On the State of a Rising Nation

Are we teetering on the edge of no return as a people in India? Has our nationalism caught root rot even before any of its promised fruits could ripen? Can the next election be declared redundant because Sangh cadres are no longer the only repository of hate politics?

You cannot lynch me And keep me in ghettos Without becoming something monstrous yourselves
 James Baldwin 

We just ‘played our nation-game’ on the body and life of an 8 year old girl in the sanctum sanctorum of a Hindu temple.

But I am very worried about the state of the civilisation which produced that photograph of the white cop standing on that Negro woman’s neck in Birmingham.
 Lorraine Hansberry, civil rights activist, to Attorney-General Robert Kennedy 

But why are we surprised? Why are we even pretending that this is not how it was supposed to end begin?

Asifa’s violent end is not simply a matter of rape statistics, nor should it be reduced to the degree of perverse torture inflicted. The implications of her death corresponds in exact measure with the intentions of her killers. For those of us who do not want to ‘communalize’ the matter, let us remind ourselves that Hindu men wanted to make an example of Asifa through this undertaking and subdue a people.

… it has been proved that the land can exist without the country – and be better for it; it has not been proved …that the country can exist without the land. And the land is being killed. Alice Walker 

Therefore, several calculations were made in choosing the victim. To rephrase Walter Benjamin, the building of a civilization solicits acts of barbarism, and in that spirit, the chosen had to be a child. Her age was not incidental. She had to be Muslim, her religion was not incidental. Asifa’s being was dispensable because her body was Kashmir, nomadic or not, and her rape was ineluctable for the same reason.

No matter which way you look the violation of this eight year old was a political act. In fact, whether the residents of Kathua are terrorized or not, Asifa’s killing with all the symbolism that temple could afford, was an act of war.

But was it not an appropriate sacrifice? The logical consequence of our yearning for a virginal India – an India without the ghosts of marauding Muslims, polluting Dalits, and the incorrigibly unaesthetic poor? Can we suddenly abandon the killers of Asifa without taking responsibility for the fantasy we helped them conjure, the bravado we helped them muster up for this monstrous vengeance?

It is no longer possible to ignore the fact that our class of educated Indians have failed to add moral value to this country. We need not hide, for instance, that our fathers or brothers have at some point yearned to beat Muslims, and every other community that did not look or sound the way we want them to, out of the country; that their wives and sisters have cheerfully nodded and agreed that such a mass action would indeed be lovely and will solve all the problems of this great country. Never mind the awkward disinterest in actual historical information, which if remedied could save this land.

To watch the TV screen for any length of time
is to learn some really frightening things
about the American sense of reality.

 

We are cruelly trapped between
What we would like to be and what we actually are.
And we cannot possibly become
What we would like to be until we are willing
to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead
on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame,
And so ugly.

 

These images are designed not to trouble,
but to reassure.
They also weaken our ability to deal
with the world as it is, ourselves as we are
 James Baldwin 

Maybe, once The Others are driven out, India too can be as great as America? Reach its full potential. And wouldn’t that be a dream?

But isn’t the dream a reality already?

The similarities between the two great countries are uncanny. Viscerally connected the two, in fact.

Both countries have been built on the sweat and tears of those forced into invented categories: caste in India, race in the US. A ceaseless problem of land, sovereignty, and citizenship hangs over both, confounding claims to identity, cornering access to collected wealth. Maybe it is this foundational two-of-a-kindness that should make us stop and take stock.

What is India to expect once it has satisfied its lust for genocidal terror like its Big Brother? It will perhaps be more fruitful to give space here to the words of a people who were/are lynched, raped, and murdered by this other nation as ambitious and proud as ours.

As Indians, we like to keep the black man and woman as far from his hearth and imagination as possible. Still, the black voices quoted here are hyphenated Americans, and for the love of all things American, one can hope that we will, for a moment, suspend our misplaced superiority and heed the warning.

In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick ‘em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it.
This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.  Toni Morrison  

Even as I write this, spokespersons of the ruling party are floating conspiracy theories that Asifa’s death was a conspiracy against the party. Even in the worst case scenario, we cannot seem to admit injury. BJP ministers have joined rallies supporting the accused in several parts of the country. Their trolls continue to issue threats of rape and murder on social media. The Prime Minister has vacant assurances to offer if anyone is interested.

The insensitivity is almost a national program.

There are dissenters – students, journalists, activists, poor farmers. These are but the usual suspects. The silent majority, the ones who have the power to switch off our suicide mode, even if temporarily, continue to hit the snooze button.

But what else can the majority do? Can we right these wrongs without giving up an appetite for glory and dominance?

In 1940, Dr Ambedkar had diagnosed the conundrum of the Hindu Indian, “In a world where nationality and nationalism were deemed to be special virtues in a people, it was quite natural for the Hindus to feel, to use the language of Mr. H. G. Wells, that it would be as improper for India to be without a nationality as it would be for a man to be without his clothes in a crowded assembly.”

It is 2018. Few days back we celebrated Ambedkar Jayanti. In Uttar Pradesh, his statue was ‘caged,’ to prevent vandalization or saffronisation. In this new chapter of nationalism, ‘homogeneity over unity,’ is the motto. But the nation-state in this beloved form is no longer extant. Did the Indian middle class not get the memo? National claims to sovereignty have been made hollow by transnational capital, global crises, and an imminent ecological breakdown. Yet the common will to nationhood in India is at its most assertive today, even when it displays an astonishing impotency to act against an openly corrupt establishment. In this self-deluding smog of optimism, what we are actually dealing with is a crude sectarianism at best. Asifa’s death is the official opening act.

References:
Alice Walker, Living By The Word, Selected Writings 1973-1987, Harcourt Brace Johanovich, 1988
Benjamin Zachariah, Playing the Nation-Game, Yoda Press, 2012
B.R. Rao, Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of India, Thacker and Company Ltd, 1940
James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro, Penguin, 2017
Toni Morrison, Beloved, Vintage, 2010

Featured image by Altaf Mohamedi

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Oeendrila Lahiri Written by:

Oeendrila Lahiri is an academic, and at times, a writer

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