Our school books carried a mantra on the very first page, ‘India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and my sisters. I love my country. I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.’ A mantra that led us to believe in earnest that indeed all Indians—Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh—are our brothers and sisters.
I wonder now, will secularism soon become a dirty word in India? It’s frightening how by saying something crass loud enough and often enough, a small coterie can succeed in drowning out all sane voices just by virtue of their bombast and by tedious repetition. It happened in Nazi Germany. Repeating a lie often enough can change the discourse, obliterate the truth. Till you are left confused and stunned by the new reality. The new manufactured truth. Noam Chomsky talked about ‘manufacturing consent’ or media and market forces combining to successfully change the truth. This seems to be happening in the secularism-communalism debate.
I’m referring, of course, to the divisive forces seeking to drown out the reasonable ones by calling them anti-Hindu. With a name like mine, I wondered if I would be taken seriously as a writer, fighting with mere words, a quixotic battle for India’s future. For our children and grandchildren and future generations. Often enough I’ve had abuse thrown at me on my regular blog, of the ‘go back to Rome’ variety.
I’m not merely outraged and angry. I’m livid. I have never felt like a minority in India. Never felt the need to cry foul. Never been remotely interested in fleeing to the West for ‘better opportunities’ as was the trend from the ’70s onwards. Yet when some rabid politician asks me and ‘my sort’ to go to Pakistan or Rome, it’s time to talk back. I’m not good in a shouting match. But at least I can write.
My children grew up in an extended Hindu family. My grandfather was a Kurup from Kozhikode. But do I need, at this point, to wave these credentials in order to be listened to? I hope not. We, India’s Christians and Muslims, Parsis and Jains, Jews and Sikhs, are but a minuscule percentage of the vast population of like-minded Hindus, who have voted out the BJP. And yes, let’s say it out loud, the alliance of bullies, who, emboldened by a perceived electoral victory, are crawling out once again, to threaten to evict Muslims from their homes or deport all dissenters to Pakistan. Note, not dissenters to the Constitution or the law of the land—but dissenters to one man—Modi! Only Hindutva forces, to me the antithesis of pure Hinduism, are allowed to stay. So all the Hindus who don’t agree with Modi, the RSS, the BJP and the Hindutva they propound are advised to pack up and get ready to leave.
So the hate-fest being created is not Hindus versus the rest. It’s the hate-mongers out to destroy India, versus all the others. I find it difficult to understand how the ‘modern’ corporate crowd can support the idea of India being turned into a semi- banana republic with a despot-like PM. Even BJP supporters were shocked at the cold-blooded political decimation of party founders L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh. Would the NRI gang now sending billions to fund presidential-type Modi posters and jingoistic newspaper and TV ads like this image of India to go global? Would they like their colleagues in the US and UK to know we have a country ruled by politicians who tell minorities to go to Pakistan or Rome? Really? Because that’s the rhetoric repeated by Hindutva fanatics many times over. Would they like that treatment back home in America or Britain, where their cries of racism are immediately taken up because they are an ethnic minority? With rights?
The simple fact is, the British ruled India for 200 years and, with all the power of the Empire behind them, they did not succeed in converting more than 2 per cent of the population to Christianity. I abhor conversion. I believe each religion has its own truth and genius. But is conversion really a threat, given the actual figures? That 265-plus years after the British arrived on our shores, there are only 2 per cent Christians in the country?
I’m a minority like every person who reads this article by virtue of the fact that I’m a woman writer with a college degree. That makes you, the reader of this article, and me a minority in our largely underprivileged, non-literate population. I’ve spent decades writing about Adivasis and Dalits. About the effects of poverty and human rights. So illusory growth in mere numbers does not impress me as much as literacy, elimination of malnutrition and dissolution of all forms of discrimination.
So let’s talk development numbers. The internet is aflame with Modi claims and the Gujarat model of development. His constituency are the twitterati, the FB and the IT people.
They flaunt Gujarati highways. Just like German autobahns. But I noticed the same trend a decade ago in Hyderabad when head honchos Bill Gates and Clinton were due to visit Cyberabad. Some kilometres away, I reported the biggest dry latrine I had ever seen in nearby Anantapur as well as around most major Andhra cities. Spend billions on roads to impress foreign investors and allow your poorest women to sweep rivers of liquid shit. Manual scavenging is alive in Gujarat and well, even as I write this. But why waste time on poverty, Dalits or Adivasis as long as you have the largest statues in the world, the best roads and concrete and glass skyscrapers to show foreign investors you can outshine Singapore or Dubai?
The PR showcases the ideal development model. The social indicators contradict this. The facts are, before Modi became CM of Gujarat, all but 170 villages were already electrified. Yet the billions spent on PR flaunt the lie that Modi electrified the state. Gujarat is 11th in terms of Human Development Index, 12th in infant mortality rate; 15th on the poverty scale; 13th on the hunger index; 12th in terms of the under-5 mortality rate; 19th in terms of underweight children; 13th in literacy, and two-thirds of rural people defecate in the open.
Gujarat is the third most indebted state in the country, with its debt being Rs 1,85,310 crore, having tripled under Modi. I shudder to think what will happen to India if our debt soars, leaving the poor behind, while the economy supposedly gallops ahead? Bankers do the math, please. And let us know.
Bihar and Maharashtra lack Gujarati business acumen, that ‘historical base’, the famous trading skills that made local cornershops in Britain a Patel preserve. Or the famed Patel motels in the US. Yet these states are reportedly progressing faster than Gujarat. They just don’t have millions put aside for a good PR job.
So I will put my faith in majority India. In Hindu India which provided sanctuary to persecuted Christians, Jews, Armenians, Chinese, Parsis and all others. Where all of us coexist peacefully without hate, celebrating each other’s festivals and holidays. Praying in temples, mosques and churches. And hope that this majority, the genuinely Hindu India, the India I love and claim as my own, will preserve the dream that our founding parents, the men and women who fought for freedom and opted for a secular Constitution, so that people like me could be born and nurtured in a healthy, powerful multi-cultural homeland. I reiterate. This is my home. I will not be driven out of it by fundamentalist forces.
Mari Marcel Thekaekara is a writer on social justice issues and the author of Endless Filth