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Ideology Isn't The Answer To India's Problems - Respect For life, Liberty and Happiness Are

17/02/2016 8:21 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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INDRANIL MUKHERJEE via Getty Images
An Indian girls selling miniature Indian tricolour flags waits for customers at the corner of a busy crossroad in Mumbai on August 11, 2015. India celebrates its anniversary of independence from Britain on August 15 with great pomp and show with a patriotic fervour gripping the nation. The Indian tricolour is hoisted with great pride atop prominent buildings and homes as a mark of respect to all those who laid down their lives to make India an independent nation. AFP PHOTO / INDRANIL MUKHERJEE (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

As the Muslim barber from Uttarakhand, Mustaqim Ahmad, clipped away my curls, I asked him about his education. He responded in a grim voice and said that he had discontinued his education after class 12. "There was no point in trying to continue. It wouldn't have got me a job. Only those who are connected and can pay bribes get jobs." The young man's face suddenly lit up. "Sir, it seems you have lived in foren. You must speak English. I so wish I could speak good English." I nodded and told him that I not only speak but also write in English. Mustaqim then asked, "Sir, English barbers, they must have better hand technique then us." I replied, "No Mustaqim, , I think the hand technique is better in the subcontinent. Western barbers usually use clippers not scissors." Mustaqim looked puzzled and let the conversation slide. He did a good job on my hair and I left as soon as he was finished.

I arrived home to the news of the killings of two civilians in Pulwama, a district in Srinagar. The civilians -- a 22-year-old woman called Shaista and a 19-year-old man named Danish Farooq - were killed after forces fired on a crowd protesting the deaths of militants holed up in a suburb of the district.

The state in India has made many significant achievements, but it is has also failed many people -- especially the most vulnerable segments of society.

On the face of it, the life trajectory of my depressive barber Mustaqim Ahmed and the deaths of Shaista and Danish in Srinagar are unconnected. But, look deeper, and a connection emerges. The connection stems from the inability of the state in India to stay true to the dictum of "life, liberty and happiness"-- the cardinal tenets of a liberal democracy.

I am not questioning India's democratic credentials here but pointing to its uneven nature. True, India is a vast country defined by a paucity of resources and the state is "weak" but this is no ground for complacency or inertia.

Consider Mustaqim Ahmed, the barber from Uttarakhand, who migrated to Kashmir to earn a livelihood. His aspirations are essentially dead. He is resigned to cutting hair for the rest of his life, any other aspirations and ambitions snuffed out by a skewed opportunity structure where he sees only the privileged entitled to jobs and therefore the good life. On top of this are a lack of confidence and an addled approach towards life and the world ("the Western barber must be better than the Indian one").

Mustaqim's life trajectory and the death of his aspirations are linked to the physical end of Shaista and Danish, both young folk at the threshold of their lives. I am not going into a blame game here and the sentiments prevailing in Kashmir but whatever the structuring context, two young people are dead; they cannot be brought back to life. The question that may be posed here: where is the connection between the two?

What is really needed is a state capacity, capability and a focus wherein life, liberty and happiness become the animating ideas and themes.

In both instances, the state is implicated.

The state in India has made many significant achievements, but it is has also failed many people -- especially the most vulnerable segments of society.

This has a searing resonance at a time when the country's fault-lines are widening and a creeping polarization is taking place. The catalyst for this is the ideological approach and orientation of the far right political spectrum of India which wants India to genuflect to a majoritarian ideology and agenda of Hindutva.

What perhaps is the main weakness of Hindutva is that a country as diverse as India cannot really be subsumed under an ideological straitjacket. But there's another reason why foisting this agenda is futile. This reason pertains to themes of survival, opportunity, life chances, progress and prosperity of individuals and communities. Ideology cannot be a replacement for any of these. What is really needed is a state capacity, capability and a focus wherein life, liberty and happiness become the animating ideas and themes. Until this point, we will see an endless stream of grim and brooding Mustaqims, as well as Shaistas and Danishs whose lives will either be dead ends or just lost in the maelstrom of a state which appears to have lost its raison d'être and is gradually succumbing to ideology. This, given the promise of India, would constitute a travesty.

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