India is my love. Just like I was born to my mother, I was born of the soil of my country. I don’t have a conscious memory of when love happened. I became conscious of it for the first time when I was asked to go abroad for studies. I refused; I came up with a clever answer to convince my parents. Told them that India was the land of opportunity and I don’t want to grow and develop myself in a foreign land where understanding of my own people becomes alien to me. I was stubborn and they finally agreed.
Let me also share some aspects of my past. The idea is to paint a picture of how divided we are as nation and how much work lies ahead of us as we embark on the journey of nation building, by using my own past as an example. I was five years old when my father was caught in a riot. My mom cried incessantly and every one at home talked about how RSS sevaks were on a killing spree (it doesn’t matter here if they were really on a killing spree or if it was just a rumour), thankfully father returned home safe. Ever since that fateful day in my life up until Gujarat riots I have personally experienced conversations among relatives and friends about the need to build a muslim resistance to RSS….I clearly remember being angry, not with Hindus, I have always had many dear Hindu friends, but with politicians especially from RSS and BJP. Every time a hindu-muslim riot happened I remember counting secretly in my heart if we have killed more, I wasn’t alone in this; this was the all pervasive conversation around me in my growing years.
At school we were reminded innumerable times that Muslims are uncouth and barbaric because we eat meat, one teacher even wondered aloud if we bathed at all! Every time there is an idiotic or an intolerant act from muslim community I would see everybody coming into a huddle to decide how to issue a statement that appeased the trouble mongers on the other side of the fence and prove to everyone that we were more Indian than the rest and deserve to be appreciated for who we are, and I loathed it. I loathed the Muslim politicians who filled their coffers at the expense of community’s well being and I loathed everyone who openly and brazenly preached hatred. With each incident my hatred of politicians grew, to a point when in a debate in college I announced that I will lead a revolution that would culminate in public hanging of politicians. This is just one aspect of intolerance, fear and hatred in our country.
Who is anyone to take away from me or question my ownership of the land that gave birth to me (here again it is not about whether my perceptions, emotions and feeling are based in truth, I felt this way and strongly is what is important to note)? This and many other such questions filled my mind. It included my intolerance of exploiters, my intolerance of corrupt and my intolerance of anything that was unlike me. Gujarat riots were the culmination of this phase. I was convinced that armed struggle was the only answer. Having made my decision I worked towards putting my decision into action, writing open letters to PM, CM’s of all states and to media, letting them know that one of the best minds in the country was now decided on taking the war to the hate mongers of the country.
Determined as I was in winning this war to end all hate mongers, I started a study of all armed struggles and revolutions across centuries. To my utter dismay none of them held a promise of transformation, a lasting peace. Every revolution almost always replaced the individuals who oppressed and those who were oppressed, while oppression itself continued. I felt defeated and then started wondering about the nature of hatred and violence.
My enquiries lead me to many important realizations; I will list two for the moment.
1) Cultivating hatred poisons us just as much as it vents out causing destruction, to a point where even when the object of hatred is no more, accumulated poison compels us to turn to others seeking retribution to satiate the anger that dwells in our hearts. Case in point being Pakistan, a country founded for Muslims and yet they slaughter each other for innumerable other reasons.
2) Someone needs to make a beginning on the road of peace, someone needs to say I am willing to let bygones be bygones and start with a clean slate, someone needs to raise himself/herself above personal emotional charge and let sanity prevail. My nation makes this demand of me. Oppression cannot be overcome by violent appraisals, it just replaces the people who oppress without doing anything to prevent oppression from happening in the first place and it leaves behind too many scars which future generations will continue to fester over.
In a nutshell, violence, hatred, intolerance are zero sum games, they burn us just as much as they burn the world we live in.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Gandhi would be an understatement. I resonated more with the ideals of Netaji and Bhagat Singh, for the first time I was beginning to understand the import of Gandhi’s actions. I have also chosen to go one step forward, Gandhiji refused to accept as legitimate, the expressions of Bhagat Singh, I do.
What I am sharing may sound naive or simplistic, let me elaborate briefly. When we start dealing with what’s happening in tribal belts across the country or look at how Bhopal is dealt with in India, embracing every Indian sounds outright stupid. My dilemma and I don’t have a simplistic answer to this is can one cultivate intolerance in some areas and stand by the value of tolerance in others?
Let us look at the nation we are, we are a land of millions who live subsistence lives, millions whose aspirations end with a comfortable job in a multinational and thriving minority pockets of enlightened sages, compassionate people, intolerant people, fascists, ignorant, educated, activists, exploiters, exploited, maotists, salwajudam, crpf, rightists, leftists, centrists, terrorists, terrorist sympathisers. People want telangana for self rule, people want telengana for power, people who need jobs in their state and people who exploit it and turn people against people. Poor tribal’s and farmers who simply ask for a right to decent living and dignity, corporations who think these tribal’s are barbarians and dispensable, tribal’s who will kill other tribal’s to be in power, tribal’s who loot tribal’s and million other denominations who I won’t be able to list here. Each rightly or wrongly believes they are right.
Where do we start with building a new India?
Who does India belong to?
Which population should be exterminated and which benefited at the expense of which other?
How do we not lose our right to criticize and disagree while still continuing to find opportunities for coming together?
Coming together to understand each other, coming together to listen to each other and coming together as equals. One may choose to be realistic and say this country will never be able to come together and in so believing choose a side we would like to stand on. In choosing a side we also feel compelled to denounce other sides as enemies.
Don’t we realize that we are also one of the creators of the violence and divisions we experience in the country today and lament about in privacy?
Freedom was earned after many years and many forms of struggle, while a Gandhi resorted to Satyagraha, bhagat singh chose to kill those he saw as oppressors, netaji raised an army to fight the British. 63 years have gone past and much of the dream we dreamt of an idea called India remains a pipe dream for many. Some of us see those dreams daily of building a nation that will be equitable and just, but constitute a small almost negligible minority.
We have a nation with a large and growing middle class, that’s busy getting jobs and making their lives comfortable, never mind the atrocities, never mind the injustices, never mind the pain that their civic life is, they are making enough to buy their way out of the system and are safely out of the governance net that chokes the poor. We also have sheer numbers of those whose life is determined on a daily basis by the actions of our governments. To the extent that the number of meals in a day are at the mercy of the governance they receive. They need plenty of support in innumerable ways and as a nation we are yet to frame effective delivery mechanisms. A new nation will be a figment of our imagination if a handful chose to pit themselves, dig in and cover the span. The vast numbers of our middle classes need to own up to their share of responsibility, not at the expense of their lives, just their fair share in building more meaningful living for themselves and others in their country.
We are a land of million differences and we have million festivals to celebrate our differences. The two occasions that should be precious to each of us as citizens of this country are mere public holidays for all but government officers and for many of these officers this is another day at work, not a joyous occasion. As a nation we have failed to find a single event that unites us as equals, as one, with equal stake in the destiny of the nation we are shaping with our everyday actions. Independence Day and Republic Day are those opportunities to come together as one no matter what our distinction, class, caste or religion. These opportunities to celebrate as one must be leveraged and in leveraging them those of us who are leading it cannot afford to make distinctions between one citizen or the other or the idea will be defeated even before it is born. These are opportunities to create inclusion even if the start is with many limitations and imperfections.
I have come a very long way since my days of being fearful of hate mongers never mind which side they belong to, angry in general and pronouncing death to politicians. I have realised and learnt many things and these lessons have shaped my convictions and about them I am firm. I am not trying to suggest that everything is crystal clear and I am now the Gandhi incarnate, maybe I am, maybe I am not, but the path of anger and violence is clearly not mine…..how will I reconcile my personal emotions and disagreements with many views I strongly feel about I am still unsure about and am learning. When I say inclusion and acceptance I don’t mean cooption or sell out. The voice is not stifled, but freed. I have no need to fear any one, the ignorant, the wise, the malevolent, the exploited, the fascists, the racists, the exploiters, the rich or the poor. Each of them belong to this nation and have a stake and each of them must engage, they could engage in the joy of building the country and then realise their responsibility or they could realise their responsibility and then engage. This is the path I have chosen to tread and the movement I have chosen to build.
Freedom will be alive in this nation when we are able to grow, to rise above our prejudices and engage with each other with hope, not blindly but consciously. These are my convictions, and out of these convictions are born the idea of freedom under construction.
Nation building is responsibility of one and all and those who wish to join us in this spirit please join hands and let us give birth to the nation each of us dreams of living in.