Many Ways to be an Ostrich – Why we should give them up

Since about a week, I have been trying to write to and speak up many people who I thought would be interested in an offline campaign against localized and intimate forms of islamophobia. It taught me many things.

First, it made me seen, again, that many better-off Hindu Malayalis — progressives — are in denial. They know all the facts but somehow still believe that the terrible social rot that has beset north India will not affect us. I think that this is not just dishonesty and laziness, but also a reaction to the unending flow of bad news which activates psychological defences which lead to denial.

All the more reason, I’d say, to start an offline campaign against islamophobia in Kerala, one that is positive, enabling, warm. I mean, too many anti-islamophobia voices may be provoking just the opposite of what we wish to achieve: their angry attacks (justified, no doubt, but still) may be producing exactly the opposite of what they want to achieve. The general rise of anger and violence all around is probably pushing more and more people, especially those of us who are Hindu but are terrified and heartbroken by what Hindutva has done to us, into psychological denial. If so, a campaign that lays emphasis on love, sharing, trust, and working together with demonized people is exactly the cure that we need.

So, friends, all of you who are quiet, who look away when I pass, please leave behind your fear; please break out of the shell of denial.

Secondly, there are many who asked me if we should not oppose all forms of religious violence and bigotry. Yes, I say to them, but then do not forget that violence and bigotry have no religion, they are as much at home with nationalisms as they are with religious faiths. But even more importantly, I am trying to attract our attention to a very specific community being threatened with extermination — can we attend to that first? Should we not do that? If you are drowning and someone on the shore is calling for help, what if the people on the bank tell them, ‘oh, but we ought to save all people who are drowning!’, how would that sound? I think you who are drowning should be first rescued and then we can and should surely see how all people drowning can be rescued and how it can be prevented in the first place.

Those who advance this argument — I can see that many of you are agnostics who find all religion ultimately unfair and distasteful — but we are talking here of standing with living people, not abstract faiths. Can we become human enough to see that just because someone is an ardent believer, they do not cease to be human like us? Can we, for some time, stop thinking of our own insecurities about religion and its potential menace, and focus on real people, can we stop being scared of ALL believers? Really, everything hangs on whether you can come out of this bubble of disbelief or not.

Thirdly, many were sceptical because they thought that I was trying to initiate (1) a rational dialogue with the Hindutva supporters or (2) tell people the ‘truth’ about Muslims, that they were peace-loving citizens of the nation.

I must clarify to you that I am doing neither. I think the ability of rationalism to influence people’s opinions is highly overrated; I also feel that we live in times in which the meaning of the word ‘dialogue’ has collapsed into polarising debate, which only exacerbates the differences.

Rather, I dream of building a large community of people who will openly, unambiguously, non-belligerently, insistently, courageously, declare their determination to offer love, support, and friendship to our brethren who the Hindutva evil threatens.

A community that develops a thousand creative ways in which we keep on expressing it, in and through language, literature, art, public speech, organizing, socialising, teaching, and building relationships.

A community that will be willing to throw itself nonviolently before evil when it seeks to harm our brethren. One that will rebuild and reinforce neighbourliness through a thousand everyday gestures of goodwill and bonhomie.

Yes, I am indeed trying to reach out to Hindutva supporters, but not to offer new facts or theories. I am trying to see if we can develop ways of reviving their deadened imaginations and moral sensibilities. Rational dialogue, I am afraid, cannot achieve that. I think we need to talk — not just among us, which is what we are all doing mostly. We need to rather turn towards them – the supporters of Hindtuva in our circles — enter the intimate spaces of social media groups, Whatsapp collectives and so on and keep speaking against violence, keep refusing indifference, keep crying out against evil, invoking the traditions of critique, compassion, and justice that are very much part of the Indian tradition. This may annoy them and there may be attacks on us, but we must persist and be relentless. Evil needs tremendous energy to sustain itself inside individuals, and we must wear it out.

As for revealing the ‘truth’ of Muslims, that would be the worst condescension ever. I am sure we all see by now that no matter how Muslims may change, they will still be targeted by the Hindutva evil. It is really not a matter of Hindutva-infected people not knowing the ‘truth’ about Muslims, it is a matter of curing them of their own insecurities, the stunting of their moral sensibilities.

We have to stop behaving like ostriches with their heads in the sand. The desert is becoming hotter than ever before and our faces are going to be scorched too.

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