There was a time when we would use the term “touché” a lot, to honour a good point made by our opponents. Because the opponents were opponents owing to their position on a certain issue, not because of who they were. We would discuss, debate, dissent — but also agree. It’s healthy to be able to laugh at yourself. But today, you really have to look hard for a witty opponent who could counter you in a graceful, funny or intelligent way.
There was a time when we would debate the nuances of issues. What was to be done about the death penalty? Why should homosexuality be decriminalised. These were our concerns. Somehow, on issues of gender, we are forced to find allies among the Left, Right and centre alike, for things to move even one inch. And since such alliances don’t happen anymore, gender issues have been the least discussed this year. Where are the conversations on queerness, marital rape or acid attacks?
When 2012’s December 16 rape incident took place, many of us went to India Gate, seeking the death penalty for the rapists. Over time, listening to the views of feminist thinkers, arguing amongst each other, having long conversations with people, made many of us look at the justice system in an entirely different and critical way, and change our minds about capital punishment.
In JNU, a Muslim teacher explained to our class how the Congress party’s handling of the Shah Bano case was wrong and how the struggle for Muslim women’s rights needs to be taken forward. When it comes to Section 377, I have had intense debates with people in my community (in fact, it is only now that I think of myself as part of the “community” by being constantly reminded of my name).
However, when the “community” is under perpetual attack from the ruling forces, you find yourself constantly arguing for the democratic rights of minorities; any discussion of internal debate, reform, etc, goes out of the window. It is hard to talk about Shah Bano’s case in the face of the Dadri lynching.
The time for nuance seems gone. The middle ground is shrinking. The vast grey area, where we would express doubts, question and learn and which lay in-between the binary states of “agree” or “disagree”, seems polarised. Now, due to the “forward bias” applied by the communal Hindutva forces, we are forced to ally with people with whom, in peace time, we would have debated and disagreed on various counts.
Last year, at this time, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and I were debating political positions among ourselves on privatisation, gender, caste, etc. This year, the state repression unleashed has led us to speak for one another, rather than against. RIP, nuance. We have had 2,015 differences with the Congress — only, none this year! That’s not a healthy sign for democracy. As someone recently remarked at a conference, the liberals can now feel what it was like to be on the Left for the past 40 years.
Twitter used to be a funny place where people exchanged witty ideas. Now, it is an angry place where we exchange labels. Barkha Dutt was called a “bhakt” on Twitter recently; that should sum up the year for her. And for us.
Gone are the days when discussions on corruption would involve charting out the fineprint of the Lokpal Bill. Now this involves determining who is a “desh bhakt” based on whether they stand patiently in an ATM queue or not. And with the prime minister declaring all opposition to demonetisation as “Pakistan-inspired”, stupidity is now officially sanctioned. Funny, though, considering that Pakistan itself seems “inspired” by Modi to demonetise the Rs 500 note — a move that is strangely being celebrated by Modi supporters on Twitter. It’s an infinite loop of bad logic.
The constant reference to Pakistan betrays the permanent anti-Muslim hatred of the present establishment. The outpouring of hatred over a newborn baby’s name is not over the name. It is, in fact, hatred of a fascist nature against Muslims. We would not see any outrage if, say, Soha Ali Khan and Kunal Khemu were to name their children “Babu” or “Maya” (also the names of the Gujarat riot-accused Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani).
The missing JNU student Najeeb may be a cool chap who sports an Enrique Iglesias profile picture online, no beard and skullcap. He changes his profile picture to support Team India. On his social media profile, he promises to get sweets for his Hindu friends. However, for the right-wing trolls, he is only a “terrorist” who “must have gone to Syria and joined ISIS”. Najeeb turned 27 on October 18, days after his disappearance, but for the hate-mongers, he is a “39-year-old terrorist”. Do facts even matter in this deeply polarised environment?
Earlier, we used to discuss how to improve democracy. The RTI, Lokpal, Section 377, AFSPA, gender sensitisation of police — these formed the crux of our concerns. Now, we are left only discussing how to save democracy. The only hope is in people’s unity in the face of a deeply communal and casteist regime. Here’s to more people’s struggles in the upcoming year.