Society devoid of compassion

Our collective redemption lies in the acknowledgement of this sickness

Society devoid of compassion

OWN DOING: We do not need conspirators to defame the country; with our own deeds and practices, we are degrading ourselves. PTI

Avijit Pathak

Sociologist

We smell violence; we breathe violence; and we live amid the normalisation of violence in everyday life. You need not be a Marxist to see that the ruling regime feels tempted to use the coercive machinery of the state as it sees the seeds of some sort of anti-hegemonic resistance. It does not spare anybody. Today, the victim is a young climate activist from Bengaluru, or a doctor with conscience from Gorakhpur, or a university student from Delhi; and tomorrow, it can be you if you dare to look at the world differently from what the Establishment regards as ‘truth’. But then, it is difficult to separate the functioning of the State or the ruling regime from the way we are—our societal practices and our collective psyche. As ordinary citizens, we too need to look at ourselves, and enquire whether we have chosen to become the carriers of this violence.

Inflated ego of the leader, the arrogance of power, and we as non-critical spectators: what else do you need for writing the obituary of democracy?

Let us admit that ours is a terribly violent society. In fact, a culture that produced a text like ‘Manusmriti’ has not yet come out from the violence implicit in the discourse of patriarchal Brahminism. Is it that many of us are still carrying a consciousness that hierarchises, excludes and brutalises the ‘other’? Or for that matter, is it that, despite the trauma of Partition and communal hatred, we have not yet come out of the pathology of a consciousness that robs religion of the religiosity of love, spreads poison, negates the aesthetics of living and art of relatedness, and erects walls of separation? And is it also true that our modernity, far from liberating us from the ‘dead weight of past’, has only intensified vulgar consumerism, or generated a middle class—terribly self-centric, fearful and indifferent to the plight of the subaltern? Is it the reason that the ideology of militant nationalism with its culturally regressive discourse sustains itself through us—the divisive/violent/casteist/communal consciousness we continue to inherit?

It is often used by the ruling regime to manufacture, identify and stigmatise its ‘enemies’—‘Maoists’, ‘urban Naxals’, ‘tukde-tukde’ gang, civil rights activists, or even farmers and ‘andolanjivis’. Not solely that. In an age that sees a close affinity between the dominant political class and the corporate empires or Bollywood/cricket celebrities, it is quite obvious that the spirit of egalitarianism, cultural pluralism, intellectual vibrancy and spiritual oneness has to be ridiculed. What prevails is the mass psychology of hatred. Hate Pakistan. Hate Kashmiri Muslims. Hate communists. Hate Gandhian nonviolence. Hate creative minds. Hate young students who dream of and imagine a better world. See conspiracy everywhere: in a tweet, in a seminar, in a protest march, or even in a piece of satire/humour. Send the cops to the university library. Convey the message through the tsunami of FIRs and sedition charges. See ‘Khalistanis’ at Ghazipur, Singhu and Tikri borders. Let the episodes of Hathras and Unnao recur; and let the middle class in gated communities—influenced by noisy television anchors— continue to live with utter indifference!

What an irony! We have begun to appreciate the cult of narcissism. And, as a result, the spirit of dialogue and negotiation, or sensitivity and tenderness is seen to be the characteristic of a ‘weak’ personality. A ‘strong’ leader is one who loves himself to the extent that he considers his monologue as the ultimate truth; and as ‘followers’ we must accept every word he utters, or be hypnotised by his presence—the rhetoric of a dramaturgical performance. Not solely that. A strong leader abhors all feminine sensibilities; narcissism and hyper-masculine aggression must go together. The inflated ego of the leader, the arrogance of power, and we as non-critical spectators or consumers of this magic: what else do you need for writing the obituary of democracy, and inviting a new form of authoritarianism? Violence is its inevitable consequence. Our language is toxic; words are weapons of destruction; a slogan like ‘goli maaro saalo ko’ is the new normal; and the troll army is an integral component of this politico-cultural landscape. We have become terribly violent; friends have become enemies; neighbours have become strangers; we have lost our sublime prayers as religion has degenerated into a narrow/egotistic mandir-masjid politics.

These days as the ruling regime wants us to believe that even a young girl like Disha Ravi is part of ‘global conspiracy to defame India’, it is important to remind ourselves of the bitter truth: we do not need conspirators to defame the country; with our own deeds and practices, we are degrading ourselves. With every act of cow vigilantism and mob lynching, India is defamed. With the very idea of ‘love jihad’, India is defamed. And the recurrence of brute sexuality and violence against women does by no means glorify India. As the entire world sees the misery of the migrant workers during the pandemic, India is defamed. And the way the State deals with its own people—say, farmers, Dalit activists, students, or ordinary Kashmiri men and women—reveals how the emergent totalitarianism is killing the very soul of democracy. India is not a picture postcard; India is not a mythical tale of rishis and yogis; India is not the statue of Buddha or Gandhi. India is not what is written in the Constitution. Instead, India is terribly wounded.

Possibly, the possibility of our collective redemption lies in the acknowledgement of this sickness. And then, you and I might feel the need to work on ourselves, overcome our sadomasochism, see the discontents of narcissism and hollowness of egotistic pride, realise the religiosity of love and compassion, and move towards a truly egalitarian, sane society.

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