Reverse Swing: Normal Kashmir, Abnormal India
We are encountering unprecedented levels of abnormality in India.
It is more than 150 days now and – hooray - everything is normal in Kashmir. There might not be another government anywhere in the world that has managed to keep one section of people ‘normal’ for so long. No freedom, no communication, no volition, no self-determination, no political self-expression, no right to assemble, no schools, no trade, no free press, no free entry for Indian politicians, no internet, no democracy, no constitution – it is a level of normality unheard of in our times.
If only our beloved government had shown the sagacity to apply the above standards of normality to the rest of the country – for, in every other region, what we seem to be encountering now are unprecedented levels of abnormality.
It is astounding – Kashmir is normal but, by the same token, India is entirely abnormal.
To begin with, an abnormal leadership. We have a PM who displays a scale of imperiousness that can be lethal for an elected representative. There is a Home Minister who, is severely testing not only the Constitution but also the durability of the National Motto, ‘Satyameva Jayate’. We have a Foreign Minister who comes across as one to whom basic humility seems foreign. There is a Finance Minister who seems to be permanently tying herself up in knots with the contradictions within her own fiscal policies. There is a Culture Minister who finds it difficult to reconcile his statements with the name of his ministry. There are ministers for Railways and Roadways who are constantly traveling by air. There is a Defence Minister who has been rendered redundant by the new Chief of Defence Staff. Everything seems abnormal in this Cabinet, so comprehensively micro-managed by the PMO and the National Security Adviser.
Then there is the pervasive abnormality of our daily life. The long march by workers and farmers; all-India bandhs; prices of petrol and onions; debacles in the economy; ballooning joblessness; masked goons who can romp through universities and, perhaps, even our homes and carry out murderous assaults with full police protection; fear generated archaeological expeditions in families to dig out birth certs of fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers [by the way, what happens if only my great grandmother thought it fit to embed her birth cert in a palm-leaf parchment and tuck it away in a locker in the Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank, which I can no longer access?]; the psychological trauma of figuring out whether you are a ‘citizen’ or ‘refugee’ or ‘immigrant’ or ‘victimised minority’ from a neighbouring country bound to become a ‘victimised majority’ once domiciled in this country; the sheer anxiety when you begin drawing a kolam in front of your house, lest English alphabets like CAA or NRC don’t get mixed up with the rice flour; the absolute terror of having to avoid getting beaten up and your head split open or your limbs broken for, then, it is you who is going to be booked for the crime of injuring yourself; the brain-churning one has to do regarding what to wear before stepping out of the house, lest one be ‘recognized’ by one’s clothes as a certified ‘desh-drohi’; the sheer outrage of being besieged by a mob for hanging anti-CAA banners from your balcony and then being evicted from the flat by your landlord, as Surya Rajappan and her flatmate were subject to – the abnormality just keeps on piling up.
Then there is the abnormality of clichés, canards and catechisms being bombarded at you from the strangest of sources. Charlatans desperately trying to look venerable tell you that students should come to universities only to study and not to do politics. But they conveniently forget to tell us what a body of student storm-troopers like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad is doing in our universities? Why not, as a gesture of good faith, disband the ABVP first, considering they are too embarrassed to even show their faces and prowl about with masks and hoods. These kids too should only be carrying books and laptops and not iron rods and machetes.
You have the abnormality of the PM accusing the opposition Congress of wanting to give all Pakistanis refuge in India. A bit rich, considering it is actually the BJP/RSS project that dreams of ‘reclaiming’ Pakistani territory and making the people there second-class denizens of ‘Akhand Bharat’. In a classic example of inverse thinking, the PM seems to be accusing the Congress of something he himself is preoccupied with.
Then you have the absurd spectacle of a ‘sadguru’, living in the lap of luxury, describing the CAA as ‘too little compassion coming too late’, whatever that means. This self-styled ‘guru’ lives in a country where some 600 million people go hungry to bed without his own compassion permitting him to be troubled by it. You don’t want to help destitute Muslims, Christians, Dalits – OK, we can keep that aside. A rough, thumb-rule calculation will show that, among the destitute in India, maybe 150 million are Muslim, 100 million are Dalits and 50 million are Christian. That still leaves 300 million who are caste Hindus. How come you tailor your compassion for the 15-20 million Hindus of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, while invisiblising the lives of 300 million Hindus living in abject poverty and deprivation right under your own nose and preach a brand of ‘citizenship’ that will marginalise and disenfranchise even more millions? This can only be spiritualism at its abnormal best.
In the face of such a situation, so consistently abnormal, what should the average Indian do for relief? Obviously, we should all aspire for ‘Kashmirhood’. As the only ‘normal’ corner of the sub-continent, becoming like Kashmir should be our natural aspiration. That newly constituted Union Territory may have suffered a season of rotten apples, but it has certainly ripened our democracy to new levels of brutality and suppression of dissent.
No wonder, across university campuses, the new slogan – learnt, of course, from Kashmir – is ‘Azaadi’. It’s the only ‘normal’ way to be in our times.