India at 75 must exclude violence and its perpetrators (The Sunday Guardian)
It is not possible to be a good Hindu, Muslim or Christian without first being a good human being.
The persisting spread of Covid-19 (SARS2), despite extraordinary measures taken by governments to contain it, resulted in a multiplying number of theories about the causes of such increases in caseload. The only factor that goes unmentioned is that the tiny size of the virus and its transmission through the air make it less than certain that most face masks would prevent an infection from an affected individual to another, although social distancing may help block such spread. The problem is that keeping several feet away from other human beings may be a problem anywhere, not just in India but in almost all other countries as well. Across the world, despite governments mandating much of human behaviour (including the suggestion that hands should be kept away from the face), cases continued to rise. And as the curve rose rather than flattened as forecast, more and more scapegoats were found. Depending on what part of the political divide an individual was located in, either the Tablighi Jamaat or the Kumbh Mela was blamed for the spread. 2020 was a year marked by insecurity and fear, with incomes crashing, jobs vanishing and numerous activities banned to flatten a curve that followed its own rules rather than those set by the WHO and adopted by countries across the world. At least in India, 2021 was marked by a much greater range of activity than was the case during the past year. Another Great Indian Lockdown (circa 2020) was avoided. Several state governments imposed curfews, apparently acting in the belief that (somewhat in the manner of mosquitoes) the virus came out towards evening and made itself scarce during much of the daylight hours. In Delhi, malls were shut down once again, while in Gurugram, they were open only until 5pm. That was fine for households where the man or the lady of the house stayed inside the house, but created a problem for those households where both the husband and the wife were working in offices and could not therefore shop at a mall. Compared to the inconvenience and disruption that lockdowns, curfews, closure of businesses and other steps taken caused, were the benefits in terms of a lower Covid-19 caseload proportional to such a cost? More importantly, was there any flattening of a curve that seemed to rise up and fall seemingly on its own volition? Australia, Germany, France, Italy and other countries introduced a new variant of democracy, where the unvaccinated were denied several of the privileges and freedoms of those who had taken two or more jabs of the vaccine. As in 2020 with the lockdowns, India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi once again set a world record by completing first a billion and soon afterwards 1.5 billion Covid-19 vaccinations even as the pandemic raged across the country. There are repeated cries that Israel is an “apartheid” state that discriminates against some elements in its population. Such accusations come mostly from countries where the Jewish community has been substantially (where not totally) eliminated. India under the present dispensation is repeatedly accused of “genocide against Muslims”, this when there are about 200 million Muslims in India, who are contributing so much to the progress that the country is making. The entity that is loudest in its cries of “genocide in India” and the need for “protection of minorities” is Pakistan, where both the proportion as well as the number of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians have dwindled into insignificance across the decades. Any country which considers itself civilised should ensure that every citizen be treated equally, irrespective of his or her faith, lifestyle, language or diet. The future of India depends on such an ambience being strengthened rather than ignored in the manner that it had been for more than two generations. Of course, any activity or speech that demonstrably promotes violence needs to be dealt with. Overall, the Modi government’s record of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas is stellar. It is the perceived or actual exceptions that are assisting the Sino-Wahhabi alliance in their project to demonise India and its leadership. As pointed out by former Supreme Court Justice Rohinton Nariman, there seems to be overkill in using sedition laws to lock up cartoonists, comedians and even students on the grounds that they indulged in hate speech. There are, of course, those who target only a single faith rather than others, such as was the case with an artist whose more audacious depictions were solely of divinities of a particular faith. Had he done the same with other faiths, Husain may have been locked up as soon as he entered Qatar. The versatile Husain was never put to any such inconvenience in the country that made him wealthy and famous, India. A comedian who pokes fun only at a single set of beliefs while ignoring others may not be showing freedom of thought but prejudice. Citizens pointing this out, including through social media, would be a better alternative than the colonial practice of filing cases and locking people up. Democracy in India is nearly 75 years old. This is surely time enough for graduating to the standards and practices of a strong and confident democracy. Actions such as sending into exile a writer whose mother lives in, and loves, India would be to repeat the errors made by past governments, including during the 1970s, the period when so many personal freedoms were replaced with state control over both lives and livelihoods. Despite the Erdogans and the Bajwas, the world is changing for the better, what with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia fighting against extremism and the UAE allowing a temple to come up within its territory. It is not possible to be a good Hindu, Muslim or Christian without first being a good human being. And that means accepting those of different beliefs as part of the same cultural DNA and societal dynamic, rather than as the Other, barring the violent and fanatic fringe that seeks to expand at the cost of the moderate.