I Will NOT Remain Silent…


 I read Seema Mustafa’s evocative and heart wrenching piece with sadness and a deep deep sense of foreboding. And what follows is a stream of conscience set of thought and emotions which kept coming almost endlessly.

I have not had the heart to pick up the phone and wish any of our friends and family Eid Mubarak this Eid. And the few with whom I spoke have shared their own emotions about the joylessness of the festival this year. Found myself struggling with so many many emotions – outrage and anger, sadness and a terrible sense of loss, a set of unspoken fears and wondering for how long we will have to live with this almost daily assault on a faith, a people who follow that faith, pushing them into corners and ghettos where we should be celebrating the diversity that they add to the heritage of this ancient land.

Have been asking myself what am I saying mubarak about? For being allowed to live with fear and insecurity in this land which is every bit “theirs” as it is yours and mine?

Is this really the occasion for the RSS President to repeat, ad nauseum, the meaningless mantra, now sounding increasingly like a threat, :”Never forget you are all Hindus”!! My sense of outrage at this utter insensitivity is still palpable.

Frankly I don’t know and I really don’t care who we were at the dawn of history (or herstory). We were human beings – figuring out how to engage with our environment, our surroundings and our neighbours .

I prefer to believe like museum of African Heritage in San Francisco reminds us, that we all originally came from Africa! And the story of how human beings wandered onto all the present day five continents and adapted over millennia to climate and other ecological and environmental influences, is itself an exciting story.

I refuse to be labelled, to be forced into box called Hindu, or Muslim, or Brahmin or Dalit, or dark and fair, or any other categorisation for that matter.

And worse still, then be told what to say, what to wear, what to eat, what not to eat, how and to whom to pray, just because some one sitting in Nagpur or Saudi, or Rome for that matter has so decreed?

I had always felt proud of my heritage as an Indian, and also of the religion into which I was born – Hinduism, despite its deep contradictions and warts. This was because I believed that it gave me the freedom of choice as to how, when, if and why I chose to worship; the right to dissent; and the intellectual space to debate, disagree and decide what was best.

This was the idea of India so beautifully enshrined in my Constitution.

It is this idea of India that is being torn apart and disfigured into an unrecognisable monster, an idea from which I totally distance myself.

I am ashamed that my Dalit brothers and sisters are still abused, used and heaped with indignity upon indignity. All this continues despite the Magsaysay for Bezwada Wilson!

It continues because you and I and people like us chose to be silent when Wilson repeatedly asks WHO IS EXPECTED TO CLEAN THE LAKHS OF TOILETS THEY WILL BUILD UNDER THE SWACCH BHARAT ABHIYAAN.

I was ashamed in 1984 when the gentry of Lutyens Delhi slammed the door in our faces as we begged for medicines and clothes to help the survivors of the anti Sikh pogrom. “They deserved it” – they told us.

Yes my friends and concerned citizens 1984 has already become a distant dream and even people like myself and the many volunteers who defied the curfew and went out to bring the terrified women and children to some safety and security,no longer remember the details. And while some of us spoke up and testified before the Ranganatha Mishra Commission of Enquiry, most remained silent

Too many of us chose to remain silent ……

I watched with deep trepidation the wavering members of the ‘people like us’ group, who sat on the fence and began spreading stories about Muslims in our so called secular service community after the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992. Some of us spoke – challenged false facts and reached out to the minorities amidst us –

But too many of us chose to remain silent ………..

And I heard the horror stories of the massacres of Gujarat in 2002…from victims in the camps as much as from so many who have worked day and night to uncover the truth and defend hundreds who saw their families and neighbours lose their lives with our police as silent spectators. My husband, Ramu Ramdas, a former Navy Chief was among the multi faith team led by the intrepid peace worker and Gandhian, Nirmala Deshpande, who visited Godhra, Ahmedabad, and recall how they were hounded by mobs to hand over the Muslim members of the delegation – or else leave the place where they were staying. The memories and the fall out of that nightmarish time will not go away

And yet, too many of us chose to remain silent ……

MF Husain, the gentle genius, was a personal friend, who Anjolie Menon, the painter and I, as college girls, would drop by to share a cup of tea and watch him at work. How could we allow an icon of our times to die in exile? Just because a bunch of hooligans posing as defenders of my faith, manufactured canard after canard, destroyed his work, and terrorised the country and the government into shameful submission?

The stories and the examples come flooding back – and do not allow me to sleep this night , nor to remain silent .

If earlier regimes were thinly disguised communalists, the gloves are off today and there is no question in my mind that everything we are seeing happen around us today is part of a well planned anti-national agenda to establish a Hindu Rashtra in India. This has always been an important part of the agenda of the RSS, the Sangh Pariar, and therefore by extension of the party in power today.

The state and its so called protectors and rulers are deliberately creating divisions and fissures between our communities and faiths and regions, it’s the British policy of divide and rule. Only it is now being applied to our people by our own elected rulers.

We have a choice, to cower in silence or have the guts to speak up and speak out.

What do we have to lose?

I say with pride that my legacy of free thinking, drawn from thousands of years of my civilizational heritage in this region, has today given me a personal heritage unparalleled for its diversity and texture and weave .

I believe my maternal ancestors were bangle sellers from Arcot. If I believed in caste, then that would make me either a BC or an OBC!

My paternal family were from a trader class (Naidus) who fought against the British in the then Madras Presidency and moved to Hyderabad in the service of the Nizam.

My only brother married a Muslim girl from Mumbai – and it was my ma-in- law, a Brahmin woman from Palghat, who reassured my mother that it was fine.

And this same Brahmin mother in law, always in her traditional nine yard silk sari, who cooked beef for the beloved family dog in her one and only pressure cooker in her Sait Colony kitchen in Chennai.!! I cannot recall any contradictions or problems about the cooking of beef. She never ate any form of meat – but never did she stop anyone else from eating what they wished.

Between her and my mother they unhesitatingly welcomed their first grand son in law – who turned out to be an American of Pakistani origin – from Karachi – and a Muslim

And our entire clan welcomed my other son in law, an African American deeply religious Baptist from Virginia,

And talking of diversity — earlier we had a Bihari son in law from Patna ….we still have a nephew in law Sri Lankan Tamil from Jaffna – now in Canada thanks to the mess in his own country ….another nephew in law is a brilliant physicist, anEnglishman from Oxford – now settled and teaching in Chennai…

North, south, east, west..

Black brown and white and somewhere in between

Hindu, Muslim, Christian, atheist….

This is my interpretation of the true meaning of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakkam, The world is one family.

But for this message to be brought home to our unscrupulous political class – as also the children of today who will be our future citizens …..we need to amend all school curriculum to build a strong component of secular studies, of tolerance, of openness of citizenship, of neighbourhood management and above all of inclusivity.

We need to speak up, to write, to educate, to challenge and debate the idea of India, to remind our future generations of the Constitution of India, continually and with the largest possible outreach in our homes, our schools, our work places and our social networks –

And remember the time for silence has gone by …..

[written on Eid ul Adha 2016 or what we know as Bakrid]

Lalita Ramdas is an activist and educator for peace, environment and human rights

First published in The Citizen

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