Small Acts of Courage
I grew up in a fairly un-dogmatic, yet principle oriented environment. At least at home. My father being a forbearing Hindu Brahmin and my mother being an unswayed Sikh, conversations around religion, god, and politics didn’t exactly make up for staple dinner table conversations during my primal years. We went to the temple on Fridays, not always on time for the ‘aarti’, and my mother would take us to the Gurudwara on alternate Sundays, our tacit bribe being the ‘langar’ – or the communal tradition of free meals for every person, without distinction of caste, religion, social status, ethnicity or gender.
We’d quickly make our way through the crowds in the hall, where rows of people would be seated on carpets, being served generous helpings of the ‘langar wali daal’ or the amritsari daal, rotis, pickle and kheer. I’d almost always fill up my plate for more than I had an appetite for, and my mother would habitually finish up whatever was left over of it.
My parents would often frequent the ‘Dargah’ together, which was in the old city, and bring home biryani from one of the distinctly overcrowded street stalls, being one of the several, spread across the lanes adjacent to the Dargah. On some occasions, my father would let me accompany him and get the offerings – usually a shawl, and some roses which I would hand over to who I believed was the ‘chief saint’, and was referred to as a ‘Maulana’ by my father. He’d often ask me about my favorite subjects in school, and if I was going to get the biryani packed on my way back, the way we usually did.
Towards my mid-teens was when the conversations and the very notion of religious differences started to become palpable to me, unfolding in different degrees, as per my understanding at that age. On one hand, a friend of mine would refuse to accompany me to another’s for a birthday dinner, because the latter’s family was said to cook ‘halal’, and ‘slaughter harmless goats in the name of tradition’.
On the other hand, two of my seniors in school would often indulge in an ebullient discourse on the teachings of The Quran, and even go to the extent of learning the Urdu language during lunch breaks, with the simple intent of learning something new. I’d mostly just be a bystander, not knowing where to contribute, owing to the fact that these differences didn’t seem to make much of a difference to me, but mostly because I grew up in a house where it was naturally made clear to me by manner of example, and not advice, that someone’s religion, political views, or sexual preferences were none of my business.
Even though back at home, I had the privilege of freely expressing my views and preferences on what I personally chose to follow and believe in; or not believe in at all, somewhere in the process of growing up, I learnt to simply keep my mouth shut.
——-By definition, The Citizenship Amendment Bill seeks to amend the definition of ‘illegal immigrant’ for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have lived in India without proper documentation, but by execution, it starkly insinuates one word – Genocide.
The same genocide, made (in)famous by Adolf Hitler, whose most ordinary meaning, as stated by R.J Rummel is ‘The murder by a government of people due to their national, ethnic, racial, or religious group membership.’
Given the magnanimity of sheer violence, threats, biased domination and absolutely atrocious exploits by the hands of the big and mighty law enforcers of our nation in the last few days, do I really need to emphasize on the word murder?
Somehow, I believe I still do.
After more than 1000 arrests, approximately 300 injuries (a majority of the number without any evidence of provocation), and 6 (known) deaths, including two boys under the age of 18, God knows I do.
After innumerable harmless students, only operating on their fundamental rights to raise their voices against what we unanimously know is wrong, have been lifted off the ground, or just mercilessly dragged across the streets, relentlessly lathi charged upon, and ultimately been locked up, for standing up for their brothers and sisters, in the world’s largest Democracy, I do. And after ultimately realizing, that the very crux of the nation I have called home all my life is in a state of anarchy, I do.
It’s now that I understand what John F Kennedy meant when he said – “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” And it’s now that I understand the lyrics of Michael Jackson’s ‘They Don’t Really Care About Us’ , that went as –
“Skin head, dead head Everybody gone bad Situation, segregation Everybody allegation In the suite, on the news Everybody dog food Kick me, kick me Don’t you wrong or right me All I want to say is that They don’t really care about us”
In an attempt to draw an amalgam on my emotions, thoughts and fears when I look back at what’s happened and look ahead into what could happen, all I can conclude is, the beginning of the end of the very foundation on which our Democracy, mind you very proudly stands on is very, very near. In the wake of what only looks like an organized, violent recurrence of one of history’s cruelest genocides (cue – the German Nazi regime), all that comes to our aid is each other.
As they attempt to diversify and segregate us, on the basis of religion, simply because they decipher theirs to be superior, all we can do is stand, march and unify. Even though I speak from a privileged space, I speak in solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters, I speak in solidarity with Jamia Milia, I speak in solidarity with the whole of East India, I speak in solidarity with the mere faith in the promise of an undivided India, and most importantly, I speak because if I chose not to, there won’t be a difference between the perpetrator and I.
Yahuda Bauer said, “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander”, and time has come for us, to act on our cognizance of these words. We can only diverge from the sad trail of the history of inexplicable, and unaccountable power, by leaving the comforts of our physical homes, and the ones inside our head that are guarded by walls of denial, and walk arm in arm with each other, even if it may cost us our necks, blood, and God forbid- our pride.
In summation, my only question to the ones witnessing everything, but choosing to stay silent, hidden under the comforts of their privilege, is – If not now, then when?
-Written by Muskaan Pathak