I Have A Fundamental Concern About The Public Discourse In New India

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Before sharing my two cents on the matter, I must clarify that I am conscious of my identity as an Indian who happens to be a ‘Hindu’ man by birth; my views on the controversies in India right now are necessarily articulated from contexts of privilege that I simply cannot escape from (not even if I tried to). This post is addressed, therefore, to those like me, fellow creatures of majoritarian privilege in India. This post does not, and cannot, speak on behalf of Muslims in India (or of South Asia for that matter) or any others on the so-called ‘margins’ of contemporary India today. At most, it speaks – or tries to speak – in solidarity with them.

The Onus Is On Who?

Cutting to it: consider the question of ‘onus’. There are those who accuse protestors against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as being hostile in conversation, dismissive of contrary views; any attempt to engage with them, it is said, results in one being ‘shut down’ and labeled as ‘inhumane’, as a ‘bigot’.

Such views place the ‘onus’ of society’s empathy with the resistance on the resistors themselves; a statement on these lines (one that was actually said to me) is as follows:

“Had you all not been so ‘aggressive’ and ‘consumed’ by your own stance, people like me would have possibly ‘understood’ your point of view… we might have even joined you as allies. But your ‘angry’ disposition only puts us off, renders us against you.”

Views like these surface far too often, from ‘well-meaning’ people. They must be addressed.

Let us consider this resistance in context. Resistances like these unfold against contexts of ‘power’ and ‘privilege’. Where a ‘marginalized’ community/identity resists against the ‘mainstream’, they are up against forces that are far more powerful, more loud, than they are. For a Dalit to rebel against the upper-caste, implies battling not simply ‘people’ and ‘views’ that are upper-caste, but against people and views that enjoy the heft and endorsement of the ‘system’, the ‘mainstream’, the ‘status quo’. The same applies to feminism’s fight against patriarchy, ‘lower’ class agitations against the ‘upper’ class, the tribal dissent against intrusions of ‘modernity’, and, indeed, to a minority’s resistance against majoritarianism. The ‘privilege’ and ‘power’ of the ‘mainstream’ – and those of us who belong to the mainstream – are born from centuries of social conditioning, discrimination, and oppression. Any attempt to resist against these, from the margins, is met with a far greater counter-resistance. The dissent from the margins, therefore, is, in and of itself, a fact of heroism; it is a different kind of confrontation that calls to be seen with care, in context, with empathy. For those of us in the ‘mainstream’, however well-meaning we may be, to place the ‘onus’ on the marginalized of explaining themselves, compounds the injustice of what is a fundamentally unequal discourse.

Protestors at Shaheen Baug, Delhi

The resistance at hand is, in a tangible sense, against a majoritarian, Islamophobic and unjust law. And the object of this injustice, that underpins the resistance, is unmistakable: it directly implicates not just the state (which has imposed a majoritarian law), but the very systemic ‘fact’ of majoritarianism that has emboldened the state to act with such impunity. This is a ‘fact’ that is embodied in the sheer ‘presence’ of the majority community – the ‘Hindus’ in this case. And it is is ‘perpetuated’ by our obliviousness, or unwillingness, to question and dismantle our own privilege. And when those in the margins call for ‘justice’, it is essentially a call for the mainstream to take a hard look at itself. We are asked to engage with our own conditioning, to recognize how the privilege we enjoy – by the simple fact of being the ‘majority’ – has enabled the marginalization of those who are ‘not’ like us; of how this marginalization has effectively rendered them second-class participants in a society that is equally ‘theirs’; and, very importantly, of how their side-lining has allowed the state to not only ‘ignore’ them and their concerns, but also aggravate the ‘prejudice’ that already attaches to their identity.

The Victims Do Not Owe Us To Be ‘Calm’ and ‘Composed’

Observing this fact, it is bizarre, to say the least, to expect those resisting to explain themselves. It is bizarre also to expect those on the receiving end of violence to be ‘calm’ and ‘composed’ while addressing us. They simply do not ‘owe’ us that, for they have every good reason to be ‘angry’ and outraged. And if anybody owes any ‘explaining’ here, it is ‘us’, the majority, who owes an ‘explanation’ to those that are victimized by ‘us’ or ‘in our name’. We owe, ultimately, an ‘explanation’ to ‘ourselves’ too – that is, it is ‘on us’ to confront our own privilege, understand it, and then undo it, for that is the only ‘just’ thing to do… else, we are to live with blood on our hands.

And those of us who join the resistance, along with our friends in the so-called ‘margins’, do so, at best, to lend ‘support’. While we simply cannot shed our privilege, the very least we can do is to recognize it, call out its unjust implications, and join our friends in the fight for a more equal and humane society.

For Those Who Want To Be Left Out From This Drama

Indeed, on reading all of this, some among us will come up with a string of pearly ‘buts’. Let’s pick one and have a look. So, one might say: “But I just want to be left alone. I am not ‘actively’ committing violence against anyone. I choose to sit back and ‘not have an opinion’. I don’t want to have to fight or resist. Let things take their course. Please don’t ‘badger’ me into expressing opinions or ‘taking a stand’.”… Sure my, friend, sure. No one is charging through your doors, dragging you out, kicking and screaming, into this resistance. You are free to stand aside and be ‘quiet’…

…but, in that ‘quietness’ you so treasure, you may soon notice a subtle knocking at your doors… and when you do, it will only grow louder and louder…

…when your conscience comes knocking with the truth that ‘silence, in the event of violence, is violence with the blessing of society’, you may choose to renounce your ‘quiet’, and come in search of the resistance…

…and by then, let us hope that it is not too late…

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Anirudh Belle

Lawyer, Inlaks Scholar, BCL (Oxon), 2019-20 LL.B. Currently at Oxford

About the Author

Anirudh Belle

Lawyer, Inlaks Scholar, BCL (Oxon), 2019-20 LL.B. Currently at Oxford

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