The phrase the ‘new normal’ has nauseatingly become a part of everyday language. And yet, it is much more sinister than the forced WFH situations some privileged Indians face.
The ‘new normal’ brings with it upheavals in the personal and the political; in the individual and the collective. Systemic apathy is visible in everyday interactions between the State and the public. The complete unaccountability on the rising death toll, a lack of answers on the disastrous handling of the pandemic and the flailing economy all stand as testimony to this.
The economy, which was already struggling, is in a complete slump. Unemployment is rising steadily by the day. For large swathes of India’s youth, questions are only being met with stony silences. This apathy is now accepted as the ‘new normal’, where empty words and emptier photoshoots are expected to keep intact the image of an ‘invincible’ prime minister whose reign has been marked by some of the biggest economic disasters and violent episodes the country has seen in the past few decades.
Misogyny was always ‘normal’ in India. It is now blatantly forced down viewers throats’ as belligerent anchors drop any and all journalistic ethics, facts and basic humanity in their manic chase for TRPs. Sushant Sigh Rajput’s death, and the media circus that followed where a woman was vilified for simply being a woman and supporting a man she cared about while he battled mental health issues stands as testimony to this. Our TV anchors simply leveraged the inherent patriarchal mindset of India, which always stands ready to paint the woman as a witch, call her a gold digger and a manipulator, instead of actually having a much-need conversation on mental health and the rising number of suicides among the youth.
Media houses reduced to being spokespersons for the government had found their best distraction even as the ruling party chose to leverage the tragic death as an election narrative. The media’s inability to hold power accountable – while steadily muting our ability to question – coupled with misogyny in condemning Rhea Chakraborty saw record TRPs for the channel that pushed this agenda most aggressively.
Aggression itself is the ‘new normal’. It is now absolutely legitimate for a news anchor to roar and goad representatives who are not from the ruling party during his primetime ‘debate’. A mainstream actor is celebrated for comparing the financial capital of the country to PoK, given that she is supportive of the current regime. And in Haryana, a man seeking work had his hand brutally cut off because of a tattoo that identified him as Muslim.
Hate crimes have now been normalised (much like rape for all these years) – and it is only the brutality of the crimes in question that now elicit some mind space. This impunity of majoritarianism is finding more and more aggressive manifestations each day. Any criticism levelled against the ruling regime is labelled anti-national. The aggressive criticism of that criticism is celebrated as nationalistic pride.
Those who have been instrumental in dissenting against an increasingly authoritarian government are being slapped with chargesheets and being put behind bars. Fabricated charges against imminent thinkers, activists and academics are the new normal. And somehow, this consistent muzzling of dissent during the pandemic, without trials, is not eliciting the rage it ought to.
The new normal, where a culture of inanity is reinforced by television media, is taking away our ability to question. By muzzling the voices of those who did question, the circle is complete.
Amidst of all this, and a pandemic, we still attempt to find new ways to continue our lives, still clinging to our own notions of normal. We expect from ourselves the same productivity, answers and motivation – building clinical expectations about delivery irrespective of circumstance.
The fallout of the world as we know it crumbling, anxieties of what the future holds, are impacting our mental health steadily – a new pandemic for which we must be ready and we aren’t.
So what then is the new normal?
It is the steady decay of our minds, being chiselled to read only one frame and one name.