“Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me.”
– 1984, George Orwell
My country has always been my first love. I love its essential spirit: the inclusiveness, the ability to assimilate differences, the tradition of dialogue and argument, the vibrancy of daily life that we so take for granted. I’m the sucker that cries at any ad that pulls at my nationalistic heart-strings, the one who cheers like a maniac at cricket matches where India’s playing, the emotional patriot who knows every word to songs like “Bhaarat humko jaan se pyaara hai.”
But today, India, you are breaking my heart. I am left hanging my head in great sorrow and personal shame. Yes, personal. Because how can I distinguish myself from this country, separate “India” from “Pallavi”?
We strut arrogantly through life, through the world…setting up outposts everywhere, believing we are the very best, secure in our “cultural heritage”, aiming for a UN Security Council seat, cutting billion-dollar defense deals, laughing proudly when we see Aishwarya Rai on Oprah.
And yet, when you think about it for a second, the massive problems in this country are only too obvious: widespread poverty, malnourishment, disease, systemic political corruption, a patriarchal system that is a daily nightmare for most women, high crime rates, an inefficient police force, vulnerability to terror attacks…need I go on?
We seem to have lost either the will or the ability to introspect.
Bring up a flaw, highlight an issue, take up a cause – and hundreds of naysayers will strike you down. “So negative”, “so unpatriotic”, “so extreme”, “so boring”, “who cares?” – responses are varied, but pretty much translate to the same basic message: “shut the hell up and let us get on with our lives”.
So most of us do. I know I have – I am as guilty as the next person of shutting up about things because it was EASIER.
It’s easier to keep your friends when you stay quiet about their characterization of certain women as “loose” or “slutty”.
It’s easier to keep the peace in a social gathering when you laugh along as someone mocks a “feminist”.
It’s easier to not rock the family boat when you don’t challenge relatives’ medieval notions of a woman’s place, a woman’s responsibility.
It’s easier to take home a regular salary when you pretend the “sexual harassment committee” at your workplace is not a complete farce.
It’s easier to not care. It’s just more…convenient.
We are all guilty here, let’s make no mistake about it.
Oh, I’m not saying the political class is not at fault. It’s their JOB to run this bloody country and we ALL know they have failed magnificently on that account.
But they say you get the politicians you deserve, and maybe that’s true.
We continue to let them play us, divide us, rule us on the basis of frivolous concepts: caste, religion, region. And then we act surprised when the country is falling apart. We are only too happy to go cast a vote on some preconceived notions (how many of us do ANY research on the candidates we’re voting for?) or not vote at all (“what are the options, yaar?”), and stop there.
It is OUR fault that our netas are not accountable.
If a candidate with a rape charge against him is in power, how do you think he got there? We VOTED for him.
If a corrupt politician stays in power for over a decade, how do you think she got there? We KEPT her there.
If the police force is corrupt, how do you think it keeps going? We BRIBE our cops – for skipping a red light, extending party deadlines, a drunk driving charge.
If society mistreats its women, well whose fault is that? We COLLUDE with society – we snigger at women who have multiple sexual partners, we call dowry “gifts”, we nod along when someone says “women just don’t know how to compromise anymore” when talking about a divorce, we “understand” that big business families want a male heir, we don’t want to be called “feminists” because – let’s face it – “feminist” is a four-letter word in these patriarchal days and ways.
In sum, we dodge our responsibilities – and I include myself in this completely.
Well, democracy is a two-sided coin. And since we haven’t held up our end of the bargain, the system is NOT working. What a shocker, right?
It’s the end of the year, and it’s time for me to introspect. Time for all of us to introspect.
What can I do differently? Where will I fight my battles once these protests cease?
Will I walk the talk?
Will I take my maid to self-defence classes with me?
Will I support a friend/relative who wants to marry a rape victim?
Will I speak up when someone says “slut” next time?
Will I acknowledge that feminism, in all its militant glory, is the reason I have a Masters degree, the reason I had the right to marry the man of my choice, the reason I can vote, drink, work, party, drive, and even stand for elections if I so choose?
Will I show up in court and pay the fine next time I commit a traffic violation, instead of paying the cop 200 bucks?
Will I get involved, like I’ve been saying all these days, and start volunteering with a counseling/women’s rights organisation?
Will I stop and intervene next time I see a person in trouble on the streets?
Will I research the candidate in my locality next time and do what I can to spread the word, to try and make the election agenda-driven rather than party- or community-driven?
Will I, as a patriot, stop being in denial and actually DO something about these things?
India, it’s time for us to think deeply, to become self-aware.
Then, it’s time for us to act – thoughtfully, consistently, collectively.
India, it’s time for us to heal you.