|Illustration by Sandeep Adhwaryu|
Dear Citizen of Youngistan,
You are the talk of the town these days, so, you know, I wanted to talk to you.
You are a student. You seek to be highly educated, but you turn a blind eye to the academic terrorism that routinely cripples and kills poor students in universities. You never acknowledge the privilege of exclusivity. You strut about with the confidence that you will never slip below the poverty line. You never know the pain of exclusion. You would have never lost your home in a slum demolition drive.
On the other hand, you know, with self-assured grace you make up India’s fanciful, much-advertised youngistan edge. You flaunt the fact that you are one of the 120 million youth that your country will add to its workforce over the next decade. You forget that this workforce, devoid of any working class consciousness, shall only serve to launch the latest edition of slave trade. Welcome aboard, dude! The Slave Ship is waiting for you. If and when India’s economy goes into freefall mode, you will be the first to flounder. Just remember that.
You also like to imagine yourself as a sexually restless youngster. Sadly, diktats and death threats make you seek shelter in matrimonial websites with drop-down menus listing 450 sub-castes. You blame this casteism on parental pressure. In your hallowed opinion, caste should be annihilated. You say that this is possible only by discontinuing affirmative action policies for adivasis and Dalits. You have anecdotal evidence to prove that reservation equals ruin.
You also think that India’s biggest problem is a boatload of terrorists from Pakistan. You have not heard of Khairlanji or Gadchiroli or Koodankulam; they are multi-syllable names of places that have never managed to sneak into your sublime conversations. Ultra-ambitious, you only enter lands that require your passport, your visa and your commercialised skill-sets. You are India’s shining, swaggering export. You have sold your soul for a song. You have sold your song for a sophisticated accent. You have sold your sophisticated accent for a sanitised silence.
Most of the time, you do not even speak your mother tongue. You only learn the languages that pay: C++, Java, Python, English. In spite of your mastery over two-and-a-half languages, you choose to remain voiceless. Abjuring violence in the way of old souls, you renounce every aggressive drive to assert yourself.
Maybe you earnestly believe in the development panacea. Maybe you are bamboozled by its seductive, saleable divinity. You don’t realise that government-style development is a devil that walks backwards, drinks blood, feeds on corpses and fattens on millions of tonnes of bauxite and iron. It goes by multiple aliases: Essar, Vedanta, Posco. Like its cross-cousin democracy, development is widely believed to be a rumour to keep rural masses in a hysteric state.
And perhaps, like your home minister, you take pride in being a patriot, unaware of the atrocities of your army in Kashmir and the Northeast and Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and far-flung African countries. You are blase about how your tax money ends up being used for mindless militarisation projects. Since “our republic cannot bear the stain of killing her own children” (as the Supreme Court observed in the fake encounter case of Maoist spokesperson Azad), the state has efficiently come up with an arrangement of convenience in which the children pay for each other’s bullets. The republic remains stainless and squeaky clean. You end up with blood on your hands. Perhaps you sponsored the bullets that killed seven Dalits in a police firing at Paramakudi last month.
Unrest simmers all over society, but as you are extremely busy hanging out in some shopping mall, you have no time to tell your government to behave. How can you talk to power when you do not teach yourself the truth? You do not know who or where the dam-displaced are. You have never shed tears for the victims of Operation Green Hunt. You do not bother to know that hundreds of Tamil fishermen from your country were shot dead by the Sri Lanka navy even as the Indian coast guard roamed the seas. You know next to nothing about India’s flawed foreign policy, not even the fact that your government supplied arms and strategic advice as it actively colluded in the genocide of one hundred thousand Tamils in Sri Lanka in May 2009. You buy the lie that everyone who died in Mullivaikkal was a Tiger and a terrorist. Why, even the discovery of more than two thousand bullet-ridden bodies of Kashmiri youth in mass graves does not drive you to despair.
Would you care to understand the pressing need for plebiscite in Kashmir, or the separate statehood for Tamils in Eelam? You have no sympathy for states that seek to break away. You are taught to think that Telangana spells trouble. In your limited worldview, secession is a swear word, self-determination is suicide.
A self-anointed crusader against corruption, your militant attire is Fabindia, your deadliest weapon candle-light.
And because you are impatient, you are in no mood to hear the stories of these struggles. You cannot make up your mind, NDTV and cnn-ibn do that for you. Therefore, you bleed before every heart-breaking, hair-splitting reality show and news bulletin. You cheer for Anna Hazare and glorify every Gandhian impostor. You are a self-anointed crusader against corruption. Your militant attire is Fabindia chic. Your deadliest weapon is candle-light. Your agenda is available online. You want to bring back the black money your politicians made, but you lack the guts to permanently put them out of business. Your soft-pedalling will ensure that you are saved. So, you will never share the fate of anti-mining activists killed in fake encounters. You will never be forced to disappear. You will never be a half-widow. You will never be killed in a police firing because your stylised protest will never provoke the state. You will never be tortured, raped, maimed or murdered in custody because you will never stand up for the bloody things that count. You will never realise what it means to pay with your life. Your craving for safety is the curse on your country.
You are seen only in stage-managed shows where you are called upon to exhibit sound and fury like a fashionable scarecrow. Caught up in consumer culture, you don’t care to educate, agitate, organise. You leave it to the corporates to choreograph your consensual dissent. There is Team Anna’s dream merchandise, and for every metro, a franchise to rerun the same lacklustre demonstrations. When will you learn to attack a system in order to alter its agenda? When will your protest be proof of your pent-up anger? Will you come up with an activism that cannot be appropriated? No other country awaits a revolution as eagerly as ours, no other country needs one as desperately either. This revolution is not somebody else’s business. Where is your characteristic killing rage? Where is mine, for that matter?
I writhe in guilt as I write to you. My searing anger at you is merely an exercise in self-flagellation; I lay no claim to a moral high ground. Sometimes, I am afraid that I am you. My dreams explode but my callousness kills me. I see in you every weakness that shows up in me. I write to you because I believe that you could be the stronger one. Perhaps you will heed the call to arms, some day you will don combat gear. Some day you will step out of your selfish skin and speak up for the people. Some day you will wage war against every injustice and uproot every oppression. Some day your sacrifice will set us free.
Out of habit, don’t look for the ‘Like’ button as you finish reading this. Look for liberation. Learn to fight.
(Kandasamy is a poet and activist)