When a private school in Thiruvananthapuram suspended a boy studying in Class 12 for hugging in public a Class 11 girl in July, it sparked a sequence of events ranging from the absurd to the Kafkaesque. Was the hug too long, it was asked. Was it against discipline and morality, a smear on the reputation of society and the educational institution? The Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, to which the boy’s parents appealed, ruled against the moral panic triggered in St Thomas Central School. But the Kerala High Court quashed its call for proportion and sanity, and upheld the school’s action. The two children, their future, seemed in the wrong hands until an intervention by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor promised a resolution — both will be allowed to take their exams in 2018. Now, cut to Ghaziabad in north India, where earlier this month, a Hindu-Muslim wedding was sought to be disrupted by a crazed mob led by local BJP leaders. Here, too, things ended well after the woman’s parents filed FIRs, including for trespass and criminal intimidation, compelling the BJP to remove its Ghaziabad unit chief. Through it all, the bride’s father has pointed, unwaveringly, to the real scandal: “… it was my private and personal affair… Religion comes later, humanity comes first… if this can happen in Delhi-NCR, then what about others who live in smaller cities, towns and villages?” There is something that connects these two incidents, makes them motifs to carry into the new year.
The outrage in Thiruvananthapuram was about a school management’s moral policing, its excessive prudishness extending to disrespect for the students’ right to privacy. It pointed to the repressions that prevail in the absence of a healthy or open conversation on sexuality in schools. The mob that formed to attack the festivities in the Ghaziabad home, on the other hand, drew its sanction directly from a powerful political ideology that targets minorities, and taints Hindu-Muslim marriage as “love jihad”. But both the drama over the hug and the furore on the marriage were similar, too — the denouement was a happy one in both, and it was, in large part, because the ordinary people caught in the middle showed an uncommon resolve to withstand forces of intolerance larger than them.
The father of the schoolboy insistently questioned the proportionality of the school’s action and stood by his son even as, one after the other, institutions like the school and the court let him down. The bride’s father firmly told off the mob that was trying to cramp his daughter’s freedom to love, her right to choose. In doing so, both framed the message for a nation to carry into 2018 and beyond: If spaces are to be kept open and safe for all, each one must take ownership of them. This is not to suggest that individual fortitude can make up for institutional abdication. Only that it can, by becoming the bridge between the personal and the political, hold out a larger hope — for a happy new year.