Sunday, 8 November 2015

Intolerance is in our blood!

When I was pretty small my mom shared a parable right from her own childhood days. She shared the story of two young peasants. They were from the lower social strata and were employed under the vassalage of a very opulent landlord. One was a young man of about 20 and who was very particular about working hard and rising among the ranks of petty laborers as one who could get more to the small towns from his hamlet. And the other was a nubile daughter of another family with a history of producing labor for this landlord's lineage. Hence both were bonded labor but the only thing between them was the difference of their castes. 

While the caste of both of them, duly represented by their position in the society, was pretty low, one was considered more inferior by the others. In fact we've got so many castes and hierarchy of castes that multiple castes at the same level of the tree may be led to believe that the other one should stoop in front of them. And so struck the ogre of casteism on these two on that one scorching afternoon! 

Right in the middle of the summer heat, the young boy was using the sickle to plough through a small section of wheat fields, and the girl was walking through the furrows in the field to carry a small container with vermilion that her mother had called for. Suddenly, a strong wave of hot summery wind flew and vermilion from the container, whose lid dropped out, swooshed all over the place. It initially mottled the girl and then made conspicuous marks over the lambent white kurta of the young man. And suddenly there was clamor bigger than anyone witnessed. 

Given the historical relevance of vermilion in an Indian gamy, the act was commensurate with a spurious and rather blasphemous marriage, and the sarpanch - the Indian version of the satrap, immediately issued the missive that the girl and boy be buried alive at the corner of the wheat plantations. It was to act as some collective sacrifice for the sacrilege they were party to. The girl and boy had barely talked to each other, and now everyone spread rumors about their assignations and them conversing and roaming around, which further fumigated the local populace and everyone wanted to see the two being buried alive asap.

Folklore my mom shared ensued in the ferreting spirits of the two, who were branded an illicit couple, turning rogue and ravaging the village, which was kind of absurd. But that story had an enormous impact on me. It exposed me to the vagaries of the caste and class systems that seem to be prevailing in the country since time immemorial. And the fact that our culture has so much to offer and is such a concoction of colors has since done little to assuage the impact that this ghastly malignant stigma of our society made through that story. 

Throughout my formative years as I forayed into the reams of textbooks, everything and every piece I read on the nation tried to convince me that I have to be exorbitantly proud of this country's rich heritage; and that our cultural supremacy is simply too magnificent to be refuted and questioned. As I interacted with people - people from other religions, other castes, other places - I realized that everyone indeed is taking immense pride in their provenance. That everyone does owe a part of theirs to their own values and traditions, deeply imbibed like plaits in the harmonious fabric of the nation as a whole. Things seemed nice for a moment and I thought it's fatuous to question who we have been and what we represent. And I reserved all that umbrage I've had for this nation until now. I took offense on many things, but I kept telling myself that I am the one at fault. And then one day I realized I am too docile to think that this reek we're living in is the aroma everyone claims it to be! 

Look at the things we're concerned about when we start a conversation with someone. Our first question may be an ice breaker about the weather, but our mind is always hovering around the possibility of knowing the person's name(to find his religion if the appearance doesn't make it obvious) and then their surname(To find the sect within the religion). And the decision whether or not to continue the conversation wholeheartedly is sealed there. If the person's religion and sect are compatible with what we have marked in our database as 'acceptable' we proceed with asking about that person's place, family and what not. And if the mind sends a red signal, poof and off goes all anxiety to know about this stranger! 

Look at the larger picture and you'd see that except for a handful of states, all others would like to be identified through the majority populations. In fact even if you look at official classifications, you can have beeline categories dictated through largely predominant religion, caste and creed. And then at times the turbulence that steams through the mismatch of a wrong population finding itself under a wrong classification erupts in the form of states breaking up. In fact back in 1950 we had a far fewer number of states. And then as politically motivated crusades centered largely along religious polarization took place, states broke and merged and broke again, leading to the ever increasing number of states we've got today. 

In essence, except for classifications as per natural resources, our religion and caste become the only way of categorizing people among states. And what's not surprising is that the stereotypes we associated with the classes, castes or sects of people have become automatically associated with these states. And what takes the biggest hit in the process is the country as a whole. 

A few days ago I visited the Museum of India's struggle for independence situated inside a palatial building at Lal Quila, Delhi. I wasn't sure what I was going to see in lieu of the paltry 10 Rupees I spent to enter. There were fuse based telephones from world war 2, a torn German flag our soldiers brought with them, and all kinds of spears,bows and rifles. And then I came across a letter written by a certain J Nicholson on the eve of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and I felt a tinge of inspiring sensation fondle through my nerves. 

The letter mentions the first official recognition of the fear and wrath that the largely unorganized but surreal and lethal self-led regiments of the army brought upon the British might. The letter reads as a testimony to the fact that India, considered to be a motley state of minion communes, was now above the vice of our differences, and that suddenly, out of nowhere, provinces that were further broken according to lead religions or castes or sects, came up and became India as a whole and revolted to the surprise of ourselves than of anyone else. And the Brits knew they didn't play on our central weakness well enough. 

What ensued in many years of further rule was an inexorable series of strategies, making India a palimpest of religious and caste based debauchery. The divide and rule policy became a catechism of the new rule and disintegration of India the prime motto. And I can only wonder how the supreme pontiff of this scene, the British monarchy, would've laughed when the country was torn apart in 1947, and how it continues to see a new state split up or renamed almost every now and then. We were treated like a herd of mules, all aligned when the Brits had a purpose, and all separated when we served our masters well. And hence half a million men successfully ruled a nation of half a billion. 

And that runs through our fabric even today. We intermingle and our differences don't appear on the surface every day, but we still continue to silently groan and chide someone from the other sect and clan just because we've historically done so. We say we are proud to represent our nation at some platform, but we are silently indebted to our state, and more so to our own community. In fact even today educational institutions of tremendous national and international repute have state based quotas, duly inscribing on the supposedly perfect fabric of our nation, the blots of apathy and indolence that lay beneath. 

Ask yourselves this question. How often would a Hindu and Muslim fall in love knowing each person's religion in advance? How often a north Indian lampoons someone from down in the south, and how often someone from the south takes pride in Google's Sundar Pichai being from south, rather than him being an Indian. How often we ridicule Sikhs without knowing the generous contributions they make, and how often we dismiss tribes as being too obsolete and then turn a blind eye when one gets a medal. How often do we term every person from the north east a 'Chinky' just like that, or how often we only seek business partners from our religion, our caste and maybe even from our own native place. 

We Indians are restricting into grotto of preservation. We take sublime pride in besmirching others just because they don't own a place in our caucus where we gained a place by birth. And above everything else, we have much more bizarre conceit in our lineage than in what we stand for. Within a 2 minute eulogy on someone, we inadvertently make a reference to their place in our large labyrinth of class, caste or creed. In fact the emphasis laid on surname tells you how much we love to do that. We essentially are not a nation, we never have been! We are a set of communities who feel obligated to their own part of the country, and their own place in the nation's history, but who feel it a mandate to live as one.

We consider it a birth right to go and settle in the bedazzling cities, but even there we like to congregate in pockets of our own communities. Muslim factions in one part, a community of Gujaratis in another, and a set of apartments owned by Bengalis in yet another one. And then we name these societies as per our long established traditions and take pride in bringing our own state and customs to a new city; not knowing that the prime purpose of the despots and crusaders was pretty much the same expect that they carried their identity to different countries. 

The reason I wrote this litany is because it bemuses me that a nation of people who consider themselves ruthlessly pragmatic, adorned with so much of their history, suddenly speak of rising intolerance in pretty riling terms. It's okay to speak and harangue those who are the usual culprits but it makes sense to see that we've never seen India free from its shackles in our lifetimes. Every decade and era is marked by some gable of communal violence, and yet we suddenly move out of our alcoves and shout and ask for a remedy. Truth be told, there is none! We're born with the hatred, which is further fostered by our society, and much more accentuated by the propagandists, caliphates and self proclaimed custodians of religions, who nail it to the last bit. We essentially are an army of lunatics, veiled with the pride of our identity, the same that continues to tarnish us perpetually, like a ticking time bomb, and yet we consider fighting intolerance with a spurt of intellectual rebellion. "How cute?", some Brit viceroy to India would silently be saying in his casket. We can't kill intolerance. It's in our blood!

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