The Comment Policy of India

Why do we get consumed by divergent opinions to ours, and do so in the name of god?

The Comment Policy of India
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Listen to India. Turn on the volume as you read.

This is us. Listen and re-listen to who we are, what we are, and why this is not the time to allow the petty and the greedy to pip us to the post in this race for power. Yes, it is a race and we, the people of India, are the power. This is what men and women who fought for our land with their lives and blood did, so we can vent our ire, among others things, on the internet. We are all guardians of India’s destiny. We are the protectors of India’s fate and faith. No one can tell us what to do. India is not an idea and neither is it a laboratory. We are one nation, 1.2 billion strong or weak, where everyone has the right to express their views, however difficult, however diverse and however belittling. Untied, we cannot stand, divided, we must not be.

The soldiers who protect us day and night and come home in body bags are Indians. The soldiers whose heads are returned to us are fathers, brothers, sons, Indians.

Yes, those are our soldiers and lance nayaks. In the battle to take India where it belongs, we are all lance nayaks. Rights do not precede responsibilities. We are all responsible for the collective place we call democracy which is not a right that once secured, can be demolished. The right to lead in a democracy had to be earned, every day.  Finger-pointing at a time when we are all looking for answers standing in the same place – economic, political, and social – is unhelpful, if not dangerous.

A tear is a tear, it knows no religion. Bullets and knives, guns and bombs don’t discriminate between rulers and the ruled. Neither do stupid people or rabble-rousers. To those who say you lead, we will fire from your shoulder, we ask, will you send your children to the frontline? Will you run out during curfew to attend to the wounded, or will you live in gated communities and prefer to complain? Our fore-parents fought on the ground, left distant shores to join our freedom struggle and took up jobs to build a resilient India. If they could do it, why can’t we? Indeed times are different. No two situations are similar. When we became independent, many of us were illiterate. Sixty-five years later, our responsibilities are even more shared than ever.

Around this time in the last century, Europe was preparing to go to war, mother against daughter, us against us. As a reporter, I saw what was called the last vestiges of the World War II play itself out in the Balkans almost 50 years after guns fell silent across the continent. As one wall came down (Berlin, 1989) other walls were being erected overnight in people’s drawing rooms and backyards -Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, all sprouting at the tips of bayonets while leaders and politicians negotiated in the comfort of Geneva, New York and Dayton. They called them peace talks. The massacre in Srebrenica and the bombing of Dubrovnik were no worse than Dresden or Rwanda. I heard diplomats talking about the Balkanisation of India, displaying an ill-muted envy of a people standing together in the face of adversity. There are no walls, no ramparts in India. If there are enemies, they are within.

If we are looking for a fight in the name of gods we will find many. Writing on my blog www.csdablog.com, Dr Franklin Apfel, a medical doctor and media watcher says in his younger days in South Bronx, USA, if you were looking for a fight, it was easily achieved with these three words. Sa puta madre – mother f…er were words that outraged. Scientifically speaking, he says, one would think that outrage would be “hard wired” genetic information in humans, selected for survival instincts. Like the enhanced responses of spinal dorsal horn neurons to heat and cold stimuli which allows humans a very quick reflexive reaction to touching of hot stoves. The outrage gene – if it exists – should have evolved to help humans protect ourselves, mothers, children from attacks and abuse. One might even hope that morally outrage hard-wiring would be selected over “baddy outrage” that baddies were too busy killing themselves off to maintain the antisocial, sexist, racist, fascist xenophobia genetic material in the species.

Unfortunately, whatever outrage related “hard wirings” lurks in our genomes, social factors, norms and ultimately power hierarchies have come to control our expressions of outrage. “India, this sounds like this is your time to right so many wrongs. Let your outrage help guide new directions, sweep rapists and abusers out of government and bring justice for new generations. Indeed we are watching and grateful and warmed by the heat of your courageous outrageous glow”, Dr Apfel said. Is he important? Does it matter if you rummage in a public dustbin or eat in a golden plate when you are hungry? The world is watching India as much with ridicule as hope – the direction is for us to take.

I write this after reading Spanker Anonymous and Say Sorry to Shah Rukh Khan in Newslaundry and responses to both pieces. Newslaundry cannot and must not be a judge. It is a vehicle, and far from perfect. Perfection is an affront to god, according to a Jewish saying. If people who put pen to paper are unclear, it will all come out in the wash. Men and women who framed our Constitution, gave us the power of dialogue and the wisdom of enquiry which should discard the ridiculous, the stupid, the senseless and the venal. Indeed, we have to remain watchful and vigilant and resolute, and challenge noise, without being consumed by it. Judging, especially in the name of god, has brought us destruction. Listen to this

Bombs don’t speak French or Hiroshima. In short, the lyrics say what would you do if you were born in 1917 in Leidenstat, or were a soldier of caste in the docklands of Belfast or white and rich in Johannesburg? Would you have the courage to swim against the tide, stand up to the butchers? We don’t know. Not knowing is not ignorance. Not knowing is the beginning of knowledge. Arjuna learned his lesson in a battlefield. If there is something called the “survival” gene, it cannot be cradled in ignorance and fed on hatred.

Many years ago I was invited to be on a panel to offer my views on what should be done to the Ayodhya-Babri masjid rubble. Because I knew something about something it was assumed that I knew everything about everything. We went around the table. When it was my turn to speak, I said we know who rattled the chains of the locked temple before breaking it open, we know who reduced it to rubble. I suggested we leave the rubble as a reminder of what human beings are capable of doing, and record Indian history in the latter half of the 20th century by telling the story of what happens when human beings fight and kill in the name of gods. It could be our monument to shame. It’s been done before. German school children visit concentration camps which are permanent reminders of national shame.

I don’t know what happened to the panel and that’s a detail. India belongs to its people and nothing can stop us from doing what we can to ensure that we do not shame our fore-parents. By the way, flags have a reason – in the hands of stupid people, they can be dangerous. When waved with reason, it is an identity. Some 620 million people will vote soon to elect people who will lead India. What are we afraid of if not ourselves?

Image By: Swarnabha Banerjee

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