The hooligans in our homes

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 25, 2018 10:37 hrs
Lynching

It is convenient to think the people who want Naseeruddin Shah to go to Pakistan if he dares to speak his mind are trolls on social media, possibly paid by the ruling party to harass anyone with an independent mind.

It is convenient to put the onus for freedom of expression on literature festivals and state governments.

But the truth, as always, is rather inconvenient.

The people who want Naseeruddin Shah and his ilk – by which I mean, naturally, those who value freedom of expression and it is a pity I have to clarify that this is a reference to bent of mind and not religion of birth – out of the country are related to you and me, and perhaps to Naseeruddin Shah himself.

The onus for freedom of expression lies with us, each and every one of us who loves this country and who values its freedoms.

For long, I have been among those who are in denial of just how close the hooligans are.

I belong to a family of mixed ethnicities and religions.

I never thought I would hear a relative say, much less swinging her legs against a sofa in my own sitting room, that this was a “Hindu country”.

Yet, this is precisely what happened some weeks ago. Talk of 2019 was on. The year has gone by so fast etc. What awaits next year etc. Election year etc. As a journalist, what did I think would happen, she asked.

“I think – or hope – the demonetisation and GST messes alone will sink them,” I said.

“You don’t want Modi to win?” my aunt sounded surprised.

“No. I don’t want the rupee to sink or statues to reach the sky.”

“You want that Italian for prime minister?”

“Which Italian?”

My aunt made an impatient noise. “Why do you have a problem with the BJP?”

“Because rupee, because petrol, because statues, because they’re more concerned with renaming cities than sorting out the economy.”

“So what? This is a Hindu country, and the cities should have Hindu names.”

“No, this is not a Hindu country. This is a secular country, and it says so in the Constitution.”

“When Pakistan is a Muslim country, why can’t we be a Hindu country?” she demanded.

“Because the Constitution says we’re secular. Because for most of my life, Pakistan hasn’t been the country I aspire to live in.”

Other relatives had been trying throughout the conversation to change the subject, and eventually succeeded. Someone spoke of cricket. Someone spoke of lunch. And I persisted in speaking of Raghuram Rajan’s address at Berkeley, and the Indian Constitution, and the poverty line and the money spent on the Statue of Unity, until my aunt ran out of the energy to make vacuous statements and contented herself with one last patronising remark to the tune of how I would “eventually realise” she was right.

I was, and am, ashamed.

I’m ashamed to be related to someone who turns to WhatsApp for news.

I’m ashamed that I cannot call her a “distant relative”.

I’m ashamed because, when the news travels through the family grapevine that I wrote about a bigoted aunt, several other aunts will wonder whether I was referring to them.

I’m ashamed that I have hosted a hooligan in my home, and probably will be forced to again.

I’m ashamed that once my aunt’s amusement had transformed into irritation, I allowed the subject to be changed, and did not bully her into silence as she had tried to bully me.

I’m ashamed I did not call her a hooligan and a troll to her face.

I’m ashamed that I did not tell her it was people like her who were ruining my country, not people like me.

They are all around us, the hooligans, the bigots, the bearers of trishuls and the defenders of dictatorship.

They are our parents’ parents. Our parents’ siblings. Our parents. Our siblings. Our cousins. Our friends. Our lovers.

They preface every political argument with, “What India needs is a dictator”, but will not admit that a man who turns our life savings to paper overnight is a dictator.

They blame Nandan Nilekani for the Aadhaar card, which they deem a violation of their privacy, but are happy for investigative agencies to access the computers of “sickulars” and “presstitutes”.

They call those of us who defend the Constitution, its Preamble, and the rights its guarantees us and the duties it expects of us, “traitors”.

It’s about time we called out these hooligans in our homes, exposed them and quelled their rants.

This is not about the BJP versus the Congress. Hooliganism has existed under, and been orchestrated by, every political party that has ever been in power.

This is about us versus the hooligans.

We have to admit that the hooligans are not simply the anonymous entities that will swear at me in the Comments section of this piece. They are guests in our homes. They are our family. They are the women who worship cows, but carry leather handbags. They are the men who appease the gods with ghee bled out of cows. Their show of piety is matched by their penchant for virulence. And we fail ourselves if we don’t shame them into silence.

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When hooliganism is state-sanctioned

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Do we really have the right to die with dignity?

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. 

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