Why does everyone feel unsafe in India?

Last Updated: Tue, Oct 27, 2015 12:22 hrs

As it happens, I’m no puppy or dog.

I’m not even an atheist, and contrary to the popular belief among my regular trolls, I have no romantic design on the Pope or Pakistanis.

Hell, I don’t eat any animal, holy or unholy.

In fact, I am a member of the most privileged group in today’s India, where we are awaiting the 'achche din' we were promised last year.

Except, I am also a member of several of the least privileged groups in today’s India – I’m a writer, I’m a woman, and I’m...oops, secular.

Over the last few years, bigots have managed to turn into a slur one of the words enshrined in the Indian Constitution – complete with a piece of wordplay that must have heavily drained their limited cerebral resources. So, yes, I suppose I’m ‘sickular’. Right up there with ‘presstitute’, isn’t it?

When I look around myself, I see that everyone is frightened – women who speak out against bigotry are threatened with rape; writers who choose to be honest to their work are threatened with murder; people who don’t prescribe to the sexual and dietary recommendations of the government are threatened with jail. Often, they are murdered without trial.

And it is not just those targeted by Hindu extremists who are frightened.

The very same trolls who suggest rape and murder to silence those who speak, and the very same thugs who arrive at doorsteps to execute the threat seem to be as frightened, terrified that their imagined nation with its imagined glories will never come to be, terrified that without being forcefully imposed on students, yoga and Sanskrit and vegetarianism will die, terrified that they will be thrown out of power unless they bully everyone they can into submission to their idiocy, terrified that the edicts they hold so dear may turn out to be myths unless they shout loud enough to drown the noise of all logic.

This was not the India I envisioned last year, despite the warnings. Like most of India, I was glad to see the back of the UPA, with its dynastic politics and the involvement of so many of its ministers in so many scams.

I thought the odd hate speech was preferable to the corruption that seemed so firmly entrenched in our country.

But it has not stopped at hate speech, or even hate mongering.

While lynch mobs are given a free run, to “stone dogs” and “run over puppies”, and High Courts judges recommend castration as a deterrent to rape, border conflict is on the rise.

And even as it steadily encroaches on every freedom that its citizens once took for granted, from dinner menus to Whatsapp cache, the government is beginning to resemble a dictatorship.

A series of asinine comments have been generated thanks to sundry ministers’ understanding of their “culture”.

Scholars point out regularly how mistaken these ignoramuses were. And it doesn’t require years of study to know that the times in which our epics are based were, if anything, far more liberal than today, with instances of polyandry, gender fluidity, and premarital sex.  The “culture” which our bigots hold in such high esteem was largely inherited from the Victorian prudery of the colonial power that governed our laws for centuries.

There’s something terribly wrong in a country where no religion feels safe – not Muslims, not Christians, not Sikhs, not Jains, not atheists, not secular Hindus, not bigoted Hindus.

The idea of a democracy is based on equal rights for everyone, and while that may be a Utopian impossibility, it is certainly against the quintessence of a democracy for the law to discriminate against people on the basis of religion and sexual orientation.

When the beef ban was enforced, my resistance to the idea of imposition was overshadowed by my support of animal rights. I rejoiced at the thought that, whatever the reasons may be, hordes of animals would be saved from death.

But, in using religion as the reason for bans on killing an animal, the government has made beef-eating a political act, an act of standing up to authority in which people now take pride. I hoped that the same courtesy given to cows would be extended to other animals who don’t score as highly in the Vedas, for humanitarian reasons. There is no sign of that happening.

The last year and a half has seen careless, hurtful remarks being tossed around by ministers who then retract their statements, apologise, or claim they were quoted out of context. There can be no context for comparing the immolation of children to the stoning of dogs. There can be no excuse for a government absolving itself of responsibility.

Similarly, diplomatic meets count for very little when every so often, someone in power decides to shoot his mouth off and indulge in jingoistic posturing that invites retaliation, through words or action.

If the BJP does not re-evaluate its stances now, the next four years could see a wave of anti-incumbency sweep someone else to power, whatever the strings are – dynastic politics, corruption, inefficiency, or indifference.

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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. She sells herself and the book  
 on www.nandinikrishnan.com