A youngster gets jailed because a politician is offended. A man gets shot for scraping another man’s car. A couple gets beaten in a park, because they’re together but not married. A cinema hall gets vandalised, because someone doesn’t like the movie being screened. A riot breaks out in a town, because a community’s sentiments are hurt. A death-fatwa is issued because someone’s religious leaders are deemed slighted.
Even in governance, we often find political opposition and even decision making layered with personal bias, and self-serving agenda.
This is the unfortunate reality of the India we live in today.
Even though the logical answer to the following questions should be a resounding “No!” I think we should pause and reflect on these questions, and also put them to those around us whom we find in situations that match:
Are we, our societies, and our beliefs so weak and fragile: that we think criticism is an insult to us; that we imagine differing opinions reduce our stature; and we whip up a storm of hatred, fearing that individual acts actually threaten our culture and religions built and respected for hundreds of years?!
Let’s pause and reflect on the question: Why has incredible India become so incredulously intolerant?
Why do individuals and communities become really insensitive and inhuman, in order to protest against alleged insensitivity and inhumanity?
Why do normally sane and well informed people, often behave in an insane and ignorant manner?
I think this issue has deep rooted beginnings, and I’d like to share my theories with you to pause and reflect upon.
In our minds and in our beliefs, perpetuated by our ancient history and popular texts, lies the image of an incredible India: festive with wealth, flourishing with happiness, steeped in dharma, and rewarded by nirvana.
Even though, through time we suffered major invasions, absorbed many cultural alterations, and survived various colonial occupations, we held our heads high in the belief that our history is beautiful and our future is even more so.
We wore our ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity like a badge of pride; we believed in the pursuit of an independent, strong, and self reliant nation; and we nurtured an image of a people well versed in ancient texts, talented as inventors and innovators, and practitioners of human compassion and religious tolerance.
Our forefathers who wrote our Constitution perpetuated the pursuit of this image, in the letter and spirit of achieving Purna Swaraj.
But today, almost seven decades after independence, our reality is far removed from purna swaraj, leave alone anywhere near nirvana.
Sure we are a rich nation. But we also have a lot of poor people.
Sure we are a powerful country. But our insides are stretched weak.
Sure we are an enlightened, awakened, and progressive people. But we also have ignorant, closed, and fundamentalist elements among us.
Our diversity has acquired new dimensions, and they don’t lend themselves to unity.
Unfortunately, governments over the years, including mine, have failed to channel the evolution of our people, and failed to stop the subterranean growth of unrest and unhappiness across our national fabric.
Even today, despite an overwhelming vote of confidence from the people, the Government finds itself stymied by the indecision and walls of criticism.
Decades of scarcity in every conceivable aspect of our lives has conditioned our people to fight for everything they need or want. So despite having everything available to us today like unlimited wares in supermarket aisles, we still fight to beat the shopping line and jump the traffic lane.
Perhaps the arrogance of power shows up in the attitude of bureaucrats and politicians who imagine themselves supreme and above the law, especially in the context of public dissent and the civil liberties of ordinary citizens.
Perhaps memories of a closed economy and anti-multi-national sentiments under the Janata Party rule in the late 1970s, still shows up in right-wing sections of our society and politics – who drum up mistrust, hatred and fear of multinational companies, to suit their own agendas.
Violent communal riots during the rule of right-wing parties; shameful incidents like the demolition of the Babri Masjid; and the horrific anti-Sikh riots in 1984 – only added to increase the mistrust and fear between communities across India.
Allegations of corruption in high places, with prosecution of a very few, added to the impression that the common man had – that the letter of the law doesn’t apply to the high and mighty in India.
What about the common man? He lives in this environment and is most certainly affected by it, dismayed and disturbed by it. When it comes to his own aspirations, he finds that growth is restricted to metros and urban areas, and not spread across all castes and communities in an equitable manner.
So we have lopsided and unhappy migration from rural to urban areas happening every day. Many people leave their homes and their families behind in their home towns, to take up jobs they never wanted, to live like strangers among people they don’t know, for salaries that make them wonder whether it is all worth it in the end.
When I pause and reflect, I think this is the backdrop, and these are the reasons why our people are becoming increasingly intolerant, and indulge in unlawful activities.
Devoid of any peer pressure of family or biradiri, people don’t think twice about abusing or accusing someone of something, or even attacking them violently.
Could it be that because there’s no job satisfaction in their life, some people make themselves feel useful by participating in so-called social or cultural activities – which could be ransacking an editor’s office, or thrashing an innocent couple in a park?
Why can’t organisations with the resources and skills to organise attacks on galleries and give lectures on morality, use the same skills and resources to keep a vigil against crime and spread the word against prejudice?
I think we are a great nation of great people with great talent and energy. I think people simply have to channel their own energies to realise their own potential.
Why can’t our leaders and influencers from different walks of life, work together to help our people live the image we have in our heads?
Why can’t all those with power and influence, those already seated on the pedestal of role models, use their positions to the advantage of a larger good?
Why are those in power, afraid to go against communal bias and uninformed dissent?
Why do the people sworn to uphold the law, become subservient to outlaws and surrender to unconstitutional activities?
I see many Corporates today, taking on the mantle of leadership and creating programs for positive awareness and action among the people of India. We have to laud and encourage such initiatives.
Critics may point out that they do this to further their brands and commercial interests. But I know for a fact, most of these business leaders are doing this simply because they are fed up of waiting for good things to happen, and simply because they recognise they have the power to make a difference.
At the end of the day, human integrity, economic growth, and all round prosperity is intrinsic to the image of purna swaraj and the nirvana we all hope to attain.
At the end of the day, we are all stakeholders and managers of this agenda and image of the incredible India we hold dear in our hearts and minds.
So why can’t we all just get along?