We must rediscover our humanity
From the occupation of J&K to CAA - the idea of India as a secular space, which I subscribe to, is endangered by what can't be mistaken for anything but fascism
October 3, 2019. I had exited the Bergamo airport in Italy and had taken the train to Rovato, from where I was supposed to switch platforms to board a train to Verona. I had packed most of my belongings into one big suitcase.
I had tried my best to travel light for my 66-day stay so that I would have no reason to feel encumbered. But Rovato being perhaps a minor station, had no elevator, which meant I had to lug 23 kilos down a flight of stairs and up another. I took a deep breath and set forth. Ordinarily, this wouldn't have felt like such a Herculean task, but I had been on the road for more than 16 hours and had been surviving on no sleep. I motivated myself by imagining my partner standing on the platform at Auer, waiting for me. It had been almost three months since we had had the pleasure of being together in the same physical space. The book I was reading, Mother, by Sarah Knott, was keeping me excellent company.
There I was, a zombie with a future to look forward to, cursing myself for having carried four sweaters and other extraneous things when out of nowhere a man appeared with an entreating smile. He seemed South Asian, like me, and he wordlessly suggested that he could help me carry my bags across. I trusted him instinctively. Or maybe by now, I was too tired to care about whether someone was contriving to rob my belongings.
I accepted his offer. He walked ahead of me, his body showing no sign of strain from the weight he was lifting. He climbed up the stairs effortlessly. I was overflowing with gratitude. When we arrived at the platform I needed to be on, he graciously set my bags on the ground. I thanked him profusely.
"Which country are you from?" he asked me.
"India," I replied.
After a moment's hesitation I returned his question.
"Which country are you from?" I asked.
"Kashmir," he said.
I cringed from shame. By then it had been about 60 days since India had unconstitutionally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, after downgrading the state to a Union Territory, bringing it firmly under central administration, and delineating it as separate from Ladakh, all without seeking or garnering anything resembling consent from its denizens. Shockingly, the internet shutdown in the whole region continues still.
A few days ago, the geographical expanse forcibly 'offline' in India also came to include parts of the Northeast. It's hard not to see this as a 21st-century version of an Emergency. But the absence of Internet is symptomatic of larger, more dubious agendas as well as insecurities.
The government is hoping to silence dissent, to mute the many pluralistic voices that are calling it out on its xenophobic mission to create a Hindu Rashtra through the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which corrodes the basic codes of secularism mandated by our Constitution by institutionalising citizenship based on religious discrimination.
Trust the ruling party to make an act seem welcoming of persecuted minorities and yet selective of their religious ethnicity. Where was our presumed humanity when the Rohingyas from Myanmar sought shelter from us?
The ruling party has been endorsing the CAA also as a way of deflecting attention from the nuances of Assam's unique advocacy of the NRC to counter its historical experience of a form of settler colonialism that continues to threaten its non-homogenous indigenous identity.
I cut my intellectual teeth too early in life reading Tagore's lectures on nationalism to ever become its advocate. I have never been able to see myself as 'belonging' to a country, partly also because I am from Goa, a land with its unique experience of colonialism under the Portuguese.
As I write this, I'm aware that today marks the day when Indian forces, under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, entered Goa to liberate it in 1961, making it, overnight, an Indian territory. However, patriotism aside, conceptually speaking, there is the idea of India enshrined in the Constitution that I do subscribe to — as a secular space where its citizens are equal before the law. It is this very basic idea, among many others, that is presently endangered and must be protected through vociferous and relentless protest.
Now is the moment for us to speak up and register our dissent against what cannot be mistaken for anything other than fascism. Don't wait until the government comes after you, and believe me, it will. That others are being oppressed, that others are being targeted should be enough to incite your rage. Now is the moment to speak up not just for ourselves but for each other.
This is a moment for us to rediscover and re-practice our humanity, to establish networks of solidarity and brandish our ideological togetherness. Because never before in its 72-year history since Independence has so much been at stake in India.
The ethos of the present government is completely and totally at odds with the spirit of our Constitution, with the ideals of equality and secularism it represents, thanks to the prescience of stalwarts like Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. They can no longer be trusted with safeguarding our democracy. It falls on us to carry the weight of our constitutional ideals.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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