Can you hear democracy shattering?

Published: Aug 09, 2019, 06:19 IST | Rosalyn Dmello

That clamp on the mouths of Kashmiris ought to be a warning to us to keep our voices loud and strident against this abuse of power

Can you hear democracy shattering?
Women react after the departure of their relatives travelling on the Samjhauta Express train on August 8. The train, which has in the past been halted due to tensions between the neighbouring countries, returned to India as Pakistan downgraded its diplomatic ties with India in a deepening row over New Delhi's clampdown on Kashmir. Pic/AFP

Rosalyn D'MelloWhen I learned on Thursday that in a few hours, the prime minister is slated to address the nation, I felt my heart sink into the fear-sized hole that had opened up inside my body a few days ago, when I heard the echoes of democracy's death knell. Until then I had still deluded myself into feeling hopeful. I still believed that the right-wing government would not let hate triumph over humanity. But, can you imagine waking up one morning to find that phones won't work, that the Internet has been cut off, that there is no cable television, no access to the world outside. Shops are closed, schools and universities are shut down indefinitely, and everywhere you look you find gun-toting army personnel. You are then informed that the land to which you have historical and ancestral claim, is now, thanks to a glitch in the system, no longer yours to govern, that you are no longer deserving of fair democratic representation. From a citizen with rights, you have been demoted to a minor that needs parental protection "for your own good". How is this freedom?

It is shocking to learn of the many who are rejoicing... the privileged Hindu majority who have sold into the dream of a fundamentalist state, who have allowed themselves to be brainwashed by the propaganda machine; and of course, the hyper misogynists who are convinced that Kashmiri women are now fair game.

I've been anticipating this day for five years, and yet, now that we're here, I still find myself wishing my instincts had been wrong. The government has indeed declared an open war on the very Constitution upon which this republic was founded. It has done so under the guise of democratic process; using disingenuous means, and by silencing and suppressing the rights of an already oppressed people; literally colonising their land and enforcing their presence, making India no different from Israel.

But saying all of this is pointless. Because, those of us who know this, those of us who have no choice but to resist, are simply not consumed enough by hate to carry out the kind of violence that Hindutva bhakts are capable of. And, this is important. Because, at this juncture, those of us who still believe in the spirit of equality, justice and democracy must remember not to lose sight of our humanity, and to not lose our ability to believe in the humanity of those who do not share our ideology. The moment we do, we lose our moral high ground.

Those of us who still hold on to the idea of democracy must find creative ways of resistance. We have to be more vocal, more vociferous in our dissent, more insistent in our critique. Future generations must know that we did not let this pass undebated, that we didn't simply surrender without putting up a fight. Our protests have to become louder, we have to find ways to unite and ensure that our voices count. We are now tasked with the responsibility of speaking for Kashmiris who are under military clampdown, who have been gagged, lest someone else speak up for them and misinterpret their protests. This is a question of consent. As such, this is a feminist battle. The same rapist approach central to toxic masculinity has been applied in the case of Jammu and Kashmir. No consent has been elicited. Every semblance of agency has been taken away from its people.

There is absolutely no rational, humanitarian principle by which such dictatorial actions can be justified. What if, tomorrow, a siege was laid around your home so you were completely cut off from the world outside and you were told by the invading presence that your home no longer belonged to you because the law had suddenly changed without your explicit permission or agreement? What if, as you were held at gunpoint, you had to witness your home being occupied by the people you trusted with your protection?

Toxic masculinity enables toxic governance. Toxicity is a form of inconsideration. What we are witnessing is the apotheoses of the nexus between casteism, fundamentalism, misogyny, and autocracy. It is time for you and me to decide which side of humanity we want to belong to. Are we capable of truly listening to the dispossessed and the marginalised without allowing our insecurities get in the way, without perceiving them as a threat? Are we capable of using our privilege to speak on behalf of those who aren't empowered? Are we capable of resisting the uncritical digestion of that which the government feeds us through its propaganda machine? No good comes from violence, oppression and war. Only short-term profit. Now, more than ever, it is crucial for us to dismantle the patriarchy.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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