All conversation in “good society” follows the same course. After the usual inquiries and gossip, everyone agrees that “things are so bad yaar!” As a rational, educated and reasonably informed person in India, it is difficult to turn away from the reality staring us so squarely in the face.
If Marcellus from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet were to comment on India in 2022, he would surely rephrase his famous quote to say, “Something is rotten in the state of India”.
Last week a disabled man from Madhya Pradesh was lynched, allegedly on suspicion of being a Muslim. He died from his injuries while the video of his lynching went viral. The accused was arrested and found to be a member of the local BJP unit. As law-abiding citizens, our horror has many options when it comes to choosing where to reside. Should we be horrified to be so brutalized as a society that we physically assault a visibly disabled elderly person? Or should we reserve our shocked irony for the fact that a helpless man tragically died due to mistaken identity that he could not correct? This incident is just more proof that we have so dehumanized Muslims in India that the mere suspicion of belonging to this religious identity runs the risk of being potentially lynched to death!
Dalit activists will be right to point out that we are only witnessing, on a larger scale, the violence that the community has suffered for centuries. Even ruling regime loyalists will be unable to defend this brutalized public culture of normalized violence, but they can try to justify the clamor of the Gyanvapi Mosque, the delusions of Tejo Mahalaya, or the rising prices, inflation, unemployment and China invading our territories.
There is surely something wrong with us collectively. We believe that any rumor has circulated on WhatsApp. We’re more enraged by Bollywood celebrities naming their children after medieval kings than by Muslim women being auctioned off online as virtual slaves by Hindu “trads.” We are more angry at the imagined sins of the Mughal rulers than at the obvious sins of our own elected legislators. We denounce the Taliban but we forget that the Afghans did not elect them to power, while we elected an accused terrorist to Parliament with a decisive mandate in 2019. We consume propaganda like popcorn even though the food and oil become unaffordable for a majority of Indians, and when asked to use our vote wisely, we yawn lazily and reply, “But, there is no alternative!” The wealthiest of us advise ourselves to leave the country completely. It is as if the mind of the Indian body politic has been brainwashed into indifference.
It is precisely to this indifference and this collective acceptance that the leaders of our struggle for freedom have risen during our struggle for independence. Every great leader has tried to liberate India not only from political slavery by the colonizers, but from the intellectual, mental and spiritual slavery that colonialism inflicted on the spirit and soul of India. Our national movement was not simply for political freedom, it was also a movement for liberation from social oppression by unjust indigenous traditions. Almost all of our nationalist leaders, across the ideological spectrum, were also social reformers, activists and advocates for reform. They did not see independence simply as an electoral project, they saw it as a transformation project.
India is again at the same crossroads. The challenge is as formidable and global as the colonial state. Except he is no longer identifiable as a light-skinned foreigner, but rather as an intangible, abstract ideology of hatred that has taken the form of an electoral formula that far too many Indians vote for. The solution to this cannot simply be electoral. This is the mistake that all opposition parties and splinter groups make. We are looking for an electoral solution to a much more endemic problem.
The monster of hatred and apathy that unleashed in India was first born in our minds and hearts. A project for change in India cannot simply be a plan for electoral victory, it must be a more transformative attempt. But for that we must begin by admitting that the Indian body politic is sick.
The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometimes writer and social commentator.