By Saswat Pattanayak
“The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity” - Jawaharlal Nehru, 14 August, 1947.
We started off with an exalted note, a thundering applause, and an optimistic tryst with destiny. Despite obnoxious Churchill laughing away sardonically. We installed the most erudite of scholars at the highest echelons of power. Even as that could not deprive us of our web of superstitious ignorance. We strived to help Indira’s India turn duplicitously socialist carving out a veritably stimulating mixed economy. That did not prevent us from cementing the biggest feudal setup in modern times. Now a full circle; we are a capitalistic mega success, a military super power in the making, an economic giant, and foremost of all, a proud nation zealously loved, fervently guarded and sacredly held in esteem. And our lofty, unwavering proclamations of nationalism have decisively helped us masquerade our sickening class society as a vibrant and robust democracy.
It is imperative not to discount the significance of political democracy, or the labeling of it. After all, electoral voting is deeply crucial in sustaining a system that can be controlled by those exuding self-perpetuating power attained via means legitimized as desired. Democracy has become the horse for our moral rides, the unquestioned credo that stirs us to inaction, the mystical justification for the status quo. Holiest of scriptures is our Preamble which bestows upon us our long cherished national identities we refuse to critically interrogate and through those, we the people of India have given to ourselves unfathomable hyperboles.
A deeply religious society fractured with majoritarian fanaticism and yet we are the proclaimed seculars; distinctly divisive run our regional tendencies and yet we are constitutionally united; magnitudes in riches determine the electoral reach of candidates and yet we bask in largest democratic glories; unashamed playground for the capitalists of the world and yet documented we are as a socialist nation. We like to be observed as romanticized studies in great contrasts, of the slumdogs and millionaires; yet we are in reality a sustained plethora of unfortunate contradictions refusing to resolve.
Six decades ago, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar put it rather mildly, “On the 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one-person-one-vote and one-vote-one-value. In our social and economic life, we shall by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one-person-one-value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions?”
We have not only embraced the contradictions, we revel in them. One of the vicious outfits we entertain these days is ironically called Youth for Equality which has started appropriating none other than Dr. Ambedkar himself to further its agendas of privileged caste-blindness. Whereas Dr. Ambedkar aimed for a casteless society, he did so by recognizing the root and demanding its elimination. Before dreaming of a casteless India, he made it very clear that it is Hinduism whose scriptures be burnt down, for “inequality is the soul of Hinduism.” He wrote, “Caste is a disease of mind. The teachings of the Hindu religion are the root cause of this disease. We practice casteism and we observe untouchability because we are enjoined to do so by the Hindu religion. A bitter thing cannot be made sweet. The taste of anything can be changed. But poison cannot be changed into nectar.”
Republic of India has failed to change the poison into nectar because it is the poison we the apparently innocent, well-meaning, decent folks have voluntarily been administering within our families and schools. As a result, we not only now have major political parties unabashedly displaying Hindu affections through systematic violence against religious minorities, what is worse is we blame no longer Hinduism proponents, but their victims as the casteists: the untouchables, the Dalits, the indigenous peoples discarded by our majoritarian religious identity. The public perception that Dalit activists are the ones practicing casteism has gained unprecedented mileage in recent times, and the upper caste elitists who refuse to give up an ounce of their privileges are the ones christened as equal rights champions.
Not very dissimilar is our collective attitude towards the poor working class being the cause of embarrassment in face of our superpower aspirations. It is not the poverty that a bunch of us in power corridors - of justice, education, technology and legislation - have institutionalized to our benefit, which needs to be felt ashamed of. In fact, we gloat over the emerging India’s list of billionaires and star cricketers driving Ferraris and celebrities getting paid tens of crores per movie appearance. What we are ashamed of are our poor working class folks who get regularly evicted out of the rising cities we showcase for potential foreign investments.
The shining India up for sale comes tagged with a befitting disclaimer: “There is nothing wrong in being rich if it is hard-earned money.” No questions asked as to whose hard-work enables accumulations for the rich. Questions about capitalistic contradictions no longer require any answers. Capitalism is here to stay and flourish. After all, we have voted our parliamentarians to power and they have welcomed imperialistic trade to enslave us once again. The question that needs to be answered and addressed is that of the undesirable elements that weaken the otherwise radiating image of our beloved country - the question of the Maoists, of the disfranchised, of the destitute, of the refugees.
So embarrassed we are of our own victims that recently a deputy executive editor of Hindustan Times wrote about Orissa: “Twenty-seven years ago, when I migrated to Delhi, mine was a state whose chief minister would make headlines for his alleged homosexual escapades. Then there were starvation deaths that made news in the late 80s. Spotlight fell on it again when a devastating cyclone struck in 1999, killing tens of thousands. The festering image of a poverty-ridden, backward state still did not leave a native like me as despondent as it does today with the spurt in Maoist violence in what was once seen as a state endowed enough to lead the journey of modern India. What was once considered a state where one would rarely see radical politics is now heading to the top of the list of India’s worst Maoist-affected states.”
The dichotomy between the journey of modern macho resurgent India and the poverty-ridden, starving, dying or worse, that of the resisting insurgent Indians is what most glaringly characterizes the past six and a half decades. And the need for most of us to informedly choose one over the other while recognizing the class conflict as a historical necessity is what most strikingly has gone amiss this entire period.
No wonder, in the latest incident of security forces murdering 19 villagers of Sarkelguda in Chhatisgarh, we could not choose the side. On one hand we would not support police brutality on principle, and on the other, we would unflinchingly believe in the official narratives that claim law and order requirement in killing five children among the dead, and sexually assaulting four more teenage girls. When our Union Home Minister discovers three “hardcore Naxalites” in a class 10 student, a dholak player and a marginal farmer, we instantly choose silence as a reaction. Or worse, sadness, for we are forever comforted by our unassailable faith in judiciary system and the unbelievable isolation of those who protest. Even as a national awakening was registered to declaration of the mosquitos in Maoist belts as the public enemy following unfortunate demise of a photojournalist recently, we prefer to maintain steadfast silence over continued police brutality upon independent journalists covering those “affected” areas.
It is as though there is a localized cancer, and the affected area needs urgent dissection. And the social doctors tell us, once we are rid of the mosquitos (and/or the Maoists), the golden bird will sing again, with the mind sans fear with head held high, India will be leaps and bounds ahead of others. Our identities as proud Indians will be reasserted, our civilizational heritages shall be reclaimed in their undiluted forms. All we need are the officially approved militant Operations.
Once we rid our societies of the undesirable Maoists and the wretched villagers who shelter them, the homosexuals and the sluts who arrogantly defy the overarching patriarchy, the Dalit casteists who demand reparation and the emancipated minorities who demand social justice, the suicidal farmers backlogged in interests and the suicidal students performing to societal expectations, once we rid our societies of the women who demand reproductive rights, the victims of abuse who refuse to forgive their perpetrators, and the atheists who crave for no inner peace, we shall have become truly sovereign a state, for now the more powerful we appear for our dispossessed, the more we continue to crave for colonial, imperial approvals. After we have successfully completed our Operations hunting down the dissenters, we shall no longer be forcing a ten year old girl to drink her urine as a corporal punishment measure. After the poor are eradicated from the mainstream, we would not be left with a Dalit woman who can be forced to clean human excrement with her bare hands as a manual scavenging labor.
In face of acute contradictions that have shattered every iota of revolutionary roles India adopted as torchbearer of freedom movements for the colonized peoples, what is the basis of our pride today? Failing to implement the internationalist role we once gave to ourselves of ensuring peace and nuclear disarmament, where suppressed is our courage today? Fast reversing the socialist path we once set out on with a patriotic intent to put people before profit, cooperation before competition and sharing before acquiring, where are those enlightened visions today?
Or, do we at all need those principles anymore? Should we ever go back in time to live the past dreams for social equality when we can make giant leaps into a concrete future of individual liberties? The challenge is not merely philosophical. Do we become the champions of the oppressed, or sycophants of the oppressors. In believing we are the next super power, we behave like one: we torment our poorest, worship our richest, aim for a seat in the Security Council, throttle oil dealings with Iran to appease the rogue powers. And in carrying out this role to perfection, we are emerging as a Fascist state which refuses to let go of its thinly veiled dosage of nationalism, religious chauvinism, and linguistic hegemonies.
The grandest irony is we have been reduced to an oxymoron: a nuclear power with a friendly smile. A smile that accompanied Mr Vajpayee as he signaled victory at Pokhran. Or one that appears fixed on Mr Manmohan Singh’s lips as he signs away the country in the guise of free market initiatives. Our global standing rests on a convincing power tactic that transcends international fraudulence; one which assuredly destroys the domestic dissenters whom the state apparatus declares as insurgents. It's the poor who cause us the most damage. The oppressed that pose as obstacles. It's the dejected that distress us, its the celebrities that inspire. The teeming millions whose shows of strengths to challenge the status quo escape our radars, while we continue to get impressed by a handfuls of accumulators whose charities sustain inequalities.
While we prepare to celebrate yet another Independence Day, are we merely to brace ourselves to cheer for the renewed promises delivered from the Red Fort? To witness awestruck the gallantry and the magnanimity of our increasingly powerful military? Or to celebrate the truly patriotic among us who although enslaved are confronting the owners, although relegated to statistical dustbins are growing progressive voices in the tradition of freedom struggles, and although termed socially backward are forming revolutionary fronts for universal progress?
If 15th August is a reminder of fights, struggles and sacrifices, this year we may need to pause awhile from our pompous ceremonies, boisterous democracy claims, privately held economic strides and racial pride narratives; and go back in time to acknowledge the roots of socio-economic inequalities. Each of us has a stake, for a few fulfilled individuals do not build a country; a shared struggling people do.