The Bleak Times Ahead: A Record

This is a work of fiction.

It is 2060. Here I am in London, far away from my country of birth. I was exiled after authoring a book criticising the present and everlasting government. I had always wanted to visit London, but not on the condition of never going home.

The ex-democratic government has now lasted for more than 45 years, and the opposition bench has been decimated. Only a few poets sit there and are called ‘doomsday dimwits’ by the general population.

Over the duration of the past few decades, leaders of all opposition parties were either killed, or they joined the ruling party. Some were exiled – just like me, though I never joined any party – because they were popular enough to not get killed or because they were privileged enough to survive.

Exile feels a lot like isolation, and it drudges up the past. I still remember voting for this government back in my late teen years, for ‘development’. It has now been decades of ‘un-development’ submerged under the garb of extremism.

My university was recently burned down by the burning squad of the Religious Freedom Organisation because the research was found critical of the majority religion. The best way to answer these theological questions was to burn them. I’m told that a playground will be created where the university once stood for youth to learn various self-defense techniques and attend ‘cultural learning’ courses.

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Minorities have almost all fled, mostly to our neighbours. One has already surpassed their ‘developing’ status into a ‘developed’ one. It needs more manpower to fulfil their luxurious dreams, and refugees are cheaper than unionised workers. The other also had their revolution. For the first time, they have a Communist prime minister and her efforts towards human rights and labour causes are well known.

While both these neighbours have proved their excellence internationally over the decades, our country has developed its own metric for calculating global indicators. Thus, according to our government, the country is the fastest growing nation with zero illiteracy and zero poverty.

This is despite the fact that one-fifth of the population has died of starvation. Even wild animals are extinct since the government banned the sale of meat to anyone, let alone the poor tiger.

The properties of refugees/dissidents are largely distributed to tattling neighbours, while a specific portion is given to the State. My parents passed away before being a witness to such atrocity. I have spent many hours wondering what their reaction would be to all the ‘developments’ that have taken place; ‘developments’ for which they voted for all these years.

Even though I’m getting older day-by-day, and just celebrated my 60th birthday a few weeks ago – it’s very easy to calculate the age of those born in the year 2000 – it has been 11 years here in London, and I can finally begin to feel what actual freedom means again. Here, religious freedom is not restricted by the ‘Prohibition of Conversion Act, 2035’. Nor are structures demolished readily based on the common-place accusation that ‘the premises were made above a place of worship’.

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Earlier, justice used to be dispensed based on the merits of the case. Now, it is on the basis of social hierarchy and connections with the priestocracy. Law books aren’t much referred to and arguments have almost stopped since the procedure of justice is handled by a priest as amicus curiae who advises the judge. Usually, the party which pays more wins. It’s risky for a judge to pass a judgement against the priest’s orders. That has happened only very rarely in light of reprimands doled out to former judges.

International media was banned a long time ago. Still, more nations by the day practice our famed ‘shout-and-scream’ journalism and a few students even fly here to learn the skill.

Just like the opposition, the media no longer exists. Even the radical pro-government journalists have flown away since there’s no use for them now that there is no one left with the strength or will to dissent against the policies of the day. The State has its own channel which plays propaganda all day. It is compulsory for all citizens to watch the channel for at least two hours a day.

When I think back and pick over the many painful pieces of the years gone by, my mind darts to this quote from Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism:

“Men have been found to resist the most powerful monarchs and to refuse to bow down before them, but few indeed have been found to resist the crowd, to stand up alone before misguided masses, to face their implacable frenzy without weapons and with folded arms to dare a no when a yes is demanded.”

Jay Kholiya is currently pursuing a B.A. in Sociology and Political Science in Mumbai. He was formerly a district secretary in the ABVP.

Featured illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty