October 01, 2015

Not My Idea of India (Rana Ayyub for ndtv.com)

ndtv.com October 01, 2015

Last month, I was reading Nathuram Godse's statement to the court in his defence of murdering Mahatma Gandhi. The statement published in the form of a book titled 'Why I killed Gandhi' had me in a state of shock with Godse's justification of his intolerance. I was convinced that men like him were a minority, that Godse was a lunatic and the thought that killed Gandhi would not be tolerated by a civilized India.

In one of the paragraphs, Godse goes on to say, "I firmly believed that the teachings of absolute 'ahimsa' as advocated by Gandhiji would ultimately result in the emasculation of the Hindu community, and thus make the community incapable of resisting the aggression or inroads of other communities, especially the Muslims. To counteract this evil, I resolved to enter public life and form a group of persons who held similar views". This was the thought that killed Gandhi and deepened the roots of religious polarization and communalism in Indiasix decades ago.

On 28th September, the brutal murder of 50-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq in Dadri, in Greater Noida, by a lynch mob of 200 people on the suspicion that he consumed beef has proved once again that the thought that killed Gandhi is gaining momentum.

Ikhlaq, who worked as a carpenter barely 50 kms from Delhi, lived with his ageing mother, wife, younger son and daughter. His elder son, Sartaj, an Indian Air Force personnel is posted in Chennai. The idea of India that Ikhlaq's son Sartaj was trying to protect as an engineer in the Air Force betrayed him and his family earlier this week.

By killing his father, and leaving his brother in a critical condition, Sartaj's nationalism was rewarded in the most ghastly, unthinkable manner. The modus operandi used in the murder was no different than those used by radicals in the past. An announcement was made on a loudspeaker that a cow had been slaughtered and its carcass had been found near a transformer. The rumor later spread in the village with WhatsApp and other messaging tools, something that reminds us of the method used by extremists and bigots triggering the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013. Within minutes of the announcement, the mob had killed Ikhlaque and severely injured his family. As if this act was not savage enough, government officials sent the meat found in the house to ascertain whether it was indeed beef - the suggestion being that if it indeed was beef, then the murder of two sons of India was justified.

Yes, this is the new India we are referring to where we talk of a revolution in technology, where our Prime Minister visits the Facebook headquarters and we get encouraging photo-ops from Silicon Valley.

This is the new India where the Prime Minister a day after the murder congratulates his Minister for Culture, Dr Mahesh Sharma, on his birthday on Twitter, the same minister who just this month famously pledged to cleanse Indian culture of Western influence. While the PM has every right to congratulate his ministers on their birthdays (birthday celebrations being a Western concept according to the Sangh Parivar), it was shocking that he had no word of condolence for the family of Sartaj, a patriot serving the country. He had no word of condemnation for those savages and murderers who had brought cultural cleansing into action.

This incident comes days after revelations that the Sanatan Sanstha, another outfit with members responsible for the murders of rationalists, had intended to kill senior journalist Nikhil Wagle. In the last two years, three rationalists have been killed, the last being less than a month ago.

There is something very numbing about this. As I write this, I have messages from my friends who tell me they are feeling helpless, friends who believed that this country is headed towards extreme intolerance and they see no future for liberal, peace-loving Indians.

If this message had arrived a week ago, I would have ended up convincing my friends to have faith in the idea of India, but since Tuesday evening, I am unable to identify with my country. Is this the same country which I refused to leave for higher education, for better job prospects, for fellowships by suggesting that I would get homesick within a week of having stayed away? Is this the same country I defended when my NRI friends would mock its backwardness and ask me to move out for my own sanity?

My father saw my tweets on the Sanatan Sanstha a week ago and asked me to stay silent. He is becoming increasingly anxious about the outcome of my views which most often are critical of the establishment unable to contain the increasing bigotry. My friends are asking me to delete certain Facebook posts and tweets which they think might get me in trouble. A friend suggested that the next time I felt like speaking truth, I should speak to her about it than making my views public. 'You never know Rana, anything is possible now' she suggested in a telecon last week.

Something very strange and disturbing is taking place in the country .

There is an increasing intolerance towards what a section of this country believes is against its ideology. There is a lynch mob waiting to label us and shred us to pieces should we wish to disagree with the norms set by them. Let us understand that the beef-eating rumor is not the reason why we should be worried, or even a beef ban in some states which takes away a fundamental right from us. At the crux is the reemergence of the thought that divided this country that killed the Mahatma more than 50 years ago.

The kind of thought we would mock our neighbouring country for on most occasions. As I write this, I am nauseous, pained, ashamed of being a part of this alleged India growth story. This is not the idea I grew up with and the new idea of India has shaken me to the core today.

India, my country, my motherland, why am I unable to recognize you anymore?

(Rana Ayyub is an award-winning investigative journalist and political writer. She is working on a book on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which will be published later this year.)