Our right to dissent matters

Published: Apr 27, 2019, 07:30 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

Are we, as citizens of India, not allowed to have an opinion? Many of our friends and neighbours now seem to think that's okay

Representational Pic/Getty Images
Representational Pic/Getty Images

Lindsay PereiraI had an interesting couple of weeks online, where the usual threats and accusations of being a traitor to the nation were replaced with calls to suspend my accounts on various social media platforms. This wasn't particularly surprising, because a number of people have been trying to shut all kinds of Indians up for years. It's the reason why they don't want some voices to be heard that has suddenly changed though. Apparently, going by the word on the street these days, anyone who doesn't support a particular political party is now automatically a traitor.

There are no doubts in the minds of millions of Indians that we are going through a period of astonishing turmoil in our public lives. When over 200 writers across the country issued a signed appeal earlier this month, the message they wanted to convey -- 'Let us vote against hate politics. Let us vote for an equal and diverse India' -- was extraordinary, because they recognised how close we have come to allowing our collective freedoms to be erased.

I understand that what is amusing today can quickly turn into something terrifying in an instant, which is why I stopped smiling after reading those hate-filled messages targeted at journalists, writers, filmmakers and anyone choosing to be vocal about their support or criticism of some political parties. There was a video circulated on WhatsApp for weeks, starring a newly-minted young politician openly declaring that anyone who didn't support his party was obviously not a patriot. Since when did choosing a side make one a traitor, given that all choices being considered were Indian leaders aiming to govern India? If an idea so intrinsic to India was being blatantly disregarded, it started to worry me that young people growing up today would have a distorted idea of what it meant to live in a democracy.

The statement issued by those writers ought to have attracted a lot more attention, on account of the blatant warnings it issued about the now rampant hate politics: 'Writers, artists, filmmakers, musicians and other cultural practitioners have been hounded, intimidated, and censored. Anyone who questions the powers-that-be is in danger of being harassed or arrested on false and ridiculous charges.' This was anything but a description of a nation that respects its citizens and allows them to make their own choices.

We need to spend more time understanding our right to dissent because it is fast slipping into the realms of fiction. We need to have conversations about what it means to be able to agree or disagree with our fellow citizens because history constantly teaches us that to lose this ability can lead to catastrophic consequences for everyone involved. Our country's struggle for Independence from the British was founded on our right to dissent because our forefathers simply disagreed with rules set by foreigners. To silence voices among ourselves to suit a political narrative isn't just dangerous, it is potentially suicidal for any country claiming to be a democracy.

Anger shapes much of our discourse these days, which makes sense when one considers that most of our politicians choose to dwell not upon what they intend to do for the country, but on why we should vote for them to protect ourselves from Indians who share a point of view that is different from our own. This is why the issues that bother us routinely are almost never related to real problems or things that genuinely matter to a majority of Indians. We don't talk about jobs, healthcare or safety as much as we obsess over religion, because that is what we are diverted towards relentlessly.

We now live in a time where family, loyalties, and relationships between friends and neighbours are routinely tested because of our inability to allow different points of view from being aired. We have swallowed the narrative that if someone isn't with us, they are obviously against us, which would make sense if the participants in these arguments belonged to different countries rather than the same families. We now have fathers arguing with sons about choices, which would have been great if they couldn't agree on which cricket team to support, but that is no longer funny because these disagreements are slowly eroding the fabric of what our country was
built upon.

Maybe we need to take a step back, before it's too late, and ask ourselves if the anger is worth it. Maybe we should all decide to stop shouting for a minute, and try listening.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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