Editorial: No Excuses

A privileged few are foisting insularity in the name of nationalism

The nation needs to accept that what is being passed off as a majoritarian right-wing government is actually a minority, regressively upper caste insularity disguised in shallow nationalism. Evidence of this sliver-sized representation unloading its offensive version of what defines India is manifesting in the gau-rakshak lynch mobs, the normalization of misogyny and spite through state-endorsed fictions like love-jihad and the easy mindlessness with which lives can be snuffed because long-demolished (at least officially) caste barriers are being erected again. And now, perhaps because the rabid intolerance could not be explained to mass sentiment, experiments are being tried out to excite what are clearly hate crimes as ill-informed attacks – people from minority groups being lynched on suspicions of being child lifters or thieves. The results remain the same. At times, trouble is instigated and then victimization is claimed. Thanks to a mass media which has capitulated on its responsibility to inform and explain, being liberal and rational is now being painted as a character flaw and sycophancy and iconoclasm being sold as nationalism. India, however, is more enduring than the acting chops or decibel range of those who want to scream and hate the country into the dark ages when everything was worked around the petty sensitivities of a privileged few. And while the idea that India will reclaim its tolerance is reassuring, it should not be taken as a cue to remain uninvolved. The citizens need to stay engaged, inform themselves better and consciously tune out the propaganda so that they can hear the concerns of the real India. And places on the margins, places like Sikkim also have a role to play, if not for anything else, then to hold on to its sanity and not get caught in the vortex that is sucking too many institutions and places and mindsets to their nadir. One of the horrors revisiting the country at present is the violent enforcement of the caste structures. Sikkim, which appears to be sipping the kool-aid of saffron chauvinism with abandon, needs to be especially wary of this since it has still not completely erased this scar from its society. That the caste system exists comes as no surprise, but the fact that it continues to be enforced should have everyone hanging their heads in collective shame. The caste system, and let us have no one claiming in Sikkim that it is a solely Hindu construct because it’s observance has infiltrated every other community, is one battle that the nation has lost; not for want of laws or quotas, but because the mindsets continue to remain insular. Here, the caste system is not observed as strictly in the towns because it is a practical impossibility in the cheek by jowl existence in such places, but in the rural belts, where human interaction and social exchanges underline survival itself, the system still holds out. It is all very fine for the townsfolk to turn up their noses in disgust and feign embarrassment, but fact remains that the system remains rooted because of the pseudo posturing and ill-informed intellects directing efforts at social reforms from the comfort of city sitting rooms. Reality checks were not taken as often and tokenism continued to stand in for grassroots initiatives. What failed in Sikkim, failed the country as well. Barely a decade ago, Sikkim was confronted with a situation where a village on the shoulder of the capital would not allow members from the scheduled castes access to a place of worship. This, despite specific laws in place which ban such regressive practices. When ordered to open their doors for all castes, the people concerned decided instead to shut their doors to everyone on the pretext of repairs. The only agencies engaged in the reform were cops and courts. The rest of Sikkim watched from the sidelines. What is also disturbing is that victims shy away from making a more forceful enough protest and appear to have learned to live with it. It would, however, be wrong to believe that they suffer the insults willingly. They are forced to; not because the caste system is enforced, but because they are unsure of the support mechanism that can help them take on this system. They know of the laws, but what they also know is that they will have to battle these forces on their own. They have not seen enough commitment, either in their leaders or associations or in the society at large, to add a battle for self-respect to their daily grind for survival. It takes more than laws to demolish centuries-old practices, and as we are now learning as a nation, it only takes a few regressive minds to wrest some control for these demons to climb back into our lives. Gone are the times when one could excuse those who enforce the caste system as not being necessarily evil or villainous, but just generations groomed on a different set of sensibilities. They need to be called out for their refusal to change because in our inability to do so, we are freeing the hands of fascist agencies to unleash a violence which also leaves blood on our hands. It is not okay to kow-tow to Delhi with Sawachchta Abhiyans in the name of the Mahatma if his more important message of tolerance and amity are ignored or his position against untouchability ignored.