Like most Indians whose life is also a moral quest, I am heartbroken by the terrible destruction in Delhi which began in February 2020 and is still ongoing.
Not that I am surprised. We are the unfortunate generation which witnessed not just the triumph of evil, but also the silence of the good. We knew where this was all headed.
But what leaves me despondent now is that this is no ordinary riot. It is less fixed on killing people than killing neighbourliness. That undermines the very basis of social life.
All of us are tied to the religious communities we were born and raised in; with the caste identities ascribed to us. We have no choice; we can leave only through conversion. And many of us are silently resigned to these as primary identities, more or less. But who among us will deny the fact that our living social space is indeed the neighbourhood? Who can deny the reality that when we are in need of help, we cry out to those in our near vicinity first?
Destroying such ties is the first step towards rendering all of us, Hindu, Muslim, whoever, helpless and vulnerable to the elites. And that is being done with ruthless precision.
All of us who cannot make peace with this evil are groping in the dark, sleepless and worn, trying to find a way of standing up to it, refusing its indignities.
I write from Kerala. That’s far away from Delhi, many think, and a haven of peace. That is false; it is just that the infection is taking time to manifest. Yet there is a legacy – not of real conviviality between human beings, but of a dream of it, given to us by the seer and thinker Sreenarayana Guru, in the early twentieth century.
The Guru is known as a reformer of Hinduism. But that is an understatement. He, rather, gathered together resources from the diverse sources we now bundle together as ‘Hindu’ to cut open a path out of the terrible labyrinth people were caught in during his time: that of the caste order –janma-bhedam in Malayalam, according to which people were placed in hierarchies determined by their birth. This path, however, did not necessarily lead one into other labyrinths, such as that of nationalism. The Guru’s path led one into spiritual self-awakening, towards a self capable of refusing the seductions of safe abodes — of caste-communities, nations, races. Thus it is a tragedy that his legacy is now buried in the clamour of a thousand claimants, all of who seem determined to violate it for their ends.
To get back to neighbourliness: perhaps it can be claimed that the neighbourhood is the prime social space implied — as something to be actualised by human spiritual self-awakening in the future — by the Great Opening made possible by Sreenarayana Guru. As Malayalis woke to the Guru’s message to various degrees, so did neighborliness become an important value among them. Neighbourhoods in Kerala were mixed, and though we now see exclusive housing projects for ‘true’ Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, they are still mostly mixed. This is something we need to protect.
How then to resist hate and evil that destroys the very basis of human conviviality? That is what I wish to do in this writing.
It is true that we must resist all ways of marginalizing and excluding living beings, and surely that is the very aim of my life. But right now, we see that Muslims are being attacked at an unprecedented scale; they are being demonised in proportions that can only signal the beginning of their extermination, even. And it is through poisoning of the hearts of non-Muslims that the consent for this is achieved. What can we do to resist this?
The moment I say this, the progressive person sometimes responds — ‘oh, but Muslim communalism is equally bad … To this person I say — the issue is no longer that of Muslim communalism; it is about whether Muslims have the rights to have rights, even whether they may stay alive or not. Perhaps we must introspect about the instant derision felt towards the burqa, and the relative ease at the sight of the mundum-veshty or the sari.
When I say ‘we’, I am obviously referring to the non-Hindus, specifically, upper- or middle-caste-born people – including the middle-class ezhava of Kerala – with some privilege.
Too much of such resistance takes aim at the people who are overwhelmed by the evil and not the evil itself. I am sick and tired of ‘progressive’ responses that respond to evil in the same coin. That leads only to a deepening of distrust and dislike. On both sides, anger and hatred keep winning.
Such divisive exchanges are easy when it is in public, against people we do not know. But the rot runs in our most intimate spaces, in families, among old friends’ circles. Many of us refrain from engaging with our relatives and friends who side with evil even as we write and speak against us in public.
In this space, among other things, I want to share my exchanges with members of my family who are supporters of the deepening evil, who justify their vilest deeds. I dream about conviviality — which refers to happy sharing of pleasure and bonhomie, the relaxed state when we let down our guard to welcome the other. It is not merely the minimal tolerance of the other.
I want to connect with other wimmin (I love this term, its cheekiness, its inclusivity) who do the same, and perhaps if I find other such friends, we can find ways of working together to speak up against Islamophobia and all other phobias directed against marginalized people of different kinds.