Indian Class War. A snake eating its own tail

Last Updated: Sat, Nov 30, 2013 01:11 hrs

Has any one noticed how most issues that have convulsed urban India these days ultimately get fought on class grounds?

Both in the Tarun Tejpal sexual assault case and the Aarushi Talwar murder trial - whatever the individual details - the overarching narratives, according to me, are both of class wars.

In the Aarushi case, it appears that from day one, the air-conditioners, golf clubs and bottles of whiskey had titillated the nation and were the props on which the investigating agencies, the media and the chattering classes predicated the viscous campaign against the Talwar couple.

A modern well-heeled photogenic professional nuclear family. Who knows what dark secrets lay in its heart? What fun to pull down the shutters and feast on their lives appeared to be the collective impetus.

A shameful, voyeuristic campaign was mounted to bring the Talwars down, regardless of the merits of their argument. It is almost as if India's new and uneasy middle class seizes on the opportunity to train its most vicious arsenal on its softest targets in a bid to flagellate itself for its imagined or real sins.

More or less the same thing had occurred during the Jessica Lal murder case: parties! alcohol! socialites! models! What else could they add up to but guilt, complicity, conspiracy and crime - regardless of the merits of the case and the rights and wrongs of what happened?

So great is this yawning chasm between the haves and the have-nots in today's India that not only are the haves the first to be blamed in public perception for everything that goes wrong, their own guilt and unease compels them to turn against themselves and others in their class to make amends. This is where things begin to go pear-shaped and the course of real justice gets thwarted.

Has any one noticed how in the Tejpal case, the term 'cosy Lutyens Delhi club' has been used with such suspicion and disdain by so many?

'Lutyens Delhi' and 'Malabar Hill Mumbai' have come to represent the mount of all that is wrong with the country. You only have to mention them and scenes of corruption, complicity and nepotism are conjured up in the listener's minds.

The outrage for Tejpal and his alleged heinous act - without for a moment undermining his victim's stand - has risen like a groundswell from many of those who felt unwelcomed in the charmed circles of his Thinkfests and social arenas. "Take him down" is the battlecry, "him and all those like him who represent what has gone wrong with the country." This rage, fury, anger and resentment has reached such a level that no one in the middle class can escape its torrent or remain unsigned by its flame. Especially, not people who realise that they have secured their better seats in unideal circumstances, and often with unfair means or just by the happenstance of good luck.

With such thoughts undermining their confidence, is it any wonder that the first people to pull down one of their own will be members of the same class, people of the same social order?

And whether they do this out of self-preservation, self-hate, or a great fear of being the next targets themselves, who will know?

Yesterday a middle-class professional dentist couple, today the icon of the chattering classes, tomorrow it could be you. Ask not who the crowd bays for - it bays for you. And you. And you.

The great Indian Class War. A snake eating its own tail.

Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer

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