When did liberal India give way to shrill India? When did we lose the Raja Rammohun Roys and the Swami Vivekanandas to the Pravin Togadias and the clerics? When did we lose sight of Rabindranath Tagore and Amrita Pritam? And, is Sufism now only relegated to music festivals?
Whatever happened to debate and civil discourse? Since when did the epitome of contrarian thinking, West Bengal, shut itself to any kind of contra-view? I am amazed at how quickly our country has degenerated into extremism. How polarised we have become on the most trivial of issues.
There was a time when our political parties took a stand on issues that really mattered to the people. Today, they are seized with the banning of cinema and paintings. I firmly believe that the first signs of a debased, degenerate society are when it cannot fathom an unpopular perspective or, for that matter, stomach something that is never told, yet must be told.
The events of the past few years have saddened every liberal Indian, but then the liberal Indian is today in a minority. We have become a land which lauds the trivial and ignores the mass. We are a nation which is in a state of perpetual hijack by fringe elements who wish to use violence to get the contrarian thought suppressed. Is this what we wish our children to grow up to? Do we want a body of literature which snuffs out the truth, only because, at a certain time in our history, it was found unpalatable by the few who claim to speak on behalf of the many?
We leave no stone unturned to humiliate free thinking. We leave no courts of law to do justice because the state conveniently uses law and order as the stick to beat the liberal Indian with. Is Islam so fragile that it feels threatened by a few pages of a banned book? Is Hinduism so weak that it cannot celebrate the fact that there are many young Hindus who wish to celebrate Valentine's Day? In a country which creates godmen by the hour, we seem to have lost the godliness in us, if there ever was anything called godliness.
When Nehru uttered the words “tryst with destiny” he was talking about two destinies running parallel: one of the nation and the other of the individual who would be able carve his or her own destiny in a nation founded on the principles of equality and secularism. Is my right to see a film forever going to be thwarted by people who take to the streets and threaten arson? Am I not a citizen of India or is my voice too elitist that it can be easily muzzled? I am unable to imagine how the State has capitulated so easily at the altar of populism or what they believe is populism.
And, then, on top of all this we call ourselves a democracy. Democracy is not about electoral politics alone. It is not about the State granting every Indian the freedom to cast his or her vote. It is about freedom. Period. The freedom to think, the freedom to express and the freedom to evolve as long as we do not break the law and do not indulge in treason.
The democracy we have today is a sham. It is for the many, run by the few and the few keep changing like chameleons. They change their stance; they change their ideologies and most importantly their character to suit the short term.
In the short term you build roads and colonies, not nationhood. And what is being threatened is the idea of an independent India. Of a free-thinking Indian and an India which respects every Indian and his beliefs.
I have no option but to paraphrase Gurudev, given the kind of India we live in: Where the mind is with fear and the head tilts in shame/Where knowledge is bound/Where the world has been broken up into fragments/By narrow domestic walls/Where words come out from the depth of deceit/Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards imperfection/Where the clear stream of reason has lost its way/Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit/Where the mind is led forward by extremism/Into ever-widening mindless thought and negative action/Into that heaven of chains, my Father, let my country not slide.
Seth is managing partner of Counselage India. www.suhelseth.com