A few days ago, the Indian Prime Minister was busy promoting India as a nation of opportunities to Silicon Valley, urging the corporate giants there to invest in India. Make India digital, he roared. Within hours, Indians responded to their leader by jazzing up their Facebook profile pictures with a tricolour filter. The whole world took notice of a "modern", "upcoming", and "enterprising" India.
Around the same time, back home, the other face of India was about to raise its ugly head. The "not-so-progressive" face. In a village named Dadri in UP, not far from the nation's capital, a 50-year-old Muslim man was dragged out of his home and mercilessly lynched by a mob. It was "rumoured" that the man had been storing/consuming beef in his home. The absurdity that followed this barbaric crime was even more disgraceful. The investigators were more focussed on determining if the meat found in his home was indeed beef and "forensic tests" were ordered. Nabbing the culprits and bringing them to task was not an immediate consideration.
"Incredible India is our tourism slogan. And that's where it ends... India continues to be a stagnant society plagued by religious and communal segregation."
These events, yet again, tainted India with the bloodied brush of religious fundamentalism and divisive politics. An India that is shamefully regressive, shamelessly intolerant and increasingly unforgiving towards differences of religion and caste. A stark contrast to the "progressive" India that Modi had been selling to the Apples and the Googles of the world.
Incredible India is our tourism slogan. And that's where it ends. At the grassroots level, and at its very rural core, India continues to be a stagnant society plagued by religious and communal segregation. This is aptly exploited and encouraged by its ruling political classes to win, retain or usurp power and governance.
A progressive nation must empower its citizens to make responsible, legal choices in their day to day life. It does not unilaterally "ban" things that don't sit right with a section of its population. Bans are hallmarks of dictatorships, not democracies. People in a progressive nation must not bleed to death in riots and communal violence.
Modern-day India is incapable of having a rational and a balanced debate at any level about the real issues plaguing its citizens. Those in power in India seem incapable of hosing down these religious tensions. Instead, they leave these communal divisions simmering in the background and seem to capitalise on the community polarisation to enrich their vote banks.
The events in Dadri are not a one-off, or the first of their kind. The 1984 riots against Sikhs, the Babri Masjid saga, the Gujarat carnage are all reminders of the short and potent secular fuse that Indian society sits on. All it takes is a hint of communal disharmony to make India flare up.
Kids of my generation were brought up on a very simple mantra" "Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isaai, aapas mein hain bhai bhai (Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians are all brothers to each other)." This short statement embodied the ethos of a democratic and secular post-independence India. It reinforced a message of acceptance and brotherhood.
This mantra seems to have shrivelled away in present-day India. Perhaps, it is too mundane for the much touted "Incredible India" of today. Uncool.
A farmer committing suicide should be unacceptable. A rioting mob in the name of religion -- any religion -- should be unacceptable. A man being lynched to death should be unacceptable. A divisive politician trying to contravene injustice should be unacceptable. Governments should be held to account and dethroned for their failures.
Indians have to awaken at some stage. Reinvent themselves. Turn their opinions into a voice and demand their lawful rights as citizens.
As daunting as it seems, the status quo has to change.