What happened to unity in diversity?

Published: Mar 16, 2019, 07:47 IST | Lindsay Pereira

I have never seen a more divided India than the one going to the polls this year. How did we come to this?

What happened to unity in diversity?
Kashmiri dry fruit vendors Mohd Afzal and Abdul Salam, who were beaten up by a few ill-informed saffron clad men in Lucknow on March 7, following the Pulwama attack

Lindsay PereiraOwners of a bakery were recently compelled to explain why and how they got the name Karachi on the board outside their premises. They had to share their personal histories with us after decades of being allowed to go about their business peacefully. They had to explain because they were attacked by fellow Indians in retaliation for an attack on our armed forces.

In a country populated by people with common sense, this would seem incongruous. Who would attack a bakery to prove their patriotism? Who would beat up students to show their support for the armed forces? The incident didn't seem particularly strange though, because we now live in a twilight zone where our nationalism is called into question by men accused of murder, where Indians are lynched for what they eat or who they sleep with, and where our religious beliefs alone determine whether we matter in the larger scheme of things or not.

I struggle to reconcile today's India with the one I grew up in. I say this despite living through the riots of 1984, 1992 and 2002. There have always been some Indians who have serious issues with other Indians, of course, which is something most of us have been forced to accept by now. What feels different, over the past couple of years, is how rabid we have become in our approach towards each other. What feels different is how easily we opt for antagonism instead of acceptance. We no longer hesitate to attack historians, economists, students, Dalits, women or minorities for daring to question the government. Even cricketers are our enemies. We no longer blink when young women are attacked online for asking us to re-evaluate our priorities as a nation. We look the other way when journalists are threatened with rape, ignoring the fact that silence is complicity.

Is there a point in asking how we arrived at this moment? The signs have been in place for years now, along with the easy pickings we offer those ruthless enough to push the right buttons in order to take control. We could have been people who simply agreed to disagree because that would have been a mature thing to do. We chose, instead, to pit ourselves against each other, rejecting the belief of our founding fathers and mothers that diversity was our strength rather than a weakness. We could have taken our National Anthem to heart and chosen to get along. We decided, instead, to use it as a weapon, diminishing its message in the process.

You can tell we live in strange times when women who accuse men of sexual harassment are summoned to court and granted bail while those accused walk freely. You can tell there is something seriously wrong when young men and women are vilified by people old enough to be their grandparents, simply because they support a different political party. You can tell we have forgotten those supposed Indian virtues of respect and civility when our politicians openly abuse the family members of other politicians they disagree with. And you can tell we have lost the plot when millions of people who look just like us applaud at the notion of sending some of us to Pakistan.

Last year saw a decade-high statistic of 93 hate crimes motivated by religious bias, according to India's first dedicated Fact Check initiative, FactChecker.in. Apparently, 30 people were killed in such attacks in 2018, the most since 2009 when hate crimes started to be tracked by the project. Since 2009, 100 persons have been killed in such attacks, and the site doesn't even claim to offer an exhaustive record of all hate crimes in India. Those numbers ought to have worried us. Instead, they prompted outrage against the site rather than the murders it uncovered. Again, this didn't come as a surprise. After all, we are now governed by people who have come to power by labelling journalists 'presstitutes' and by referring to facts as 'fake news.'

There will come a time when this will all be a distant memory, of course, because India has survived tyrants, murderers and sycophants before. It will still take years for us to eliminate the hate that has been sowed and encouraged to thrive among us. Those who come after us will wonder, at some point, why so many millions said nothing when the country left to us was allowed to be torn apart not by invaders from outside our borders but by politicians from within.

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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