Perhaps the greatest difference between a party nursing hopes of dynastic rule and a regime with the goal of establishing a society with the same religion, moral code, and societal norms as its masters is this—the noise the regime makes.
The first seeks to convince voters that the fruit of its former leaders’ loins make worthy heirs to the throne, while the other is aware that the public is subject to orders from the throne for as long as its representative occupies that throne, and treats its subjects as those over whom it rules. There is no question of “by the people” or “for the people” or “of the people”.
The rulers belong to an elite, not by birth, but by belief. And the only subjects that matter are those that can become part of the elite, or those that already are. The rest must be jettisoned before they can vote, and one way to go about that is to deny citizenship rights by divesting them of citizenship. Another way to go about that is to make a database of the names and addresses and biometric details of all residents, not just citizens, so that the troublemakers can be found when necessary and silenced.
Because silence is the operative tool.
Yes, the head of the legislative wing can speak from the heart once a week, droning on even when he is dubbed into other languages, but he need not address anything that is on the mind of the people, because a democracy exists only for as long as its citizens have equal rights. Once a dictatorship is established, and finds its subscribers, it can remain a monocracy as long as the ideals of The One spread across the land.
In a country that is a federation of states, the silence will spread when the states turn saffron, a process that began nearly two decades ago in India.
It has been nearly eight years since we woke up to newspapers screaming about a brutal bus rape in Delhi. We gave the victim a name, her parents came forward and asked us to use the one they had given her, streets were to be named after her, and her killers were quickly traced and punished. All but one of them are dead. That one remains anonymous and faceless.
Most of us heard of the Hathras rape only when we learnt of the victim’s secret cremation on the last night of September. The girl was from Bulgarhi village in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh, where she alleged she had been gangraped on the fourteenth of September. Her family has told the media she was treated in an Aligarh hospital for two weeks, and moved to Safdarjung hospital in Delhi on September 28, and died there at 6:55 am the next morning. Her family members who accompanied her—her father, brother, and two other men—say they were asked to sign papers consenting to a post-mortem a few hours later, and haven’t seen her body since.
The news has filtered out slowly, mostly after videos of women clinging on to the bonnets of police vehicles and trying desperately to claim the corpse that had once been a daughter, a sister, a sister-in-law, a niece went viral and drew international attention.
Since then, we have heard different versions—the police released a video of men throwing wooden logs over a pyre, and said they were relatives of the victim who had consented to a secret cremation to avoid “further violence”. The relatives say they had locked themselves into their homes so that they would not be forced to cremate the girl in the dead of night, without everyone having had a chance to see her face one last time, and without performing the rituals for the dead.
The UP government has told the Supreme Court, where the case is being heard, that the cremation was carried out in secret taking into consideration “extraordinary circumstances and a sequence of unlawful incidents”, without going into detail. And then it ridiculously blamed the outrage on an “international plot” to topple Yogi Adityanath’s government.
Once every few hundred rapes, India becomes the focus of international attention. No one is safe, not little girls and not old women, not babies and not victims of Covid-19 en route to hospital. And yet, the government has clung on to its silence.
The press is often called the Fourth Estate. But when prime time shows are obsessed with whether or not a woman should be jailed for smoking weed, it should come as no surprise that lawbreakers and lawmakers alike can get away with murder.
In the absence of media engagement, one could hope for social media engagement, except that it is sometimes deemed that 280 characters of opinion can count as contempt of court.
How long, one wonders, before we have our own Evin Prison? How long before words like “dissenter” and “apostate” are thrown around? Or perhaps there is no need for prisons or arrests for as long as everyone stays silent.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com