(Pic courtesy sify.com)
A few months ago, on a Facebook thread, I read a few comments against North-Eastern women, about North-Eastern people and their irrelevance to India, to a city like Bangalore. I was teaching at that time in a college and many of my students were North-Eastern, some of whom had already shared their angst with me about being targetted unfairly by landlords, by men who thought they were ‘easy’ because of the way they looked or dressed and then there had been the murder of Richard Loitam in a college hostel. Knowing some of the faces behind these stories had made me respond to the disparaging comments with some emotion even though I did not know the person who was making them. I learnt soon though that the person in question was “politically” connected and had been asking about me, where I worked and what my phone number was and that I should be “careful.” Co-incidentally or otherwise, I began to receive crank calls almost immediately. And messages. The last one a few nights ago at 2:05 am. Everyone I told this story to said the same thing, “Be careful. You never know what may happen.”
The same phrase has been operative in India, a so-called functioning democracy from the time we first gained independence. The same fear of what may happen saw the exodus of Bihari and UP labourers from Punjab during terrorism. That made one of my clean shaven Sikh professors grow a beard in response to a terrorist diktat and made many sikhs leave Delhi for other states during and after the anti Sikh riots in 1984. That made the Kashmiri Pandits leave Kashmir and muslims leave Gujarat after the 2002 riots and North-Indians leave Mumbai in recent years and is now goading thousands of North-Eastern people to leave Bangalore. The same fear that in this country, you never really know what may happen. Because, you see the unthinkable happens again and again and again and no one does a thing about it. Not politicians. Not ordinary citizens who should stand up for each other but don’t. Not the law enforcers or the law makers to the extent that they can. At any given point of time, a rumour and a riot can be started, thousands of people can be uprooted from their jobs, their colleges, from a city they came to earn a livelihood for their families and a life for themselves, a whistle-blower can be killed, a woman who took on a bully on a virtual forum can be threatened. Anything and everything goes because that is how it is in our land where every citizen regardless of his or her gender, religion or region has the same rights. As we know, that is the biggest lie we have been telling ourselves for the last 65 years.
We are prisoners of fear, cowardice, prejudice, vote bank politics. I no longer teach but the sight of thousands of anxious faces thronging the railway station in a desperate bid to flee Bangalore reminded me of my students and made me wonder how many of them had left Bangalore without finishing their degree. The images reminded me of my mother who left Lahore with her family in a similar exodus during Partition. Till date,though she is 75 now, she dreams of being lost and never being able to find a home she can call her own. At a recent reading of my book that has a few references to her Partition experience, I shared how Partition had spawned mini Partitions one after the other in every part of India and yes, there will be a day when we will all be in a minority of one and then where will we hide and where will we run?
Would things be different if we stopped giving in to the ,”You never know what may happen,” psychosis.? If thousands of Bangaloreans had thronged the streets of Bangalore with their North-Eastern friends and made a statement of solidarity instead of waiting for the policemen and the politicians to make politically correct statements? If in every and any part of the country, in every situation and without fear, we stood up for each other? For a woman who is being eve-teased? For a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Kashmiri, North-Indian, South-Indian or any other minority of the day being targetted by the majority of the day? If instead of crouching in our skins, we peeped out and said, “I don’t care what happens to me. I won’t stand by and watch this happen to a neighbour, a friend, a stranger, a fellow human-being. Because tomorrow, those who are hounding others could come for me.”
Reema Moudgil is the author of Perfect Eight (http://www.flipkart.com/perfect-eight-9380032870/p/itmdf87fpkhszfkb?pid=9789380032870&_l=A0vO9n9FWsBsMJKAKw47rw–&_r=dyRavyz2qKxOF7Yuc