Behold, a new baby! Pushing its way through tubes blocked by national apathy. Bumping against a diseased uterus overgrown with tumours from the colonial past. And breaking free of the umbilical cord of antiquated legalism. What is the name of the Indian baby born in 2006? The baby is named Citizen 2006. And she has come to new life this past year.
Her parents, satyagraha and freedom struggle, lived lives of terrible hardship. They faced the bullets and lathis of colonial rule. They marched and fasted for freedom. Citizen 2006 comes into a more comfortable country. She has been born with two more powerful older siblings, technology and news media. Her siblings hold her hand and help her toddle to her feet. Yet Citizen 2006 has also been born into a divided country.
This year in Maharashtra, the Dalit poor attacked the Deccan Queen as a symbol of a train on which they can never travel. The
Rajindar Sachar report showed the agony of Muslims forced every day to display their patriotism to a suspicious, scornful system. The war over the
27 per cent OBC quotas was a shriek, now gathering force all over India: include us in the new prosperity. Citizen 2006 faces a troubled life. But she has defined an entire year by her existence.
2006 was the year of the Indian citizen. 2006 was the year of civic activism. Teachers, students, businessmen and IT workers came to India Gate to light candles for a murdered girl. The Justice for Jessica campaign was not a mass movement. The campaign did not broadbase into effective protests against every murdered victim. After all, Citizen 2006 is only a baby, still helpless and weak. But with tiny hands she lit a candle for
Jessica Lall. Her siblings stood at the ready. Technology and news media transformed Citizen 2006's tiny squeak into a roar. The judiciary heard.
2006 saw the formation of United Students, a group of Delhi University undergraduates and others who campaigned for justice for murdered
Priyadarshini Mattoo. This year five
IIT students formed their own political party, Paritrana. Paritrana has not yet won any votes, but one day, they say, they will. Youth For Equality was another group that formed to protest against the 27 per cent
OBC quotas. However controversial their aims, they too lit their own candle. Also this year, five students from IIM Ahmedabad decided they wanted to do their internships not with cutting-edge businesses in Manhattan, but with the Communist Party of India. Citizen 2006 may not have achieved very much. She's only a child yet.
When Priyanka Bhotmange was raped and killed in front of her own mother in Khairlanji village, when sharp rods were pushed into her vagina and her mother then brutally murdered, Citizen 2006 screamed and wept. She tugged at the sleeves of her older siblings, busy as they tend to be chasing their headlines and their breaking news. Citizen 2006 took to cyberspace. Khairlanji filled the
blogs. SMSes appeared from nowhere. Chain e-mails cut through press briefings. The siblings were galvanised. Once again the voice of Citizen 2006 spilled into the public space. Technology, a protective older sibling, kept sending Citizen 2006's conscience-filled wails into the ether.
Nor is Citizen 2006 only confined to the middle class. In Delhi, a vendor's market, Seva Nagar has been transformed by the efforts of Citizen 2006. Vendors and small shopkeepers have instituted their own goddess, goddess Swachchnarayani, who presides over an orderly and clean market with a broom in her hand. The magazine Manushi has helped Citizen 2006 of Seva Nagar to realise her dreams.
Two of the biggest Bollywood films this year have been paeans of praise for Citizen 2006. Both Rang de Basanti and Lage Raho Munna Bhai worshipped at the shrine of this tiny bundle of life. But perhaps it wouldn't do to romanticise Citizen 2006. As we know, she's only an infant. And perhaps she is too dependent on technology and news media. Perhaps she is an easy activist, not inclined to risk the heat and dust of street campaigns, content only to send out hate-filled e-mails from the armchair comfort of her own home.
Next year will bring a holy dawn. The Ardh Kumbh comes to Allahabad and once again our magnificent river will become a bridge between life and death. No priests, no rituals, no deities mark the Kumbh Mela. This most unobtrusively grand gathering requires only a river and a pilgrim. Citizen 2006 is the little pilgrim who has come to the river of India, with nothing but faith. Bless you, little one, whispers the Ganga. Grow now. Grow into Citizen 2007.
(The writer is senior editor, CNN-IBN.)
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