In 1984, thousands of innocent civilians were murdered in cold blood in New Delhi and its surrounding areas by rioting mobs of self-proclaimed "justice seekers" for the assassination of Indira Gandhi. It is perhaps the most barbaric series of crimes that post-independence India has endured. The victims were all law abiding citizens of India, going about their lives in a peaceful manner. Yet, they were torched, lynched and butchered mercilessly for following the Sikh religion. More than 30 years on, the families of these victims are still seeking answers and justice for that bloodshed.
Merely a few years later, scores of unassuming, innocent Indian citizens were once again slashed and murdered by mobs of hooligans, thugs and criminals. The dispute this time stemmed out from a disagreement over the rightful place to build a mandir or a masjid (a temple and a mosque). Self-designated protectors of faith, tradition and history on both sides of the religious divide murdered scores of ordinary citizens. Free India was, once again, doused in shame.
Extortion, lynching and even smearing ink on faces are the contemporary signatures of religious and political bigotry in a free and "secular" India.
A few years later, Gujarat happened. More riots. More violence. And more murders of ordinary Indian citizens, most of whom were least interested in the politics of sect or creed. Yet again, the crimes were carried out by self-appointed saviours of history, tradition and faith.
Not too long ago, a Muslim man was lynched in broad daylight by an unruly mob on the mere suspicion that he had been storing or consuming beef.
These are some of the prominent marks of shame tainting the image of India since its independence in 1947. Scratch below the surface, and there are countless examples of ordinary citizens, especially the minorities, being bullied, harassed, intimidated and murdered on a daily basis by mobs of fanatics, blinded by the politics of religion and power.
I recently watched the 6th season of the popular TV drama Game of Thrones. Although the TV series is a work of fiction, it amply highlights the long-standing symbiotic interdependence between the "Church" and the "State". Both entities have long wrestled with each other to remain relevant, and to stay in power. And every time they had a falling out with each other, it has been at the peril of the ordinary citizens that both of them are tasked with defending.
The same medieval power play occurs between the political and religious factions in modern day India. Extortion, lynching and even smearing ink on faces with a design to humiliate are the contemporary signatures of religious and political bigotry in a free and "secular" India. The very latest incident in this unending chain of disgrace has been the recent assault on filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali and his film crew in Jaipur. The assailants once again happened to be a mob of goons who were out to avenge their perception of history, tradition and creed.
Demonising ordinary citizens and unleashing threats and violence upon them are entrenched tendencies in India and unlikely to go away until the government of the day or the religious gate-keepers speak up against it. Most governments who have ruled India in recent years have failed to rein in bigotry and religious and cultural intolerance (yes "intolerance" is alive and humming in modern India).
This lack of government action has allowed these acts of violence and thuggery to continue as an alternative (and perhaps an accepted) pathway to instant "trial and justice" for any perceived religious or social digressions. The mere fact that an individual or a group feels empowered to resort to violence to avenge a perceived threat to religious/cultural beliefs, and then gets away without any consequence, says a lot about the shortcomings of Indian governments in safeguarding their citizens.
An ordinary citizen in India is unsafe, living under a shadow of violence and fear. Covert armies of thugs target the vulnerable, and then hide under a political or religious flag...
An ordinary citizen in India is unsafe today, living under a sustained shadow of violence and fear. Covert armies of thugs and hooligans target the vulnerable, and then go back and hide under a political or religious flag, thereby shielded from any reprimand or punishment. Justice is fast turning into a mere concept that's too costly and too far-fetched for common people walking the streets of India. Citizens of India are mere vote-banks, and that's how they are being treated by the State and by the metaphorical "Church."
A fearful Karan Johar yields to coercion and issues an unnecessary apology. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is viciously assaulted, and remains helpless through the entire ordeal. Their higher social profiles make these events note-worthy, leading to subdued murmurs of justice and morals. Had it been a common person on the street, would it have made any ripples at all? The answer is NO. And herein lies the real concern.
Ordinary people are subjected to injustice and torture every day in free India. And until the communities and governments stand up to such criminals and defend the weak and the vulnerable, India will remain an unsafe society for its very own citizens. A cultural and social makeover of unparalleled proportions is needed in India. Traditional banners of power and governance in India are outdated and no longer relevant. They must be replaced by modern voices of sanity and reason. Pronto. Law and order should be vested back into the judiciary for that is where it belongs—not with religious establishments and their armies.
Unless there is a cultural revival towards a more responsible and educated society, India will continue to be manipulated by governments who are happy to incur a few riots to remain in power. It is indeed a game of thrones.