The wilfully ignorant are guiltier than the government

Last Updated: Tue, Sep 04, 2018 13:16 hrs

Since 2014, India has drawn repeated comparisons to Nazi Germany from the liberal brigade, across the globe. It gives us the chance to show off both our awareness of history and our flair for armchair activism.

Nothing pleases the self-proclaimed liberal, as each of us is, more than the notion that we are being clever when we draw parallels. And so, with all the smugness our intellect affords us, we make snide memes.

Hitler, we say, was a leader who loved the sound of his own voice, had a fondness for making speeches on radio, allowed no place for dissent, silenced his critics, and slaughtered the despised, who took inordinate pride in having worked his way to a position of power from a childhood of servitude, who essentially bankrupted his country, who believed the land belonged to one race and that another must be eliminated. We think it is a stroke of genius to add a disclaimer: we are referring to Hitler and no one else, we say, sharing the meme on social media.

We create hashtags to fight the authorities and the labels.

We pat ourselves on our backs when we “reclaim” the vocabulary used to deride us – sickulars, libtards, presstitutes, and now urban naxals.

But, relentless as we are in finding parallels between India and Nazi Germany, we leave a crucial aspect out – ourselves, and our wilful ignorance.

I often wondered why entire generations of Germans, even those who were born long after the Second World War, felt guilty over the atrocities of Hitler. Does one inherit guilt, even when one’s ancestors played no part in the crime?

A German friend to whom I put the question gave me a simple answer that echoes in my ears a decade after I first heard it: “Because we chose ignorance,” he said, “We chose not to know.”

To him, the greatest crime of all is wilful ignorance. The government was guilty for the horror it perpetrated. But the public was guiltier for ignoring that horror, for closing their eyes and ears to the concentration camps in their neighbourhoods. And for this choice of ignorance, generations of descendants of the citizens of the Third Reich will inherit shame.

And in a country where books are considered a threat and those who deify knowledge are considered deviant, there is little point in being ironic about the labels the government and its stooges give us.

We shame ourselves, and will bequeath that shame to generations after us, if we do not recognise ourselves for what we are – the wilfully ignorant.

Every time we fail to call out the government, we are choosing wilful ignorance.

Every time we consent to our biometric data being collected and distributed to anyone who is willing to pay a nominal fee, every time we stop our protest with writing social media posts and investigative reports about it, we are choosing wilful ignorance.

Every time we laugh about the idiocy of ministers, we are choosing wilful ignorance. We should greet this idiocy not with amusement, but rage. When the finance minister says the prime minister never brought in demonetisation to ferret out black money, after the government has spent years squawking about black money and spent thousands of crores of taxpayers’ money on an exercise which proved futile, we cannot laugh; we must seethe. Nearly all the purported black money is back in the bank – and remember, some of it could not be returned because the deadline was stringent – and the international media has done a better job of analysing the failure of demonetisation than our own economists.

Every time we allow the government and its supporters to speak about “development” and “progress” and “Make in India” when petrol prices are at an all-time high and the rupee at an all-time low against the dollar, we are choosing wilful ignorance.

Hashtags and demonstrations will no longer do it for us.

What will do it for us is making a choice – we must choose to be present at the hustings in 2019; we must choose to confess our wilful ignorance, and do more than we have in the last four years; we must choose to remember the broken promises, of “minimum government and maximum government”, of “achche din”, of “bringing back the black money”; we must choose unity over the divisions that split us into three countries.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

V S Naipaul: The man the world loved to hate

The legacy of Karunanidhi

"Rapistan": There are no safe places

The "most dangerous country" poll should not make us defensive

The illusion of secularism

When hooliganism is state-sanctioned

Tarun Tejpal case: When the media plays jury

Karnataka: Death of democracy

India shining as ecosystems die?

Tamil Nadu: The land of the lawless

When death does not deter

Power play at a time of crisis

A country in denial

The gods have left the temples

What cricketers' reactions to ball-tampering show

Even Chhota Bheem knows our data was never private

No Confidence Motion: Why is the BJP nervous?

Do we really have the right to die with dignity?

Democracy has no place for mobs

The Sridevi South India lost 

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