Put me back in the middle of the sea,
Let me struggle, learn & find a new shore.
Dear Kannan Gopinathan
Couple of days ago, I stumbled upon a news article that spoke about you resigning from the service. The reason for your resignation is something Bhakts and to-be-Bhakts might find really hard to digest.
As you say in an interview, “If you ask me what you were doing, when one of the world’s largest democracies announced a ban on the entire state, and even violated the fundamental rights of the people, I should at least be able to reply that I resigned my job.”
Well, that’s not how typical Babulog (Bureaucrats) talk. It sounds so different and now everyone may understand why you chose to go “strangely” unnoticed while doing flood relief work in Kerala.
Undoubtedly, you are different. You’ve got something called conscience, a rarity today, something we hardly see anywhere, be it in newspapers, 24/7 media, or even with the opposition parties who play safely in their self-imposed limitations.
It’s not a surprise that media doesn’t want to make the required noise on losing an officer like you, known for his integrity and dedication to the people. After all, the reason for your act is a conscience call to everyone. So, there is nothing to be shocked about the silence of fellow officers or the administration bringing up an old memo to discredit you.
You have also shared how much you are aware of the outcome of the act and what might follow. “I know this won’t make any impact, it would be news for half a day only. But I wanted to do it nevertheless. I wanted to act as per my consciousness.”
It’s the hard truth. Apathy has become our national emotion.
You stood up for justice during these dark days of abrogating 370 & 35A and spoke your mind in a plain, simple language. “Locking up people and telling them it’s for their own good is difficult to justify.”
If this doesn’t bother many and if you don’t find many are not in solidarity with you, it’s only a visible manifestation of the deep malaise. When a majority of the society finds no discomfort in its moral bankruptcy, it’s a clear sign of dangerous times we live in and what lies ahead.
Allow me to share my experience with “freedom of expression”, that led me to quit Zoho, a popular software product company from India, exactly on this day, a year ago.
To start with, I have to take the example of James Damore who got fired from Google in July 2017 for an intranet post (basically right-wing views), commonly referred as Google Memo.
Sridhar Vembu, CEO of Zoho, wrote a long intranet post in defense of James, about how his freedom of speech was under attack, how firing him for his “thoughtcrime” was wrong, even called it “Maoism in the Silicon Valley” and ended his remarks saying, “One of the reasons I support private enterprise is to ensure real diversity of viewpoints.”
I was reading the blog post just like any other employee. Though I strongly differed with James Damore, I felt Sridhar was right about his freedom of speech. Little I had the idea that I will face a Zoho Memo or ideological echo chamber moment, a year later.
Jumping straight to August 2018, spending a decade in Zoho, I wrote an intranet blog post about the role of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the Indian freedom struggle, in the context of Independence day. It talked about how RSS is usurping every platform with jingoism while the history has a different say on how patriotic really they were.
As expected, there were some strong responses from right-wing supporters but Sridhar’s reply came like a bolt out of the blue. He said my post “crossed an important line to spread historical falsehood and calumny”. The post only had references to this and this article. Both authors are well-known for their thorough research, but yes, may not be pleasing to everyone.
He went further and said, “You cannot just say anything here in the name of free speech… Go build your own platform to spread your values… I will not fire you, but I do have strong disagreement with you and I am asking you ‘Why do you still choose to work here, when your value system is so much at odds with what company and its CEO believe in?’…”
The irony is, he was talking about the same freedom of speech, private enterprise, and thoughtcrime (crossing the limits) as he did for James Damore, but whoa, this time it was totally in a reverse direction. The untenable part was how he forcibly tried to contextualize it with company values. I responded with my decision to quit since I agreed with his comment on one aspect which is, we should hold our values dear more than money.
Now, why write all this to you and thereby to the entire world?
What I faced in a relatively small, private company is what you are facing in a far more bigger plane of Indian politics. The essence is the same. As you say, we are witnessing “our own voice being taken away from us.”
History will have very strong words to use on what’s happening in Kashmir, beyond all the PR exercises being conducted for days and days. I try to think and recollect of whatever happened and happening in the past 23 dayswhile writing this to you.
How Indian Medical Association and even veterinary association pounced upon The Lancet, an internationally reputed medical journal, for raising its concerns on fear and uncertainty around Kashmir’s future…
How Press Council of India which is supposed to safeguard the freedom of press intervened in a SC petition to back media restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir…
How Ladakh MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal was given continuous spotlight while the protesting PDP MPs were mentioned in a passing manner…
How the leaders of Kashmir are under house arrest for all these days defying all human rights declarations and how the UN gets satisfied with namesake press releases…
How the silence of the higher judiciary is so deafening?
How BJP MLAs and MPs celebrated the “victory” by asking Indian men to marry Kashmiri girls, how “patriotism pop” genre songs mushroomed, and how even our school, college, and even cake baking Whatsapp groups were filled with messages of “masterstroke”, “surgical strike” etc.,
How a Kashmiri doctor Dr. Omar got whisked away for simply requesting to lift the blockade and for saying that it’s leading to a healthcare crisis…
How countless stories like this, this, this, or these of pain and despair suffered by women, children and old people, get mixed with countless everyday stories of much more importance and fight their way to get our little attention…
In such a really really toxic scenario, I must say, I salute you from the bottom of my heart Kannan, for what you did! You have shown exemplary moral courage!
I did what I did and doing what I could on my part against the all pervasive unprecedented jingoism, like you and many others. We are only part of the inevitable chain reaction against the hegemony.
When you think of people like Sanjiv Bhatt and many such tireless souls, both in past and present, we realize it neither began with us nor it will end with us. Now, where do we go from here? King’s legendary words might help again.
Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.”
(Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here, August 16, 1967)
Originally published in Medium