Armchair Activism for the Day

I woke up this morning and felt the urge to rant. Ok, I actually felt the urge to eat pani puri. But then I logged into my Facebook and there was a notification which said I hadn’t posted on my blog for a really long time. That’s because I’m lazy.

I wondered what I should write about though. So, two coffees down I settled on the upcoming Independence Day. Why? Because what better way to get some likes and love? Let’s be honest, you may have all the Independence you want, but you’ll always be a slave to social media. Also I wanted to say what I have to say before the patriotic movies start playing on the telly. Let’s face it, if Rang De Basanti, Swades and Lakshya are playing on the T.V screen in one day, even those not easily swayed by emotions amongst us will want to make love to the National Flag,  with ‘Mere desh ki dharti’, playing as the background score. (I assume, THAT’s allowed?)

So, here goes: I love my country. I really do. I’m proud of our heritage and culture (within reasonable limits :P) and I do think we have a kickass history. I try playing my part in my own small way by being a good citizen. I try to do good work, be politically aware, follow the laws of the land, vote and speak up when I feel like something needs to be said. I think that’s the bare minimum you can do and people should try doing that much at least. But in all honesty, I would have done the same, say, had I been born in the US, or in Australia, or anywhere else.

Your nationality, more than anything, is a lottery of birth. And that is why I don’t believe in patriotic fervour. Love and respect are good. But the kind of fervour that makes you blind towards the failings of your state, the kind of fervour that leads you to lose objectivity, that kind of fervour is not just unnecessary, it is also stupid.

We have come a long way these 68 years. But we are an incredibly flawed, fucked up nation. With incredibly flawed, fucked up people. Some days, when I wake up and read the news, I feel miserable. We are not the greatest nation on the planet and we won’t be one, unless we recognise that. The first step towards fixing a problem is accepting you have one, right?

Here’s something I often go back to when I have my doubts:

Mahatma Gandhi met Lord Bevin, the personal emissary of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in Delhi. Beven is reported to have told him, ”Eighteen languages, 500 dialects, some 30 religions, a million Gods and Goddesses, 300 million individuals, an infinity of castes and sub castes, and a population (that is) practically illiterate and half of which (are) beggars or thieves… Good luck, sir! Such a nation is ungovernable! It’d take you centuries to get anywhere!”. Gandhiji wrapped his large, white shawl a little more closely around him, and modestly replied, ‘India has eternity before her.. 

Being Humane

The  2002 Salman Khan hit-and-run case finally wrapped up climatically today, in true soap operatic style. A thirteen year long soap opera, filled with missing witnesses, tedious timelines and widely vacillating public opinion.It isn’t the inevitable verdict that caught me by surprise though. It was the opinions on social media platforms that caught my attention and got me thinking.

While a huge number of people came out in support of the decision, citing it as a victory for the Indian legal system, a victory that came 13 years late, but was a win nonetheless.There were, if not more, then an equal number of vociferous supporters of the megastar who spoke out in his defense. Arguments ranging from, ‘What good is putting him in jail going to do now’, to the less articulate but effective nevertheless, ‘Bhaifanforever’ and ‘SalluRox’ made rounds on various platforms online. A huge number of people from the film fraternity too came out in support of him. That’s understandable though, as a colleague and a friend, I’m sure he touched many lives and holds an important place in their heart. ( This does not include the abysmal Farah Ali Khan and Abhijeet ‘Don’t sleep on roads’ tweet. French aristocrat much?)

There were also people talking about the actor’s philanthropic ways and his generous, kind soul, asking if perhaps, the ‘good deeds’ that he’d involved himself in since the last couple of years suggest that he has repented and the law should cut him some slack, especially in a country like ours, where politicians and rich people ( *coughs* Rich kid in Aston Martin *coughs*) can easily get by with committing the worst crimes. Forget a trial, most of the time they don’t even need to see the inside of a courtroom. To say that the law is equal for all is sketchy at best.

Still, I wouldn’t say I empathize with the outpourings of grief coming from the various fans. I could maybe respect their fangirl/boy state of mind and try to sympathize with them.

I guess you could call me old school that way. ‘You do the crime, you pay the time.’
Whether I think that the rehabilitation of criminals is an issue that needs to be looked into makes for a different article for another day. But we live in a legal system, bound by a constitution that at least theoretically, does impart equal rights to every citizen of the country. Where we have seen the law failing us at times, there have been countless occasions, where the law has protected and empowered us. A dynamic democracy also ensures that legal reforms can bring about better ways to safeguard our rights. As citizens, if we see an outdated, theocratic or insensible law that can be bent to protect those unworthy of protection, it is our duty to raise enough noise so that changes can be made. But once a law is in place, then it is also our duty to make sure that it is upheld, indiscriminate of power, wealth, caste, creed, gender and other socio-economic factors.

So maybe, Salman Khan is a huge star and makes entertaining movies. Maybe, he’s a fantastic human being, with a benevolent streak. Maybe, he feels guilty and immensely sorry for what he did. Maybe. But feelings don’t overwrite facts. And the facts are: That 13 years ago, he killed a man while driving drunk and grievously injured three others. It may have been a mistake, or a momentary lapse of judgement. But if a ‘mistake’ results in consequences that are considered punishable by law, then you cannot let it go unpunished. And the man did roam free for 13 years, making movies and living life well. Imagine if a normal middle class person had been in this situation? Do you think they could have evaded the law for as long as Khan did?

As I said above, I understand that fans may not want their favourite movie star behind bars, albeit for a crime he’s been found guilty of committing, and they may feel sad about it. But to demand that he not be jailed? Seriously? How blinded by fanlove can you be, to be absolutely robbed of reason and rational thought? What sort of a legal precedent would it make, supposing the judge let him off with just a warning and a fine? Just because a case dragged out this long, it doesn’t make sense to pursue it to its logical end anymore? How desensitized are you, that the death of a man doesn’t even hold a candle to your favourite moviestar’s next Eid release?

This country is in a state of flux at the moment. The citizens today aren’t afraid of speaking out for what’s wrong. We hold candle light marches and protests to see cases reopen and fast tracked. We’ve seen reforms in rape laws, mainly because the judiciary had no alternative but to buckle under the incessant pressure being brought on them by the society. The Jessica Lal case, Section 66A, and potentially the upcoming laws pertaining to net neutrality…I could go on. Public opinion and an active citizenry that fights for its rights and above all, for equality in all domains is today a reality that if we choose to, can make advantageous use of, in creating the country as we envision it. There are a lot more battles to be fought and a lot more changes that need to be pushed into legal acceptance. But we cannot be selective,  irrational and discriminatory while fighting for equality.  It is a choice that we need to make, a choice to fight for an equal nation enjoying equal rights and submitting to equal laws. A choice we need to stand by, without letting our personal likes and dislikes be the ultimate deciding factor. To put it in a way that every Bhai fan will understand-  ‘Ek baar jo maine commitment kar di, toh main apne aap ki bhi nahi sunta’