Column article titled Silence is not an Option by Neera Chandhoke appeared in “The Hindu, April, 2017, brings to the foreground the layers of silence that the citizens of the country maintain to a maze of issues that they confront day in and day out. In nuanced ways Neera swipes at the problems that would drastically altar and significantly change the nation and the people at large. Neera digs into the very silence that has been maintained and raises a series of questions pushing the readers to think about their total silence and then comes out with a response that „silence is not an option‟. One of the thought provoking and highly analytical articles in recent times in which Neera graphically surveys and thus situates the impending issues for which „silence‟ has been maintained throughout. The author seemed to have been disturbed.
Neera begins by raising a question: “When was the last time the Hindu community asked itself the question „who are we?” For this question Neera in the following sentence responds that “The last of the interrogators of Hindu society was, arguably, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. He catapulted to the forefront of the political agenda the many oppressions, discriminations, and exclusions of Hinduism, and thus compelled at least public intellectuals to investigate tradition and reflect on the malaise of the community. After him no one has really looked within the collective self, reflected, and considered.” Neera continues, “This is a great tragedy, because unless a society asks fundamental questions of itself, it is doomed to complacency and stagnation, or simply doomed.”
Every day the citizens of this country go through horrifying experiences that makes many to wonder and pushes us to ask: What is happening to this country? The problems meted out by the citizens of this county posit all sorts of injustices and exploitative tendencies, and thus manifest naked reality of India. They are indeed horrendous, multifaceted and complex. And yet many remain passive and indifferent. Neera Chandhoke responds to the current fiasco: “This is a great tragedy, because unless a society asks fundamental questions of itself, it is doomed to complacency and stagnation, or simply doomed. Disdaining the stimulating intellectual exercise of examining the collective self, we have swept the failings of our society under the metaphorical carpet. Lulled into complacency by meaningless assertion – „say with pride we are Hindu‟. Or a „new India‟, or a „sanitized India‟, or a „digital India‟ – few people ask why we still practice cast discrimination, why we continue to be disgracefully hostile to religious minorities, or why we are indifferent to the plight of our own people.”
Violation of human rights in all forms and shades, reckless behavior of the political class and highhandedness of the bureaucrats and the police force, state unleashing terror on innocent citizens, looting the public money by those vested with power and authority, women and girl children raped and killed and the total silence of the organs of state shows the dismal failure of the state machinery not responding to the victims and the hapless. The system has collapsed. Except a few, all others observe total silence. Neera contends to this state as “In a democratic political community, citizens owe obligations of justice to their fellow citizens. If the basic rights of an individual or a community are systematically violated, there should be pain, there should be empathy and outrage, and determination to do something about the fundamental infringement of what is owed to human beings: dignity and respect. But we follow own star, indifferent to the deplorable lack of solidarity in our community.”
This is indeed highly shocking. Why this silence and tacit acceptance? No one knows what is happening to the psyche of the masses. Everyone is dazed and in trance as if they are doped. It shows that people in general have given up hopes and totally submitted to the will of the ruling cliché. Neera unfolds the current ground reality that “Today, Hindu society is complicit in massive crimes perpetrated against Dalits, Muslims, and women, because it is silent in the face of atrocities practiced by vigilantes who single-handedly define what they consider „morality‟, and who punish people merely on suspicion that they violate codes of Hinduism. Backed by power political patrons and a complaint police force, vigilantes are legislators, prosecutors, juries and executioners rolled into one … We should realize that democracy has been subverted, the rule of law has become redundant, and that our representatives are responsible for this serious deviation in political life. But we are silent.”
Every day we come across different narratives and episodes of varied sorts. Our society has reached the lowest ebb and one wonders where we heading and what are are we up to? It is nauseating and worrying. Many just keep quiet and often remain as mute spectators. Have we lost the public intellectuals, philosophers, social reformers and national leaders who too do not want to ask crucial questions against those blatant violations happening across the country? Neera rightly reminds us: Martin Niemoller, the well-known German Lutheran pastor and theologian, initially support the Nazis, subsequently opposed them was banished to a concentration camp. Reflecting on his own silence in the face of social suffering, he authored a famous Holocaust poem: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Whether one likes or not, the situation around us is becoming from bad to worse. In such devastating scenario, can we afford to be silent? All our basic and fundamental rights are gradually being taken away—the government decides what kind of life citizens should lead, who to be friends with, who to love, what kind of food one should have, which language we should study and dress we wear. We should ask questions at those who inflict pain and horror. As citizens we should raise our voices before we get trampled. If not now, when?
Dr John Mohan Razu is a retired prof from UTC Bangalore