The Thin Edge

Silent disquiet: What explains the lack of large-scale public anger in the face of oppression?

We believe in servitude and obedience, constantly adjusting to the powerful, applying exactly the same oppressive techniques on those weaker than us.

The spirit is mute, maybe it lost its voice a long time ago and I just didn’t notice. The spark, the verve in our voice has wearied – its timbre is missing. The gentle smile that opens into a hearty laugh even among the poorest of the poor has lost its shine. Among a section, there is nervousness, many finding recourse in the safety of silence and an equal number resigned to whatever is thrown at them.

Of course, there are those who feel vindicated – “our time has come,” they say. Somewhere at the very epicentre of that pride, there is thirst for blood, revenge targeted at an unknown past, curated to refer to a mirage of characters, long gone. Sharing has become an exercise in socio-political incest, when everyone else is a fool or a dangerous pariah.

I am unable to frame words with exactitude that describe this silent disquiet among many. But as I watch people, listen to conversations, overhear whispers at railway stations and airports, speak to auto drivers, street vendors and shopkeepers, there is a sense of acceptance about the various infringements we have been mute witnesses to over the past few years.

The maya of pseudo-morality has been so wonderfully mass-marketed and installed in our minds that any expression of dissent makes us feel lesser, corrupt and unfaithful. And, hence, even the doubtful are surrendering to the possibility that all this is for our betterment. Just like we feel that punishment at school is necessary to instil discipline and moral correctness, today we sit in the classroom of our land, policed by our headmaster, Narendra Modi, receiving a few lashes at all those ideals that he says have led us astray.

Before I proceed, it is important to state that cultural and economic manipulations are not new to our nation. The Congress has employed them to put us in our place too. But I will be lying to myself if I do not express my feeling that ever since Modi came to power, we have been witness to a tactical and systematic orchestration of manipulation of various shades. I am stopping just short of calling it sinister, but I cannot but wonder.

The evil, most tragically, is targeted at the very conscience of our modern existence – the Constitution. And the fact that many are convinced that this is the way to move forward makes all this even more dangerous.

Machiavellian governance is today being justified by majoritarianism.

Even the labeled anti-lot are struggling to come to terms with this emotional seed that Modi has planted in our hearts. Within this internal quagmire exists religious and nationalistic fidelity. How does one fight it without feeling or sounding immoral? The psychological war unleashed by this government has effectively crushed response by instilling doubt. And my worry is that by the time we realise the fallacy of the weapons or develop the courage to respond with conviction, the boat may have left the jetty.

The marginalised struggle to retain their culture-specific identities, dignity and relevance. The few voices of protest are targeted with vengeance. Our bravado only worsened the Kashmir crisis and we may have turned the clock back by at least a decade or more – all for machismo and display of another form of ugly morality. And the economically disfranchised across sections of society have been hit hard by an unimaginable financial act of insanity.

Ironically, every secular Hindu quote aids and abets Modi’s discourse, making us think twice before we stand up and say anything to the contrary.

Stuck in the past

There is something missing in us. I do not know if it is cultural or conditioned, but as a people, we do not recognise rights as a fundamental nature of living. This is as true of the privileged as it is of the ones on the fringes. We will oppress, twist the system and justify that in the name of survival. At the same time, rarely will we realise that the rights given by our Constitution to all inhabitants of this land are not benevolence showered on us by some supreme power but a beautiful gift we gave ourselves. Exercising our rights is seen by many as obstructive and of nuisance value. Some even feel they are committing a wrong when they assert themselves, and there are those who will not take the risk, held back by fear.

We do not respect ourselves as people of ethical power, power that gives us the right to live with dignity, privacy, empathy and empowerment. And, hence, we are nervous about voicing those demands. This is disrespect of our own humanity and, ironically, that gives us the right to manipulate it unabashedly. We believe in servitude and obedience, constantly adjusting to the powerful, applying exactly the same oppressive techniques on those who are lower in our social ladder, the worst hit being the Dalits, Muslims and women. Therefore, the lack of large-scale public anger at all that has been going on is not to be equated with a certification, it is an odd mixture of fatalism, false morality and an inability to ask for what is ours. Our idea of the self is not derived from the Constitution, it comes from elsewhere, an intangible vague past.

We are a confluence of an old civilisation and a new democracy. If you ask an Indian, they will instantly connect with the cultural antiquity of who we are and not with the modern constitutional democracy that is India today. Many of our cultural practices and faiths contravene democracy, making reconciliation next to impossible. This is the reason why we are unable to understand ideas such as liberty, equality, fraternity and justice in a 21st-century sense. We interpret all this in relation to an ambiguous past, and we are unable to trust the contemporary.

For us, the old is far more valuable than the new and our Constitution is new and hence, must submit to an old age scrutiny. We are uncomfortable in our Democratic Republic skin and always looking out for that monarch. And unfortunately, in Modi many have found that tough, benevolent raja. The only history that he and his government want to destroy is the one that began in 1950 and was told from then on. They lose no opportunity to constantly reiterate that ancient past, when we were supposedly pure, unpolluted by outsiders. A cultural technique to subvert India – the Secular Socialist Democratic Republic.

Need for deep reflection

Modi probably believes he is the saviour on the white horse and has convinced us that the modern lies in the employment of technological tools, though behind these technologies are parochial, casteist, religiously divisive and economically invasive stratagems. Technology is the perfect facade to hide behind and Modi does it to perfection. Similarly, he has reduced corruption to only its financial manifestation. While until now, he and his government may be clear of financial corruption, I have no doubt in my mind that they are culturally and socially corrupt. But do we really care to think of these as forms of corruption?

As we enter a new year, we need to reflect deeply on those whose voices we do not hear. The lack of voices of dissidence does not indicate support. And a victory in an election, too, does not necessarily infer validation. We have to search with greater intensity and subtlety, because only then will this nation mature to become what our founding fathers believed was possible. Today, we are a mockery of what we could have been, and have nobody but ourselves to blame. Decades of philosophical and political degeneration has led us to where we are and, therefore, I will not lay all blame at Modi’s doorstep. After all, we let him happen and that says something about us. And this India celebrates nationhood when death, sorrow, unhappiness and unimaginable hardship are forced upon people. What a shame!

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