Death of Secular and Democratic India

  0 comments   |     by Swapna Gopinath

Ayodhya Verdict unravels a new sensibility and a distinctly different social reality, in several diverse ways. One aspect to be mentioned here is the extraordinary rush of appeals for peace in the country. With large battalions of police force deployed throughout the nation, the government and mass media and the social media sent out appeals again and again. The verdict was pronounced and of course, peace prevailed. But the sense of dread has grown phenomenally. The silences are scary especially when the prime minister himself responds to the verdict, when he had remained silent on numerous occasions of national importance. India has always been walking on thin ice: a fragile democracy kept in place by several institutions intended to help each other uphold the values of democracy. The challenges were manifold: the plurality of religious identities being a prominent one. The economic backwardness faced by every colonial nation added to the woe. Another major hurdle was the widespread illiteracy; of course, democracy requires a basic civil sense and understanding of human rights about which the illiterate Indian had little knowledge. Yet the country stayed strong, though the period of Emergency did unsettle it slightly, the voices of resistance were strong and powerful. Indian Express dared to carry a blank editorial page as a protest against the gagging of press. Leaders were jailed but the protests gained in momentum and Indira Gandhi had to bite dust in the next elections. As the country moved towards adopting a neoliberal economy, shifts in paradigms, social and cultural, were bound to happen. As the waves of globalization swept through the nation, and the markets got crowded with commodities, social sensibilities too began to evolve. The new India was slowly gaining traction and the old India died a natural death.

The new India is a scary one: neoliberal norms have eased the new Indian into a world where the individual is of supreme importance, her identity is defined by the market: collectives and communities no longer matter. The fiercely competitive society demands from the individual huge sacrifices, and in return gets pulled into the affective world of commodities and desires. This individual finds herself increasingly isolated, yet competing with others, on an imaginary journey towards success. The thought processes of this individual are quite complex, and the losing significance of communities, and the nation as a welfare-state add to the woe of the post-global Indian. She sees the inequality, she lives through the frustration of unfulfilled desires and provides the perfect ground for forces of Hindutva to grow undeterred. For the millions of middleclass, urban Indians, Hindutva is the magic potion that can change their world. From the feeling of helplessness to a state of being powerful and arrogant, the Hindu happily devours the stories of othering and marginalization where the Muslim and the Dalit emerge as targets. Hate works well in the mind of the person who feels she is a loser in the world of the superrich whose visibility is extremely high, with the media capturing their moments of glory and luxury.  For the rural poor, Hindutva again proves to be a powerful tool, empowering them through the violent power over the others. Mob lynching and moral policing is hailed by the rightwing forces, the criminals involved in these extreme acts of violence are honoured, thus validating such acts of violence. The recent verdict sealed the deal in favour of Hindutva, a militant political Hindu identity that is distinctly different from Hinduism as a religion. The verdict was not a surprise for many, since the country has been witnessing partisan rulings and verdicts at all levels of administrative and judicial interventions.

Why is this death knell for democracy in India?

  1. The silence of the majority in issues of grave importance, especially when the victims are Muslims or Dalits or other minorities. The secular principles upheld in the constitution are no longer a viable option by a large section of Indian society as is witnessed through the terrifying silence.
  2. The acceptance of the verdict by the Muslims has been very stoic. In a democracy that carefully considered the minorities through constitutional provisions thought out and executed so brilliantly, this stance of the Muslim community is a sign of the fear and insecurity that threatens them as a community.
  3. The many voices, arrogant and powerful that are plain threats against the minorities. When political leaders speak with such wantonness the atmosphere of fear and suspicion gets stronger day by day.
  4. Kashmir and now this verdict, along with the national registry, the target is quite clear. Such targeting of minorities cuts the very lifeline of democratic principles so carefully enshrined in the constitution. While the first term of office of BJP did not witness such major revamp of the nation’s identity, the second term threatens to turn the nation into a totalitarian regime with minorities silenced and voices of dissent attacked or ignored.
  5. Aiding the forces of Hindutva is the media that thrives on money and corporate support. Media, unlike in the times of crisis during Emergency, prefers to support the forces of divisiveness and hatred. Since the autonomy of the mass media is severely curtailed through the processes of production that require huge investments, we see them as lapdogs to the powers of authority and arrogance.

India is in a crisis; and Indians, a huge majority of them, refuse to comprehend this reality. The mass mediated images of an invincible leader who can lead the nation to great heights have percolated into the society and offers the illusion of hope to millions who feel abandoned and helpless against the onslaught of the neoliberal market; as consumers and as producers. This sense of impotency acts as the fertile ground to a toxic masculine Hindutva agenda that is set to destroy the secular and democratic structure of India.

Swapna Gopinath is a Fulbright fellow at the University of Rochester, New York and actively observes and responds to political and cultural changes in India. Her area of research falls under Cultural Studies and Visual Culture

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