I read this today.
My first reaction was 'Will I have to live in dread that the day will come when it will be me, my family that is running from the mob'
In the past, on occasion, I've expressed to a few of my close friends how, in quite a personal way, I feel threatened by all the communal violence. They don't seem to get it – or at least, they didn’t then. As it so happens, all of them belong to Hindu families - which is something that is quite strange to vocalise because it is barely in one's consciousness and never factors into any part of our dynamic.Sadly now, it has everything to do with it.
Despite the fact that they are extremely aware and intelligent, they simply don’t understand what the fuss is all about, why I'm so hot and bothered, why this seems to affect me so deeply. But let me qualify my remarks though before they offend. What I mean, is simply this - a white man in 1950s
With my friends, I can see in their eyes this lack of comprehension, the unspoken insinuation that surely I’m over-reacting because the thing is, because no matter how much one might extrapolate, how one might try, it is incredibly difficult to put yourself in the shoes of someone whose existence is threatened by just their identity. So, while, to my friends, this persecution is too far away, removed from their reality, something to click their tongue at in sympathetic resignation and then forget,to me, it's real - a distant but looming threat that clouds my mind with 'someday what ifs'.
To their mind, it could never actually get so bad that I would be in any danger. And god knows, I hope they are right. But I just don't have that kind of implicit faith in our society anymore.We have too volatile a dynamic. And time and again in our recent history we have seen the smallest incident trigger such phenomenal violence. As a nation we are scarred by those memories. And ashamed. (or atleast we should be) But as individuals that were not directly affected, many of us remain largely detached. In the immediate after-math we are of course appalled at the extent of human cruelty, sympathetic to the victims but too easily we transition into conveniently tut-tutting our collective guilt away. Perhaps it is easy to, because it happened to THEM - someone, somewhere that we simply don’t identify with.
While that is understandable, it does not make it forgivable. I always imagined it was and would always be a Hindu-Muslim tussle - Centuries-old resentment mixing with fresh poison - and while I did empathize, there was also a lot of resignation that went with it. And so I distanced myself. Saddened and sympathetic - but in real terms, unaffected – not unlike my friends until a few years ago, when it finally dawned on me that I , as it turned out, am part of that THEM.
The images of the terrible carnage in that horrendous episode in
Having always thought of myself as half hindu and half christian - both identities being so well integrated within me that I can no more choose one over the other than I can pick a favourite eye, I find myself now forced to separate the two. The christian in me is deeply threatened by what is happening in Orissa - one is left only to imagine whether it will sanction and set precedent for, a new wave of violence towards christians across the rest of the country? (or pretty much any minority the fundamentalists choose to target ) The Hindu in me finds this sort of violence so abhorrent. And that too in the name of Rama, so deeply shaming.
Memories of the Graeme Staines incident come rushing back as I am writing this. It was around that time that there was a strong wave of anti-christian sentiment. And it wasn't just in Orissa although it seems to always boil over from there .The violence was across the country. Churches burnt, Nuns raped, Priests murdered, Children tortured... Andhra, maharashtra, U.P, Bihar, Tamil Nadu even Kerala! And we were fearful. In churches they prayed for peace, and were counselled to be patient, to have faith, that it would pass. But every christian I met, was deeply disturbed. In hushed tones they murmured to each other 'Now, I can imagine what it can feel like to be a Muslim in this country'. Except that it was worse. There was an overriding sense of helplessness that hung about them - They just didn't know what to do. The christian community is still small and insignificant. They could not retaliate. They would not get violent. They just took it. I remember that year well - marked by grave conversations and even graver jokes about how the RSS was bored of persecuting muslims and had decided to pick on the christians for a change. I remember feeling helpless myself and thinking that the Muslim community would never have taken this lying down. In the throes of my misguided 15 year old indignation, I fantasized about lining those murderous bastards up and having them shot for doing this. I remember swearing in dead seriousness that I would leave the country before I was betrayed by it.
And now, 8 years later, it seems to be happening all over again. Deep inside me there is an abiding fear that my friends are wrong and there could come a day when I will be made to feel a stranger in my own country. That it will not matter who I am or what I believe, only that I have one foot in the wrong side of the statistic. Everything else about me will cease to matter in the face of the religious fundamentalism that seems these days to lurk round every corner. I have nightmares, that to the madding crowd, I will not be Indian, nor tamizh or mangalorean, just christian - the daughter of a Catholic man and an Iyer woman who brought shame to her community by marrying him.
Post Script : A poem that hangs on a wall in my mother's office perfectly describes my sentiments. She has it there to remind her of the evils of everyday apathy. And even though I have already quoted it here, I want to again. It encapsulates how I feel - it is my nightmare.
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.
--- Pastor Martin Niemöller