“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” -Marcus Aurelius Marcus Aurelius was a stoic and a man of great wisdom; very unusual in a ruler. So, I present my musings to you as something from my perspective and not “The Truth”. As I reflect on our world, someone sent me a speech made by a 13-year-old young lady, Severn Suzuki at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, in 3-14 June, 1992, now 25 years ago. The speech that silenced the audience (they say ‘world’ but let’s get real) for 5 minutes. Today, 25 years later, when the situation of the world is far worse than what Severn Suzuki described so eloquently, Americans elected Trump who walked out of the Paris Conference in 2017. I wonder where Severn Suzuki is today and what she feels about it. So, what does it tell us about those we have chosen to hand over our future to? I sometimes wonder what future archaeologists will say when they dig up the mound under which our ‘civilization’ (for want of another word) will lie buried. Will they not wonder how we, who prided ourselves on our scientific knowledge, technological advancement, material resources and high-class education, still managed to elect leaders who ensured that we and all that we hold dear was destroyed? We did this while knowing full well what we needed to do to stop this destruction and save ourselves. We chose not to save ourselves but committed suicide. Ask why? Today we need drastic and urgent change. For this we need strong leadership with the ability to enforce compliance. Initially enforcement will be necessary. Then and only then can we expect change. The big problem with such leaders however, is that they tend to become dictatorial, don’t allow a second line of command to develop and so when they die or are removed, they leave a vacuum which brings with it chaos. Malaysia after Mahathir is a good example. Singapore is a good example of how the strong leadership continued because the second line developed was Lee’s son. Mercifully he didn’t go the way of the sons of other leaders and seems to be a conscientious and prudent ruler. The Middle East has many examples of the opposite some of whom are causing havoc as we speak, threatening to land us all into some very hot water. Bottom line is that democracy as it is supposed to be in theory, seems to be unrealistic and doesn’t work and degenerates into a self-serving oligarchy without any sense of responsibility to the common people. That’s what’s happened in every single situation today, globally. I doubt that democracy was an experiment at all. Either it was always a way for oligarchy to get legitimacy or an idealistic dream of theorists which was hijacked Social media is a tool of subjugation designed to take the steam out of resistance by giving people a way to express their angst in a way that doesn’t disturb the establishment and doesn’t inconvenience them at all. It has two additional advantages: identifies potential rebel leadership early to be dealt with quietly and gives the world the message that you’re liberal and confident
Take the case of India and the ongoing social strife, brought to the forefront with the many lynchings of Muslims and Dalits for allegedly eating beef. The fact that they didn’t eat it, is neither here nor there. Neither does it matter that even if they did, death is not the penalty for this “crime” in Indian Law.
My question here is not about Hindu sentiment at all but about the very visible failure of governance. And the fact that even those who have sworn to uphold the Constitution of India and the Law of the Land seem to have bought into the discourse of Hindu sentiment. What does Hindu sentiment or Muslim sentiment or any sentiment have to do with the laws that govern this country and those who have sworn to uphold them? That is why I don’t hold the government responsible for the lynchings but for what happened (or fails to happen) thereafter. We have a law and those who are sworn to uphold, implement and if necessary enforce it. The law is for the safety of the nation and all its citizens and what anyone’s sentiments are about it, is immaterial.
We are told that Hinduism is a peaceful religion (aren’t they all?) and that Hindus have always lived peacefully with mutual respect and tolerance with all other religions. I would love to believe that, but I am faced rather inconveniently, with history. History tells us about the fate of Buddhism which predated Islam and Christianity by many centuries. Its rooting out from the land of its birth is testimony to Hindu (more correctly Brahmanical) tolerance for other faiths.
Islam came much later and when Muslim kings ruled, Hindus didn’t live with Muslims but under Muslim rule. Indeed, they lived peacefully. Did they have a choice? Muslim rulers were rulers first and Muslim much later, so they didn’t disturb the status quo and casteism continued and conversions happened more by those who saw a political advantage than anything else. That is why after 700 years of Muslim rule Hindus are 80% of the population. No Muslim ruler in all those centuries can be accused of trying to spread Islam. Islam spread with the Sufis, not rulers. That is why in 700 years, there are only two major Masaajid built by Muslim rulers (both by the same man) and not a single religious school or seminary. Muslim rulers were in it for the money, land and power and they were aided and abetted by Hindu rulers and upper castes (both Brahmins and Kshatriyas) who prayed for the success of Muslim armies commanded by Rajput and Maratha generals and populated by Rajput and Maratha troops provided by Rajput and Maratha Mansabdars. This is a part of history that is inconvenient and embarrassing to recall, but history it is. Christianity came in force with the British and once again Hindus lived under Christian rule, not with Christians. Muslims at least integrated with Hindus to some extent (Muslim kings had Hindu queens etc.) but the British treated all Indians, Hindu and Muslim with equal disdain. 1857 was the watershed (‘bloodshed’ would be a better, more descriptive term to use) a popular rebellion against a century of brutal British rule by one commercial company (Robert Clive was Country Manager, in today’s MNC terms). The rebellion however, was sabotaged and the British were able to defeat the rebel forces thanks to the excellent intelligence and material support of the Baniyas of Delhi and the military support of the Sikh rajas of Punjab. As a result, over a million Hindu and Muslim rebels were murdered and India was handed over to the British to rule and despoil for another century. The 80-year-old king of Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s sons and grandsons slaughtered and left to rot in the street for 3 days and himself exiled to Burma, never to return to his homeland. Again, a very embarrassing period of history. Bahadur Shah Zafar asked the only pertinent question when he was hauled up before the British kangaroo court accused of treason. He asked, “How can I commit treason against myself? This is my country. Not the country of the Company Sahib.” But of course, the Company Sahib (respectful form of address for the British East India Company) was not interested in any soul searching. (William Dalrymple’s excellent book, The Last Moghul is salutary reading). In all these centuries two facts are clear:
- India was never one nation until 1947
- Indians never saw themselves as ‘Indian’ until the years leading to Independence
Up until then, India was a conglomeration of nation states living in fear of one another and willing to side with any outsider against their own brethren. This is what enabled the very first invasions by Pathans and later by Moghuls (the First Battle of Panipat was fought between Babur and Sher Shah Suri – Pathan versus Moghul helped by Hindus on both sides). Rani of Jhansi, Razia Sultana, Tipu Sultan, Shuja ud Dowla, the Mopla Rebellion and many others were all defeated by Indian troops commanded by British officers. Jalianwala Bagh massacre was done by Indian soldiers firing into an unarmed Indian gathering on the command of General Dyer. This sentiment was also exploited by the British, most significantly in 1857 when they were able to pit Indian against Indian for the simple reason that neither saw himself as ‘Indian’. It was this sentiment which kept us subjugated for centuries and which once again threatens to subjugate us today. I think we need to ask why. As they say, ‘Nations that don’t learn from their history are condemned to repeat it.’ We have many problems today as a nation, but the most volatile and lethal of them is narrow-mindedness masquerading as nationalism that is threatening to disenfranchise everyone except those who subscribe to it. I want to stand up and say that I don’t subscribe to it and that I am a proud Indian who loves my country and am willing to do what it takes to save it from self-destruction. I don’t need anyone’s certificate to confirm my Indian-ness and neither do you. The reality is that India as one nation, is a phenomenon since 1947 when for the first time this country has been truly independent and a unified territory governed by its Constitution. It is a tribute to the creators of the Constitution, the vast majority of whom were Hindu and could have created a Hindu Rashtra in 1947 (the main grudge of the RSS) that they didn’t fall into the jingoistic ideology on which Pakistan was created and instead wrote a Constitution which is a mark of pride for us Indians, as a document that treats all citizens equally. If you ask me, I don’t care one way or another whether India becomes a Hindu Rashtra or not, as long as people’s freedom and safety is assured and equal opportunity to live and prosper is not compromised. Nobody can stop me from worshiping who I want to or from practicing my religion. And so, whether the country is Hindu or Christian or Sikh or Muslim or nothing makes no difference to me as long as I am able to live peacefully and comfortably, with dignity and equality in every way. The Constituent Assembly wrote the Indian Constitution which made us a Constitutional Democracy (not a Parliamentary Democracy) and declared India to be a “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty, and endeavours to promote fraternity among them.”This is what we accepted, this is what we stand for, this is our identity, because it is written in our name, ‘We the People of India.’ The Indian Constitution is the real savior of this nation because of its interpretation of the term ‘secular’. Unlike in Europe, ‘secular’ in India, doesn’t mean ‘absence of religion’ but ‘equal respect for all religions’ and by inference and even more specifically later, the wiping out of caste discrimination. It is this that makes us one nation. It is a wonder for many ethnologists, sociologists and political scientists, how India can be one nation, given our huge diversity of language, religion, ethnicity and culture. Yet we are and our concept of secularism is the secret. Without it, we will fracture once again into groups and subgroups as we have always been in our long history. The big cause for alarm today is that this seems to have been forgotten by those who swore to uphold the Constitution and they are also speaking the language of Hindu sentiment etc. Whether we should have a Hindu Rashtra or not is a moot point. Whether we should respect our Constitution or not and uphold it, is not.