I want to begin by saying that today I am truly proud that my nation, India, is still a democracy and that we the people of India are people with courage and the willingness to stand up for each other. Frankly, going by our recent history and the rapid polarization of our society and proliferation of hate speech and hate politics, I never thought I would see the day when Hindus, Sikhs and Christians would stand shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim brothers and sisters to protect them and their rights. Truly it is said that injustice can’t be removed until those who are not affected by it are willing to stand up against it. Injustice to one is injustice to all. The people of India have demonstrated that they are willing to stand against injustice even when it doesn’t affect some of them directly. The biggest and most powerful message in all this is that it is our youth, students in our universities who have taken the lead and shown us the way to go. This message is primarily addressed to them, to students, to youth, to the millennials and their children. Because the future is theirs. They inherited the world that we, my generation, created. They are the victims of our follies, greed, shortsightedness and ignorance. But all power to them, they decided to take their future in their own hands and break the vicious cycle that we bequeathed to them. They did what we (at least I) never dreamt that they would do. The best that we can do is to stand with them, so that when history is written it will at least be said that we tried to clean the mess we made.
The first thing to understand is that this CAA+NRC is the best thing that could have happened to India at this stage. We had become a rapidly polarized, fascist, extremist society with the voices of the ‘silent’ majority conspicuous by their silence while the strident and raucous screech of hate speech was echoing off the walls of our collective conscience. Then came the law; CAA and the threat of NRC to disenfranchise those who are already dehumanized and demonized. Liberals felt bad about this. But the problem with all Liberals anywhere is that they have no clear cause; no point of focus for their energy, intellect and emotion. They are just a bunch of ‘nice people’. That is no good because in today’s politics and especially in hate politics which feeds fascism, they are rendered totally ineffective. CAA+NRC gave them a focus, a rallying point, a goal to achieve. It suddenly made speaking out worthwhile. And we are seeing the result.
If you study the South African freedom struggle you will see that it is only when Apartheid became law with all its draconian elements that the struggle started. Whites have always discriminated against people of color from the time Allahﷻ gave color to some and took it away from others. But how many ‘freedom’ struggles do you see against that? Except when there are laws created to legitimize and legalize the crime that is Apartheid. That is what has happened today. The BJP/RSS gave us, the People of India, a goal. And that goal is to abolish this and all such laws, to abolish hatred, to abolish all those who preach hatred. Never lose sight of that. Never allow anyone to divide you ever again, or you will sink back into the cesspit and your oppressors will rule the roost. Remember, that they will never make the same mistake again. This is your chance. This is your only chance. This is your last chance before the abyss of darkness.
This is like a staring
match. Whoever blinks or looks away first, loses. If you never tried a staring
match, try it. You will see that as time passes it gets more and more tough. Your
eyes start to water, then burn and it is so easy to look away or blink. But
remember that it is also getting tougher for the other person. So, you don’t
have to be the toughest in the world. You just have to be tougher than your
opponent. In this case, only if civil society is relentless and opposition
parties join in will something happen. Force the hands of the opposition
parties. You voted for them. This is collection time. Don’t let any sit on the
fence. They must choose between you or the BJP. Meet their leaders. Demand that
they meet you. No games. Let them declare that they are against CAA+NRC. Many
opposition leaders have done so. Force those who have not done so yet, to do so
right away. Don’t rest and don’t let them rest until they declare that they
will not implement the NRC in their states. These are YOUR states. Not THEIR
states. They and all our politicians must be made to realize that they are
elected representatives of the people, who remain where they are at the whim of
the people. They are not hereditary monarchs, though they like to act like
that. Remind them.
The rulers have initiated
the NPR which is the first step. They will implement NRC at an appropriate time
later. Make no mistake about that.
Another very important
thing: Get the police who are trying to break up the peaceful protests,
violently, to understand that you are fighting for them also. When they beat
you, they are beating the only friends they have in the land. Tell them (let
your posters say that and say this in your speeches; address them directly)
that when the NRC is implemented, it is their families, brothers and sisters
and uncles and aunts who will also have to stand in line and if they have no
papers, they will also go to detention camps. Just because someone in their
family is a cop, won’t save them.
Final important thing and
maybe the most important: Keep repeating the fact that the people who this NRC
will harm the most are the Hindu majority. It is their tax money which will be
(is being) used to build the camps. It is their taxes which will feed the
detainees forever, because they can’t be deported anywhere. The disruption to
the economy and the loss of jobs, investment, production, services and peace
that is happening is harming them the most because they are the majority. The myth
of a Muslim Mukt India where every Hindu will be a king is rubbish. Total
nonsense which is taking the lives and livelihoods of Hindus and Muslims alike.
Emphasize this.The most critical thing to do is to
keep the protests going for the next four years and ensure that hate mongers
lose the general election. Meanwhile they’ll up the stakes and become more
draconian and tighten the screws to try to break all resistance. No mercy will
be shown because they want to make an example of whoever resists to discourage
and break the spirit of others. Your main challenge will be to convince the wealthy
that they’re in a life-threatening situation and need to invest in their own
safety. They need to change their lifestyles and need to spend on funding the
fight for freedom instead of their holidays, weddings and gana parties. That’s
the biggest challenge.
Don’t look to your elders for leadership. They’re the reason you’re in this mess. They have no clue what to do. All our traditional leaders have failed. They’re a part of the cancer. You need new leaders who are untainted by the diseases of deliberate ignorance, cowardice, selfishness, corruption and greed. There may be exceptions among your elders, but exceptions prove the rule. So, don’t waste your time with them. If you follow them, they’ll squander your lives, and energy to save their own skins. You’ll get nothing from them that can be of any use to you.
Your great strength is that
you are alone, unencumbered, unfettered. Rejoice, chart your own path, make
mistakes, fall, but get up. Always get up. Alternatively, look to your elders,
get infected with their fatal diseases, pick up their baggage, struggle for
their ends, and die a futile death, knowing in your last moments that you did
it to yourselves. You had a chance, but you blew it away. Your choice. Learn to
stand on your own feet. Learn to think. Curse your own stupidity about not
reading, especially history, not reflecting or thinking, being addicted to social
media and being more interested in cricket and football than in your own
future. That’s why your future is a football for others. You and your
generation are not innocent either. You’re fools but not evil. So, wake up
before it’s too late.
The critical thing is to
keep the students on the street long enough to make a difference. It’s a battle
of attrition in which the one who can take the loss wins. It’s that simple to
define. It will be brutal. No quarter will be given. Don’t fool yourself into
thinking that it will be easy or quick. It won’t. You’ve seen nothing yet. But
if there’s consistency and perseverance, you students will win. That also I
have no doubt about.
students across the world enrolled into your cause. Let there be demonstrations
in global universities; not once but every week. They live in countries where
they can protest without fear. Tell them to let their voices resound across
national boundaries and wake up dead consciences. Let questions be asked in
Parliaments and Assemblies across the world. Let cases be filed in the
International Court of Justice. Let voices be raised in the United Nations. Let
international media raise their voice. Let Heads of State who like to talk
about justice summon the Indian Ambassadors in their countries and ask them
what is going on. Put pressure on Indians abroad to stand up for justice. It is
international pressure that won freedom from apartheid in South Africa. CAA+NRC
is Apartheid. NPR is the first step towards it.
people everywhere understand that these steps to create a fascist, apartheid
state based on Hindu supremacy calls for crucial funds to be spent in useless
exercises to divide, discriminate against and oppress people instead of on
education, production, creating employment opportunities and well-being. That
is what the world must know and realize. Remind them that a nation which is
embroiled in controversy and turmoil is a dead duck for investment and
development. A nation which is spending money on building concentration camps
instead of homes for the homeless is not a safe place to invest. Nobody cares
about justice. Everybody cares about money. So, speak to them in the language
The time has come to face
the brutal facts but never to lose hope. Take charge of your lives. The one who
controls the narrative, wins the debate. Never give up your
ethics and values. You must never do what the others do or act or speak in the
way they do. They must not drive your narrative. They must not direct your
behavior. They’re not your teachers. Think of any great revolution and try to
name ten people who participated in it. I bet you, you can’t. But you and I
know that it succeeded because there were a lot more than ten people involved.
What happened to them? What did they gain? How did they continue to work even
though many or most never saw success? It succeeded because they were the
foundation stones. Without them it would have failed. If every stone wants to
be on the façade there will be no building.
question is, ‘Do you want the building, or do you want to be on the façade?’
Get ready to go into the
ground like the stones in the foundation for the building to be built over you.
Nobody will know you lived except the One who created you. And that’s enough.
Or get ready to spend the
rest of your lives as slaves. The future is yours, not ours. Make of it
whatever you wish, because you are going to live in it. You and your children.
They sit there, alone and lonely, knowing that there is nobody to carry the tradition forward to the next generation.
was a time when joint families were the norm in India, where the whole family
lived together in one big house. In many or most cases there was only one
kitchen, and everyone ate together. The head of the family was the oldest male.
In matrilineal systems (mostly in Kerala and coastal Karnataka) it was the
oldest woman. He/she controlled all the money, and everyone gave their earnings
to her. She/he ran the house and with great parsimony and responsibility and
ensured that everyone was taken care of. There was no question of one sibling
who earned well, flaunting his or her wealth over the others. Everyone had a
place, and everyone was useful until their dying day. The elders, as they got
older and no longer took an active part in running the household, became highly
respected and valued repositories of customs and traditions, storytellers, the
passers-on of family history and the arbiters in any disputes among the younger
generations. Nobody was useless or irrelevant or put out to grass. Everyone had
a place and an important role and felt wanted and needed.
as time passed and times changed, so did this structure. Families broke up as
children left the family home, city and country in search of jobs and in
pursuit of their careers. Many migrated to other countries, America being one
of the most preferred destinations. Even those who remained at ‘home’, usually
moved away from the family home, ostensibly to be closer to the workplace or
children’s school but really to get away from the control of elders. Cultural
values changed, tolerance levels changed, selfishness increased, putting self
before others took the place of putting the family ahead of the self. We in
India, tend to blame all this on the influence of the West in our society and
culture, forgetting of course that the West didn’t enforce their influence. We
chose to be influenced. Be that as it may, the fact remains that the first
people to feel this change were the elders. They lost significance. They
suddenly became powerless, almost an unwanted nuisance that others were putting
up with. And then as the younger generations moved away, they were left alone.
What added to this was that many of the younger generation migrated to the West
and their children were born and brought up there, often with little or no
contact with the ‘home country’. ‘Home country’ for them was America or
Australia or Canada; not India, Pakistan, Syria, Nigeria, Egypt or Bangladesh.
Most children didn’t even speak their ‘mother tongue’, since their parents
spoke English even at home and didn’t teach their children the language of
their ‘home country’ and people. Language is the substrate of the culture, so
when the language was lost, so was the culture, manners, poetry, history and
connection with the elders.
‘solution’ that many well-meaning children have found is to set their parents
up in their home country/city/town/village, often in the old family home, with
servants and a regular income. There they stay, with their memories, each
corner and wall with a tale to tell but with nobody to listen to those tales.
They are repositories of the history of the family, traditions of the community
and culture, teachers of customs and manners but with nobody to learn from
them. They sit there, alone and lonely, knowing that there is nobody to carry
the tradition forward to the next generation. And what’s more, knowing that the
next generation doesn’t even care about this. They sit there, alone and lonely,
knowing that they have become irrelevant. They don’t need material wealth. They
want for nothing materially. What they need is warmth, respect and the company
of those they love. What they need is to feel useful, needed and appreciated.
What they need is to feel that they still have a place and a reason to stay
alive. What they need can’t be bought with money, nor ordered on Amazon. I am
not blaming the youth. This is perhaps the price we pay for the material wealth
and wherewithal that we chased. A price that neither our parents, who
encouraged us to sail to foreign shores calculated, nor did we realize that we
would have to pay it one day. But life is relentless and extracts its pound of
was born into a joint family in a house, Aziz Bagh, which my great-grandfather,
Nawab Aziz Jung Bahadur built in 1899. His children, grandchildren and
great-grandchildren all lived in their own apartments, but all lived together
in every sense of the term. I recall my early childhood vividly today, more
than 55 years later. The house is on three acres of land and during my
childhood, had a formal rose garden, lawns, a tennis court, pigeon cotes, a
terrace where family functions would take place, a dhobi ghat (where our
resident washerman and his wife would wash clothes of our family and were paid
for the service) and lots of huge mango trees. Out of all these what I recall
most warmly is the love that I received. It was not only me but all of us
children growing up, it was as if we belonged to every adult in the house.
There was no feeling of strangeness. Any adult took care of you, corrected you,
even gave you a smack on your bottom if you needed it. We ate with the family
of whichever cousin we were playing with. Nobody told us to go ‘home’ to our
parents to eat and believe it or not, the food was always enough for the
unexpected guests that we were in that house.
elders taught us manners. Not in formal classes but through their own behavior.
They knew that children listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say
until they see what you do. One of the informal rituals was that daily we,
especially the little ones went to the main house where the head of our family,
Nawab Deen Yar Jung lived, to greet him and his wife. One day when I must have
been about five-years old, I went there to greet my grandmother, Begum Deen Yar
Jung, with a rose which I had plucked from the garden. Normally this was
frowned upon. Flowers were to be enjoyed on the bushes, not to be plucked. But
I was five. As I went up to her, she said to me something which was so full of
love (even if it was a reminder not to pluck flowers) that I recall her memory
to this day.
Phool lay kar phool aya,
Phool kar main nay kaha,
Phool kyon laye ho sahab,
Tum khud hi tho phool ho
don’t claim to have remembered the exact words, but my mother was with me and I
recall hearing this story from her many times until I memorized these words. My
grandmother and her sisters, brothers and their children; my mother and her
siblings and cousins were all, each in themselves, examples of grace and
dignity. We loved them, respected them and tried to emulate them. Our current
success or failure in this respect is entirely our responsibility and not their
is not just sad but tragic to see the ‘interaction’ that happens sometimes between
grandparents and their grandchildren who were born and grew up in the West. You
can see both making a great effort but in vain. The older ones usually make much
more effort than the youngsters who like most of their generation are short on
patience, especially towards the elderly who they were never taught to respect
and don’t really have any bonds with. Distance and cost of travel had a big
part to play. Travel to America or Australia is neither quick nor inexpensive
and not what children or their parents could afford at the time when the
grandchildren were young and impressionable. By the time they have the money to
afford to travel with the family either way the children are already grown and
the only impact that the ‘home country’ has on them is, “O My God! Look at the
dirt, traffic, mosquitos, cows on the street, smoke, power outage, Wi-Fi is so
slow or God Forbid, No Wi-Fi.” Meeting grandparents, talking to them (about
what? Old stories about people they didn’t know, long dead, whose names even
they can’t pronounce?), eating food (It is so hot!) and then getting sick.
Well, all that means is that one visit is about all that those children will do
willingly. Then they are off to college and that is that. Believe me, I have
seen this story so many times, that it is not funny. Parents going to live in
the West is equally tragic. They don’t fit in; they have no friends and how
much TV can you watch especially when it doesn’t have your favorite programs?
For many it is almost like being in prison, albeit a gilded one. And for the
children who went to the trouble of bringing them to live with them in America
or Australia or Canada, it is a huge let down. Relationships sour and get
strained. Misery all around.
adds to the difficulty is that the grandchildren and grandparents don’t have a
common language (especially the grandmothers) and where the elders speak
English it is naturally with an accent, which for most Western youth is a
matter of either amusement or irritation. Since the youngsters grew up in the
Western culture, they are clueless about social taboos. Parents are either too
busy to teach or don’t see the point as they have broken off from their ‘home
country and culture’ permanently and have little respect for it. The youngsters
are therefore ignorant about things that their grandparents may well expect
them to know about. For example, I have seen innumerable times, grandchildren
sprawled on a couch with their sneakered feet on a table on which there are
also books and pointing towards the grandfather who is sitting across them.
Even worse, I have seen children putting their schoolbags on the floor of the
car or bus they are travelling in and sitting with their shod feet on them. I
won’t go into the details of how many social taboos are crossed and how this
behavior in our Eastern cultures amounts to gross disrespect. Those who
understand what I am saying, will see my point. Those who don’t, underline and
illustrate it. Gradually the gap between the older and younger generations
grows into a gaping gulf, too wide to bridge. Too many compromises are called
for; too much of new learning which there is neither the time for nor patience
and people related by blood and genes become strangers to one another. Each is
helpless in his own way. Each is lonely surrounded by his own family.
has now come full circle for our generation. Those who left their homes,
cultures, countries and families and lived and worked in alien environments. It
is now time to consider our own relevance to the next generation. Do they need
us? Can we communicate with them? Do they understand us, and do we understand
them? Are there any real connections between us apart from the fact that we
share genes? Genes have no feelings; we do. What will happen to us when we sit
in the chairs that our parents spent their last hours of life in, staring at
blank walls? I realize that perhaps I am being a bit dramatic but better to be
prepared than to be sorry.
is a solution and I am going to tell you about it in my next post.
did things get so bad?” I am sure you must have heard, asked or thought about
this yourself. So have I. Many times, over the years whenever I saw a
badly-behaved child being fed with the help of an iPad, a spaced-out teenager
who seems lost in his electronic world where Facebook friends are more real to
her than real human ones or when I read reports of rapes and murders being
filmed on smart phones by stupid people. And my instant reaction is, “It was
not like this 40 years ago. What went wrong?” And there would rest the case;
until the next episode. This is 2019 and so when I say, ‘40 years’ we are
talking about two generations; that is the 1980’s. It is not to say that
everything was hunky-dory until 1980 and suddenly in 1981 it all collapsed. But
it is a live demo of the truth of the ‘Boiled Frog Syndrome’.
uninitiated, this has nothing to do with cuisine, but with gradual social
change which suddenly becomes starkly visible, having been unperceived for a
long time before that. The parable is that if you put a frog into a pot of hot
water, it will jump out. But if you put the frog into a pot of water at room
temperature and allow it to get comfortable in it; then you light a fire under
the pot and gradually heat the water, the frog doesn’t register that the water
is getting hotter. It continues to feel comfortable in the water which is
getting hotter and hotter until it reaches a point when it does register that
things are not the same but by then it is too late, and the frog gets boiled.
That is what happens to people and to societies. That is what I believe has
happened to us in India.
Let me do
a flashback to the time that I was growing up, which was in the 60’s and 70’s.
We (me Muslim) lived in a multi-religious society, as we do now, but with a big
difference. Nobody had TV’s or smart phones (we didn’t even have stupid
phones), so our social life was with our friends. We played football and
cricket; yes, really! I mean in the maidan (open field) near our house. We went
to their homes and they came to ours. We participated in their festivals; not
the religious ceremonies, but the fun and games, eats and sweets. And they did
the same with ours. We knew them and their culture and religion, respected it,
understood their boundaries and adhered to them, took an interest in their
culture and they did the same with ours. We spoke about all this because there
was no football or cricket to speak of
and as far as I can recall, (cricket was a 5-day Test Match – a test of
patience for everyone), politics was a given (Panditji was alive after all) and
so there was hardly any discussion about that. We needed people and they needed
us. So, we appreciated each other.
in joint families, referred to our elders by our relationship with them or an honorific
in keeping with their age. So, it was Dadaji, Amma, Baba, Mataji, Dadiji,
Chachi, Chacha and so on. Hardly anyone was ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty’. There were some
but not too many. It was the job of all elders to discipline us, teach us, tell
us stories, guide us in our religious or cultural norms, customs and practices
and when they were doing that, if any of our friends was around, they would get
the benefit of this teaching, no matter which religion they came from. They
listened with respect and so did we. Our culture was distinct from that of
others, but I don’t remember anyone in my family ever referring to the culture
of others in any even remotely derogatory term. I don’t believe that my family
or elders were unique. They were ordinary people of the time. We learnt our
cultural norms, manners, taboos, customs and practices from our environment and
those around us and since we lived in joint families, there were plenty of
those. It didn’t matter that Dad was away at work, Mom was always home and even
if she went anywhere, one or both grandparents, an uncle or aunt or two were
always around to ensure that we ate, slept, were safe, studied, went out and
played and when it was time, prayed. Mom and Dad didn’t need to do these things
ate out because it was considered uncultured to eat in a restaurant. People
asked you, ‘Don’t you have a home?’ If you took a friend out to a restaurant it
meant that he was not close to you or that you didn’t really respect him.
Otherwise you would have brought him home. It was normal to eat at each other’s
homes, no matter that in some cases the food laws are very different and rigid.
But Brahmins, Marwaris, Kayasth and Reddy friends all ate regularly at our place.
When those we knew to be particular about their food laws were coming, strictly
vegetarian food would be cooked. Those that ate meat at our house did that because
they wished to. Nobody forced of even suggested it to them. Once again, this
was not unique. This was the norm. I recall dropping in at the home of my good
friend from school, Gurcharan Singh. I said, “Sat Sri Akal” to his mother
(Mummy), Dad (Dadji), Grandmother (Mataji) and “Hi” to his sister and brothers
and him. They all said, “Come and eat”, as they were having lunch. His mother
said, with a big smile on her face, “Aaloo paratha bana hai. Tujhe pasand hai
na!” because she knew how much I loved it. As I sat down, Guru’s father pointed
to a covered dish and said, “Usay utthay rakh do.” (Put that there; signing to
the sideboard); meaning, take that dish away from the table. Guru jokingly
said, “Dadji koi problem nahin hai. Yawar yahan kha lega.” His father was
distinctly not amused. He said, “Khana hai tho kahin aur ja kar khaye. Ithey
nahin.” (If he wants to eat, let him go and eat somewhere else. Not here.) What
they were talking about was pork vindaloo. I would not have eaten it anyway,
but for them it was not a joking matter. We respected each other’s traditions
and unless someone volunteered to break his own tradition, it was not broken
for him. Some Muslims went to their Hindu and Christian friends to drink
alcohol, but nobody forced them to do it. If they chose to do it, that was
their choice, just as it was the choice of vegetarian Hindus to eat meat in
their Muslim friend’s homes, if they wished. Needless to say, many Hindus are
not vegetarian and eat meat and fish.
were a very big thing. You never addressed an elder by name. Or even as Mr.
So-and-so. You either called him Uncle So-and-so or just Uncle. Same thing for
the Aunties. If a boy whistled at a girl, anyone older around would simply
thrash him right then and there. You asked permission, said ‘please’ and ‘thank
you’. The role models you looked up to or who were mentioned to you were people
who were known for their honesty, integrity, hard work, compassion; always for
their values. What people owned was not the subject of discussion firstly
because most people owned similar things, drove similar cars (if they drove a
car at all) and lived in similar houses. The differences were not major and it
was considered crass and highly uncivilized to mention money or the price of
anything. If someone asked you how you were, you replied, “Very well
Uncle/Aunty. Thank you.” You didn’t say, “I’m good”, because that is first of
all, not the right answer because the person was not asking about your moral
condition but your physical well-being and secondly because we thought it was
their job to tell us if we were good or bad. Not ours to announce.
in short supply though we never wanted for anything. We wore each other’s
handed down clothes. We wore shoes until they became holey. Our clothes were
hand-made to measure because that was the cheapest option. Readymade clothes
were expensive and jeans you only saw in pictures. Pocket money was unheard of.
You got money for the bus fare to school and that was it. Whatever else you
needed had to have a reason behind it, and “I want it” was not a reason. We
lived in bungalows on large plots of land because our parents had inherited
them from their parents. We didn’t go on holidays and looked very enviously at
those very few who went to Ooty for two weeks every summer so that they could
return to Hyderabad’s heat and appreciate it better. But then, at that time you
wore a sweater from November to February and the swimming pool (Public Swimming
Pool in Fateh Maidan – does it even exist anymore – where Jeelani Pairak was
the coach) only opened its doors in the middle of March because it was too cold
to swim before that.
were all of four career choices, medicine, engineering (mechanical or civil),
Civil Service or Army. You picked one or if you didn’t, it was thrust upon you
for all kinds of reasons out of your control and then you studied for the
exams. When you got 80% you got presents and gave a party. If you got 90%
people thought that you had cheated. Life was simple, uncomplicated and moved
on at its own pace.
the 80’s. TV came on the scene with its soaps, serials and news. The world
suddenly opened. Education changed. Multiple disciplines became available to
study leading to hitherto unheard-of career options. The Middle East opened up
for jobs, so did America and Canada. Young people left to make their fortunes.
In some cases, the wives and children remained behind. In most other cases, it
was only the elderly parents who saw off their children at the airport to
return to empty houses and loneliness. All in the name of money. Thanks to
repatriation of funds and the effect of the TV, suddenly money was easy and
material things, appliances, clothes, cars, motorcycles, all became affordable.
Rapidly these became not only nice to have but grounds for competition with
neighbors, friends and strangers. Suddenly we discovered that our neighbor’s
name was Jones and we had to compete with them (Keeping up with the Joneses).
sound like ancient history today in 2019 going on the magic number 2020. What
do we have today? Hatred. We hate each other and that sells, that gets you
elected, that gets you followers, it is chic, it is fashionable, and it works. It
is most preferable to hate Muslims, but anyone else will also do, if there are
no Muslims around. As long as you hate. That is the only thing that counts. So,
our world has shrunk. We meet people like ourselves, who talk like we do, eat what
we eat, like what we like and dislike what we dislike. We hate the same people and
in each other’s rhetoric, we find solace.
We live in our echo chamber and that has become our world. There are those
among us who were born in this echo chamber. They don’t know anything else. But
there are those who were born and lived in a world that was very different from
this one. A world where there were no echo chambers, like there were no mobile
phones, laptops, social media and even television. A world that was real. Today
in our echo chamber, we sometimes ask ourselves this question, “What happened
to that world?” Then we correct ourselves and ask, “What did we do to it?”
Over the past more than ten years I have wandered around almost every tiger sanctuary in India from Kaziranga and Manas in Assam to Idukki in Kerala. I lived in the middle of the Anamallais for seven years. In my childhood and youth in the 1960’s and 70’s, I spent every summer and winter holiday with my dear friend and mentor Uncle Rama (Venkatrama Reddy) in his house on the bank of the Kadam River in the middle of what is today called, Kaval Tiger Reserve. I would spend every single day and many nights in the forest, walking or in a bullock cart. No tiger. I spent ten days in Badhavgarh living in the house of a good friend, alone, in Tala village which is in the buffer zone. I went on safari drives every morning and evening. No tiger. I spent days in Pench, even slept in a dry nala on the boundary of the forest, one hot afternoon. No tiger. I have spent days being jolted around in Gypsy vehicles in sanctuary after sanctuary, my backbone witness to the wear and tear on the suspension of the vehicle and still live to tell the tale. Yet all I saw of the elusive tiger was one glimpse as it leapt across a road in Corbett and a decent sighting in Tadoba. At the end of all this wandering, I concluded that I was jinxed as far as tigers are concerned. But since I love the forest and all those who live in it, I continued to escape to the nearest forest that I could find at every opportunity; tiger or no tiger.
Then I went to Ranthambore. My very first visit. My most gracious host, Sonu Khan and his driver Sajid, ‘promised’ me that I would see a tiger. Having heard such promises from many others over the years, I hardly paid attention to it. I wanted to be in a forest and Ranthambore was not only a forest but one of the most beautiful ones that I have ever been in. Massive banyan trees, flowing streams, lakes, high rocky hills, mysterious pavilions, Muslim graves and even an abandoned masjid near one of the streams. The main river that flows through the forest especially the part that comes down from the Ranthambore fort has ‘inexplicable’ date palms all along it. Inexplicable because though Rajasthan has date palms, this is a different variety, not indigenous to Rajasthan. Excellent perches for kingfishers, owls, parrots and parakeets, as I discovered.
Ranthambore fort is very impressive to say the least. We were sitting in our Gypsy waiting for the driver to submit the entry pass at the gate house and I looked up at the battlements of the fort in awe at the amazing architectural challenge they would have posed to build. With my interest in military history, my first thought when I saw the battlements rising high into the heavens was, if I were to besiege this fort, how would I do it? I concluded that this fort is impregnable and can’t be conquered keeping in mind the armies and armaments of the time i.e. the 16th century.
Later, my dear friend who shares my interest in history and wildlife, Jehangir Ghadiali solved the mystery of the date palms for me. He told me that apparently Ranthambore was besieged for a month by the Moghul Emperor Akbar and then submitted to the Mughals in 1568. Moghul soldiers ate dates and the seeds they discarded sprouted all along the streams that they would have camped on. ‘Mughal soldiers’, is a general term referring the army they fought in. As it was, most of Akbar’s army consisted of Rajputs. It is easy to condemn them as being anti-national but one must realize that the concept of India as one nation is only from 1947. For all our history, we were individual countries that existed in the landmass of the subcontinent, much like European countries exist to this day in the landmass called Europe. Rajput kings fought other Rajput kings and were being patriotic to their tribe and country and not anti-national. The Moghuls capitalized on this and with their superior technology and generalship, they commanded Rajput armies that won the day. Rajputs rose to become generals in Moghul armies and fought loyally for the Moghul Emperor who they considered their liege lord. One of the most famous of Akbar’s generals was Raja Mansingh who was one of this Navratans (9 Jewels – Nobles held in the highest esteem). Today all this sounds strange and that is why history has many lessons to teach us.
Rai Surjan Hada was apparently demoralized by Akbar’s victories in Chittorgarh and Thanesar and when the Moghul cannons were brought to bear and bombardment started, he decided to capitulate. It was cannons that gave Mughals the edge over their opponents. Babur had cannons when he fought Ibrahim Lodhi thanks to which war elephants which were the ultimate weapon of Indian armies were rendered a liability. War elephants would run amok with terror at the sound of cannon and turn and charge through their own troops, creating havoc. Another thing that gave the Mughal armies the edge was light cavalry using the famous double curved Mongol bow. That gave them mobility and range which effectively nullified the advantage of massive infantry which was the hallmark of Indian armies. European armies of the time had infantry in thousands, but Indian kings could field hundreds of thousands. All this force came to naught when faced with highly mobile cavalry shooting from powerful bows and cannons which though not too accurate at long range, could create total mayhem in massed troops, especially when loaded with scatter shot.
Indian wisdom decided that losing lives unnecessarily would serve no purpose and so Rai Surjan Hada opened the gates to the Moghuls. In my view, Ranthambore fort can withstand a far longer siege and even Akbar would have been hard pressed to keep the siege going for a long period given the issues of supply lines and the semi-arid country that Ranthambore is in. Though the area has forest, which in those days it would have been more, but there is not much in it for an army to eat. That they were eating dates is a sign because dates are dry rations. They would have hunted in the forest but to feed an army needs a lot of meat and animals move away when they are hunted. Not easy, laying siege. This also explains the masjid and pavilions in the middle of the forest.
It is with these thoughts that we entered the forest. We drove through semi-deciduous forest with a variety of bird life. We entered the forest through a beautiful gateway that is today framed by the aerial roots of a banyan tree. In the days of Ranthambore’s glory it would have had soldiers posted on top of it and the gate itself shut, except to those who were authorized to enter. We drove through it and along the track that borders Padam Talao on one end of which is the beautiful Jogi Mahal. That makes Jogi Mahal a part of the Ranthambore fort complex because to get to it you must pass through gates on either end. Imagine that you are a guest of Rai Surjan Hada of Ranthambore in happier times before Akbar came on the scene and are sitting on the deck of Jogi Mahal watching the sunset (I hope I have my directions correct), drinking sherbet and eating savory snacks followed by Rajasthani sweets. The survival of Jogi Mahal through the siege of Ranthambore is evidence that beauty is protection in itself.
There were several waders and other birds in the shallows of Padam Talao. A pair of Indian Thick-knees, simply standing in one place. The Stone Curlew or Thick-knee is active in the dark and feeds at dawn or dusk. During the day it stands still in shade. In this case they were standing at the edge of the lake, in the hope perhaps of getting the odd worm. They had for company a pair of Black-winged Stilts, a most attractive wader whose delicate long legs give it their name; a pair of Brahminy ducks (Ruddy Shelduck) and a solitary Darter drying its wings. A more peaceful scene can’t be imagined.
As I contemplated all this, it occurred to me that all is right with the world. Until I woke up and reminded myself that the reality is far from this. We are at a stage where we humans have wiped out 85% of wildlife and are facing the specter of extinction. It is true that my tiger jinx was broken in Ranthambore and in three days I saw twelve tigers. It is true that when I watch Blue Planet or Planet Earth, with Sir David Attenborough commenting on the glory of nature and the profusion of wildlife, I am carried away with the sheer beauty of what I see. But it is good to remember that the reality is far from this. Very far. Yes, I saw twelve tigers in Ranthambore, but tigers are so seriously endangered as to be close to becoming extinct in the wild in India. Our population pressure, total ignorance and apathy towards forests and wildlife, greed to make money at any costs and a political class that is innocent of any ethics, responsibility or knowledge, means that forests and wildlife continue to get short shrift. Every mining concession, highway or railway line tends to get precedence over the forest that it will either seriously endanger or completely destroy. It is no secret that tiger reserves which get a higher level of protection from reserve forests, were systematically de-tigered so that the status of the forest could be officially downgraded to reserve forest, in order to start mining for marble.
The solution is to educate people. Ordinary people like you and me, about the importance of forests and wildlife and how our own survival is intrinsically linked with it. Self-interest may not be the most noble emotion, but I believe that unless people understand the importance of forests and wildlife, they will not do anything to protect it. As it is, people at best consider forests to be a source of entertainment and tigers and other wildlife to be performing artists which must put in an appearance for people to get value for money. Forest Department officials succumb to this pressure and I know of instances where, using tame elephants, tigers are driven to the road from where they are resting in the heat of the day, so that tourists can take photos.
The challenge is to educate those who will be affected by global changes. What is their level of awareness? Simply ask anyone the meaning of “Big Data”, “Artificial Intelligence”, “Peak Oil”, “Climate Change”, “Global Warming” and you have the answer. Most people simply don’t even know what these things are, much less how they will be personally affected by them. The powers that be, the billionaires who rule the world, manufacture weapons of mass destruction and sell them to those willing to use them on their own populations, while stridently calling for peace; benefit from wars, forest depletion, polluting industries, global poverty and oppression. Looking to them to bring about change is like asking the tiger to eat grass. That is the challenge.
How do we show the oligarchs that eliminating poverty is not for the benefit of the poor but so that a bigger market can be created for what the oligarchs sell? How do you convince those who work in weapons factories that living off the blood of others is immoral? Educating the public seems to be the obvious answer but the challenge is to find a way to do it fast enough to energize people to stand up and make a difference.
The one who controls the language, controls the debate. Today Indian Muslims are in a peculiar situation where they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. and interestingly it is all a product of language. ‘Secularism’, which was the refuge, not only of Muslims but all those who believe in our Constitution and in the freedom and dignity of all Indians, is a term that has now lost all credibility. It has come to mean “Muslim lover = Paki lover = Anti-national.” Muslims have been so effectively ‘othered’ that anyone who even attempts to stand by them, automatically commits political suicide. Being Muslim is a crime, it is treason, it is the reason to be suspected, demonized and hated. Consequently, secular parties and candidates are saying explicitly or implicitly, “Even if you vote for us, please do it quietly and clandestinely and don’t talk about it. This is for your own good. Your company is the ‘kiss of death’.”
Leaders from Muslim intelligentsia also believe this and have been advising whoever listens to them to do the same. They have been advising politicians who propose schemes for the economic or educational upliftment of Muslims to implement these schemes without talking about them too loudly. That this is anathema to all politicians who get their breath of life from talking about whatever they do, is countered by the warning that if they talk in this case, they will be sealing their own fate. That Muslims are an integral part of the population of India and citizens of our country and not beholden to anyone for this, is simply ignored in the face of present day reality where Muslims are not only being murdered but their murderers are being protected, applauded and rewarded publicly and shamelessly. This behavior not only doesn’t result in unpopularity for the politicians engaging in it, but results in political gains. Polarization seems to be the order of the day for every politician.
The traditional flag bearer of secularism used to be the Congress party at one time; at least according to their own trumpeting. But what was always the case and which has become blatantly clear today is that it is really only a shade less saffron than BJP/RSS. Rahul Gandhi’s latest drama in Parliament where after tabling the no confidence motion, he hugged PM Modi and then said that he was demonstrating that he is a ‘good Hindu’, goes to show that as far as the public discourse is concerned, it is centered around religion and that anyone who wants to be taken seriously must first prove that he is a ‘good Hindu’. That this is far removed from the idea of India, is irrelevant today.
To illustrate with an example, apartheid and racial segregation ended in South Africa in 1995 when they gained independence and Nelson Mandela became the first President. However, read any South African newspaper, website or blog, listen to any TV discussion or debate, speak to anyone in the street and all you will ever hear is the language of race. People talk about Blacks and Whites and Indians and Coloureds. This is reflected in South African politics and is becoming more and more clear, aggressive and potentially destructive. When an White South African looks at a Black South African, he sees a Black, not a South African and vice versa. And this happens while the Constitution of South Africa says clearly that no race has superiority over any other race and that all South Africans are equal citizens entitled to the same privileges, protections and dignity. That is on paper. But it appears that the change has not happened in the hearts of people.
This is what has happened in India over the past 70 years since our independence. The formation of Pakistan based on religion landed us with a legacy of divisiveness which Indian Muslims have borne the brunt of, for no fault of theirs. Vote bank politics became the norm and is openly practiced. ‘Appeasement of minorities’ is the slogan used for what is essentially vote bank politics which every party has always used. Today it has reached the stage where you are told to vote for this or that party because they are of your religion, not because of their performance in government or outside it. All this is not the creation of the NDA or BJP but the legacy which they inherited and continue to use. Their fault is not in its creation but in its continued use. Compromise is the name of the game and frankly I think this is a characteristic of being Indian; that we compromise on everything. That is why we live with atrocious things which in any other country would have resulted in a revolution but in India life continues because we compromise.
I think the time has come to take a stand. This is my stand.
Secularism is the other side of the coin from Hindutva or any other religious extremist ideology for that matter. This is how the language is being controlled by calling it ‘Sikularism’ for example and all its other permutations. In this way the discussion is kept in the ambit of religion instead of taking it into the ambit of governance. A government is elected to govern. That is the only basis on which it should be judged. Its religious ideology is immaterial. Its performance as a government is not. We have a nation with a robust constitution and legal system. But we have huge problems of poverty, unemployment, safety & security, total breakdown of law enforcement, legalized corruption and blatant oppression. We have reached a breaking point where if these issues are not addressed we will implode and disintegrate as a nation. None of these things have to do with Muslims. Just ask three simple questions.
What is the religion of the farmers who have been committing suicide; till date, over 400,000?
What is the religion of the perhaps more than 300 million youth who are not only unemployed but are unemployable thanks to our failed education system?
How will killing or disenfranchising or whatever else is planned for Muslims, help those who are committing suicide or who are unemployable?
My proposal is that our language must change. We must abandon the terms ‘secular & secularism’. Focus instead on issues that really matter and hold the government accountable for their performance on those issues. Promises not met as well as gross failures in four main areas: Safety & Security of life and property, Breakdown of law and order, Economic collapse of the small scale and unorganized sector and the failure of the Education system creating unemployability. I don’t care which government is in power. If it addresses these issues; if it can guarantee safety and security of all citizens, enforce the law, create entrepreneurship to uplift the poor and create jobs, and focus on health care, I will vote for that party. So should you. As I have said earlier, a government is elected to govern. And it must be held accountable for governance. Nothing else matters.
I propose that we change the language of the debate. Let so-called “Secularists’ call themselves “Principalists” and speak only and only about Principles of Governance. That is all that matters. Religion is immaterial. It is personal and must remain that way. What matters is governance. Let all those who are interested in the welfare of our nation ask what has happened to governance today. Let us stand together and demand accountability. If anyone brings religion into the debate, discard them outright. Talk about governance, rule of law and upliftment of our people. It is only then that everyone will be able to stand together on the same platform without fear or shame. It is only then that we will have One India.