How Did Everything Change?

As kids we played together –
Boys and girls, Hindus and Muslims, Dalits and Brahmins.
How did these identities overtake us?
In the playground, we were all children
In life, it seems we are in a battlefield.
I wonder, when did everything change?

In that playground there was no judgement.
No one raised a brow if my skirt flew above my knees,
No one worried about engineering, commerce, math or science.
No one bothered about the quota which granted Amrita a seat in IIT,
No one asked my friend Imran whether his mother cooked beef for Eid,
No one doubted his allegiance in an India-Pakistan match.
In that playground, we were only children.

Why then does the boy I once played football with catcall me on my way to college?
Why then was the literature-loving Sunil forced by his family to go to Kota?
Why then does no parent want their child to take tuitions from Amrita?
Why then did Imran’s family have to move to a ‘safer’ neighbourhood?
How did that playground turn into a battlefield?

I’ll tell you how, I’ll tell you when.
We changed when our silver screen heroes raised their hand on the women they ‘loved’,
We changed when our parents warned us ‘there’s no future for history graduates’,
We changed when our relatives blamed reservation for ‘stealing’ our ‘well-deserved’ college seats,
We changed when the ministers whose hate speeches we heard, won by a thumping majority.
That’s when and that’s how everything changed.

And so it happened that these children grew up
From blue skies to narrow minds, from green grass to bigoted adults.
Why couldn’t they let the playground be?
If only it was left untouched
If only our innocent minds had not been poisoned
But how then would their agenda be served?
For if love triumphs over hatred
And prejudices make way for acceptance,
We would have a mind of our own; and act on our own
And isn’t that their biggest threat?

Anwesha Basu is a PhD candidate in Economics at IGIDR, Mumbai

Featured image illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty