As I finished watching a late-night screening of PK on Monday, I was struck by a deeply unsettling thought: what if I had a daughter who wanted to spend her life with a Pakistani? Would I be okay with it? Despite professing to be a liberal, I was ashamed to admit that I had my reservations about the idea. And as I began to probe the reasons behind this hypocrisy, I realized that my prejudices were a partial product of growing up in a system that constantly views Pakistan as the enemy. Our books paint their heroes as antagonists. Our movies treat their government and people with disdain. Our media, riding on the viewership that comes with such jingoistic and pseudo-nationalistic agendas, feeds our xenophobia. And as we continue to thump our chests and take pride in the histories of the wars we’ve fought and won, and as we revel in our purported superiority over our neighbors, we forget that there exists a similar set of people plagued by the same set of problems we encounter – education, poverty, unemployment, religion – on the other side of the border. And then there’s the question of my own beliefs; if I can firmly endorse freedom of choice and speak-up for the lesser fortunate and marginalized, how is it that I have a problem with this thought? Is this the limit of my liberalism? And therefore, am I only a liberal when it’s convenient and visible? I’m not a father… But I hope that when the time comes, I am able to give my children a future unencumbered from the prejudices and biases of our history.
As Modi, a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, attempts to provide the panacea to all that ails this country, a steady wave of saffronization is spreading, one that is barely perceptible but very much extant. Nehru’s legacy is questioned; Nathuram Godse is called a patriot, and it is suggested that he should have killed Nehru instead of Gandhi. And the leader of the largest secular democracy of the free world gifts a copy of the Gita – the guiding light of those who bask in the glory of Hinduism as a way of life – to another world leader. Maybe I read too much into it… But when a respected Parliamentarian and a Union minister calls for the Gita to be declared the National Book of India, I sense a saffron undercurrent. I sense it when money is raised to fund conversions of Muslims and Christians. I sense it when those self-appointed guardians of the Hindu culture and chest-thumping pseudo-intellectuals dictate the heroes I should worship and the language I should speak. I sense it when textbooks are purged and history is rewritten in hues of religion. It is only a matter of time before the parivaar and its perverse ideology merge with the party, and one will become an extension of the other, if it isn’t already.
PS: This post isn’t meant to disrespect anyone or offend any sensibilities. I have read a part of the Gita (an English interpretation) and I believe in a lot of what it says… Having said that, I think it is extremely inappropriate to politicize the scripture, and use it as a means to spread a right-wing agenda.