and most of them also have strong opinions, preferences, choices and biases in this process. The towns and cities have the television, the newspapers, the huge hoardings and the ads from every form of transmitting medium. The villages have the flags, the middlemen and the saheb’s agents (of the people who own and control the land, as they called un-fondly) who influence voters. It is the election season, after all. After a few more weeks all of this will die down and people will resume their lives, having realised that not everything and all of the ‘change’ they were expecting to actually happen, eventually transpired.

They will then start finding out things, one at a time, of what will be wrong with the government of the time; a new scandal will somewhere spring up, the era of breaking news will resume to its old habit of exaggerated sensationalisation, the prime time media trials will entertain the politically committed janta who wants to keep in touch with what is happening in the country after returning from their offices. The others not fortunate enough to have offices will continue to struggle to make ends meet. The onion, or the oil or the salt or the potato will once a year make headlines. A few killings and rapes will get the attention of the media, the police, the politicians, the NGOs, and the concerned drawing rooms of the country. Many of them in other parts of the country will never be reported, and never be acted or reacted upon. Young boys and girls will continue to be killed and raped and in the meantime; some of them will be branded as maoists and some as terrorists because identifying their real killers would put many of our esteemed leaders (of the bureaucracy, administration, judiciary, sacred democratic law-making institutions, political goons, mining giants, industrialists – and all those who run the country) under the scanner. The real culprits of inciting violence against innocent people will continue to roam free, and continue to treat justice with contempt and manipulation.

Some people will care, while most will not. All of this will not change. Not unless a few things are done.

This is not a hopeless and cynical account/rant. I say this situation will not change because we have still not started asking the right questions. We have traded too many things off; respect and dignity is one of them.

Society is a reflection of the politics and vice versa. Irrespective of the electoral results, we have all already lost. We have grown impatient and intolerant, we have lost our claimed ‘common culture’ of respect of various cultures, religion, diversity of opinion, and of democracy. Expressing opinions has never before faced the scathing attacks that it faces today. Chai stalls a few decades back could see the best of friends arguing voraciously with their difference of opinions over politics of the country – today it is all occupied with stern supporters who do not stand with their leaders, rather they follow/worship them. We no longer shake hands at the end of a heated debate, we throw eggs and stones at people who disagree with us. We stoop to the levels of bringing out the most intimate details of personal lives to prove a point – of being the better because the other is worst. Is that really a justification?

Where have we reached in society? Towards progress and growth! But we have resorted to name calling rather than agreeing to the fact that there can be diversity of opinion – and although we might not necessarily agree to people, it is always human to lend an ear – see what it is that makes them believe so. We have sadly compromised on that core principle and value, and we have forced others, both young and old, to believe what we believe. We will no longer have parents and children in the family belonging to the opposite spectrum of political beliefs – we might like to believe that the choice is still there, but is it really?

I will share something to make you feel closer to what I am attempting to do. I was encouraged to truly choose; and I made choices to stand up for values that I believe in. I can today sense the feeling of pride I see in people who have seen me transform from someone who could not differentiate right from wrong, or could not take a stand. All I have done is attempted to say out loud what a lot of us have been thinking. It has taken innumerable emotions – courage, anger, rage, hatred and love to name a few to do it. It was never easy. And it came with the realisation that once you have felt all this, there is really no going back.

I grew up witnessing all forms of violence against women. I could not act then for I was too young to interpret its meaning when I first witnessed it. Gradually it became an accepted part of the psyche – it became normal, if not acceptable. It grew on, influencing many more people in the family, both men and women who built justifications around it, and deemed it normal. It was something everyone saw, but nobody did anything to really see it. Somehow it was always the woman who was to be blamed – when they forgot to add salt in the food, when the children made too much noise, when families went through financial instability, when they were not available to fulfill sexual devouring, every single time. And it was of course wrong when they wanted to get out of failed marriages, or try raising a voice, or harm the dignity and reputation of the family in any way. Such dignified behaviour indeed!

It is spine-chilling to think and write of it today. It is uncomfortable, but it needs to be said. All of us have grown up seeing this somewhere or the other, it is merely about recognising the various forms of it.  Today I will take a stand against violence of all forms and push all women as well as men in my family to recognise violence the way I can see it now. I do not care if I am called names or it brings me in any of kind of conflict with anyone – because I know it is right thing to do. I cannot wait for the world to change its attitudes towards wrong, so that it is becomes easier to fight.

It is the same emotion which makes me stand up against the practice of caste, and not dismiss it as non-existent. I will continue to protest if you compare dirt and filth with caste names, or refuse to marry, dine, or respect people from other castes. I will point out casteist behaviour if you claim higher intellectual status because you were born in a particular caste, or if you refuse to see what facts and figures have shown. It is the same position of power which allows you to blame the poor for being poor as it reflects in blaming the woman for not speaking up. This blaming is happening because the ones who can much more easily speak up and do something about it have long back given away their ability and the will to speak up – and act.

We are running away from the responsibilities of making better societies, of living in fear-less families, and of having the comfort to think, discuss and make better choices for the world we live in, politics and governments being one of them.

It is time we realise that we indeed have taken away the space to disagree with mutual respect, both online and offline. It is time to give ourselves better choices, and not choose to do the wrong because there is no right. True, we shall continue to enjoy our freedom to elect governments and people in power, as we deem fit. But it is equally important to take stands and fight battles which are worth fighting for. Let us make better societies, and not expect solutions unless we are ready to fight when will essentially have to – friends, family, society and the world.

At the end of the day, we choose our own battles. It is just important to know which side are you really on.



And to my dear friends who feel it is a lot to do, here is some faith.


As the legend John Lennon famously says during Imagine

“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you will join us. And the world will live us one”



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.

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.

Where does the freedom stop?

The recent events and the subsequent controversy which followed post the arrest of the (now) popular cartoonist – Mr. Aseem Trivedi, and the peaceful protests and demonstrations that have been repressed all over the country, is something which throws open many open questions, some of which we might not even want to answer. So its only natural that they are not even allowed to be asked.

The national integration of India has been a subject of intense debate, one which questions the ideas of forced nationalism and dominant belief in the Indian state. I better dare not express my own opinion, for I might be possibly charged with sedition as well; my association with working in the development sector might even earn me the tag of a maoist commander – who knows! But as far as recorded history goes, one which is accepted and approved by the intelligentsia of this country, India was never one nation – neither was Hinduism a proper religion. Both developed as dominant ideas briefly after the Muslim occupation of the sub-continent, and more so in the British occupation of the region. With these developed the interest to look at the history and culture of the ‘country’, which was still difficult to determine in terms of geographical boundaries. Nevertheless, the nationalist leaders made it a point to unite the country – with a call to a shared history and culture as the rallying points for national integration. The people then responded positively to this call – and we now have India, as well as Pakistan. Leave alone all that, that’s just history right!

With the increasing instances of arrests made on charges of sedition and conspiracy against the state (thousand of unreported cases usually don’t even find mention – to merely preserve the sanity of the statistics), it usually makes me wonder what the Indian state actually wants from its people. The commitment and loyalty of the people is unquestionable – you have already put people behind bars or killed them in ‘encounters’ if you felt they were planning to overthrow you. Some people accuse the government of being against the poor and deprived in the country – what is there is accuse? What do you want to gain out of accusations? The entire way the political and economic elite in the country collude with the giant corporations around the world – building nuclear reactors and forcing ‘free’ electricity down people’s throats is too visible to be mentioned as state oppression. As long as all this does not happen in our backyard – its always fine. I believe as long as this spirit is common in the Indian people, we will remain together as an unbreakable country. This has increasingly become the common spirit of the Indian ‘aam aadmi’. We indeed need to be proud of this – finally we figured out something as common culture!

People cry hoarse over freedom of expression being curtailed under oppressive regimes. When we studied the history of mighty emperors – it was not a period of modern democracy. Yet we were somewhere made to believe that the people were all happy and prosperous and when these mighty regimes declined, it was also because of social and economic problems. Look up any basic textbook of ancient or medieval Indian history, these are the major lessons from history. Do we have analyses of the freedom of expressions then? I am not sure. It is because constitutional law had still not come in place. And when these laws finally came – all people breathed hope at last. Modernity had finally arrived in India, and we wouldn’t go back to all the archaic laws we had – as the British told us.

We better make use of the sacred document called the constitution of India that the founding fathers gave to us – to guide us in our lives and not keep locked somewhere. The state seems to be the miser who is dying of hunger but still keeps all the wealth locked up inside a safe while he could have bought food and still save himself on time. Use that big document – don’t auction its guiding principles to the highest bidder to fill your own pockets. If you have chosen to completely ignore it, then better throw it away so that common people are not left with any hope of justice in any way; so they can easily die in silence. But as long as this document is there, and the rule of law prevails, and democracy prevails – this cannot happen, and should not happen. If you cannot write or draw or act or read anything which makes you able to criticize the state, and point fingers at the ones who do wrong to our country – then it is nothing but anarchy. Don’t ask me, I am a big fan of anarchy. But before I recommend that, I will first need to ask all the great people in the country for that. They need to approve and orchestrate even that!