This freedom celebration, I want to highlight the many grand things that are going to be talked about when some of our leaders take the stage and puff their chests about growth and development. I wouldn’t call it pessimism, but an absolute conviction that India has picked its side. And it is certainly not that of the street vendor who brought you fresh-from-the-farm vegetables that you so love the boast about to your friend who buys steroid packed, processed (ugh) food from the store that doesn’t close even till late night. No? Don’t believe me?
Did you stop to think about the toxic waste that industries bleed into your rivers and seas before you rejoiced that on the streets of Maharashtra, 80% of fisherfolk, mostly Christian, and meat traders (guess the majority?) using plastic bags with less than 50 microns thickness are forced shut business because while (drum roll) we’re currently breaking record as the largest beef exporter in the world. And if they break the rules, they are supposed to pay Rs. 5000 – 25,000. About the same amount middle-class folks can take for granted in their bank accounts every month, correct? Hardly strikes fear in the heart. For the street animal activists of Bharat, forget about cow terrorism which we all feverishly condemn, are you still brandishing PETA banners and faffing about how India is starting small to become every environmentalist’s hope for a better world?
Then you’ve got to shake those scales off; the fishseller is not around to do it for you anymore.
Get real, India.
In a protest that I attended, somebody said this is the country of bans – can’t wrap your head around the practice of Jalikattu? Ban it. Can’t think of a way to get rid of black money? Ban whole currencies overnight. Oh, but those have been whitewashed now, so it doesn’t count. Sorry, we didn’t make any catch, so we were wrong, but only we’re not because black money never existed.
Some would argue that it is alright as long as the restriction remains within a particular state and protects the sentiments of people. But that logic suddenly falls on deaf ears when it comes to regions where non-Hindu communities have lived since their histories can tell them. Take last year’s beef regulation law (note that I am not even giving some the satisfaction on jumping their gun by calling it a ‘ban’), lot of law-abiding citizens tried to prove the supreme “scientific merit” of this law which didn’t allow animals to be slaughtered in the same place where they were raised, owing to the possibility of infectious diseases being passed on to new born calves from sick and dying animals.
Have we human beings lived on this planet and practiced animal husbandry only for the past 72 years?
The sheer nonsensical framework of this national law churned out after a group of elected ministers and experts sat together in parliament, completely astounds me.
When the communities in the North Eastern parts of India, among many others, took to the streets to protest, they did so because they have been rearing animals – cows, pigs, buffaloes – in their homes and small farms since the time they can trace back, and still do. And guess what, you wouldn’t find cleaner and less processed meat. When animals get sick, they spend nights nursing them to back to health, staying with mothering animals until their litters are born, and not leaving their side until their stock can feed and rest themselves. That does not mean the sick are not struck down or left rotting from which the others to pick up “infections.” I can testify to all of this in person, and if one’s scientific temperament so wishes, one can always take a trip up north.
What did we do to college students in Bangalore? Yes, 20-year old somethings who thought better than to bunk in McDonald’s but engage with the mindlessness of the state, and conducted peaceful protests at the Townhall in Bangalore, a place fully sanctioned by the state where civil societies can express dissent safely. This was supposed to be followed by a beef fest in Shivajinagar (one of the largest beef markets in the city).WE PUT THEM IN JAIL, on account of “sensitive issue” and the organizers still get death threats to this day. Some news websites sniffed “left affiliated,” and nobody called out how the city police seemed suddenly unable to distinguish rabid Sanghi warriors from a bunch of dudes hanging on the staircase many meters away.
So when I say India has picked its side, I can throw these crumbs of facts, but we all know the filth goes way deeper than that. Anybody can pull out the news: argue and counter-argue. And I call it filth, because it makes me as sick as any physical, mental or emotional condition would do. Politics, as I’ve often said before, is lived in everyday life, it is a choice we make everyday. The difference between me is saying roti and chapati in a gathering of people from different parts of India would be a political choice, which would have far-reaching results on who joins me in solidarity.
Counting down the months to the 2019 elections, I am comforted to realize that many young people appear more ‘woke’ than they did a few months ago. I’m not a huge fan of that word, but I understand its power in a world of trending words, and while I would much prefer something like ‘conscientious’, I want to sound like the 22-year old I’m not. Jokes apart, I still strongly believe we need to remain friends and occasionally ‘like’ that friend’s post who feverishly supports your ideological opponent but once in a while manages to express dry humor over some hopeless situation in the country.
Yes, people are always the real work. And the real danger to our democracy would be when we stop debating amongst ourselves and remain stuck in the publicity of symbolic hugs and double standard speeches: are you for or against? No, we cannot move towards the real welfare of the oppressed which form the majority in our nation, with those blinkers. Let’s not even get into the contradictions of democracy as a theoretically flawed concept before we deal fully well with what’s staring at us.
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s recent interview with India Today gave me much to think about in the run towards India’s next democratic elections: “Action based on scrutinized ideas, I think that’s the hope for humanity.” That’s the hope for India’s democrazy*.
*Courtesy Arundhati Roy