The Saffron That Makes Us Indian

Saffron-coloured cloth used to clean the bloodstains of the innocent.

We sleep in the comfort of our beds, apolitical, and ignorant of the agony faced by people living outside the capital. We believe that we are too privileged for anarchy. However, it is these notions that have allowed the burning of buses and the beating of bodies by the police across campuses to become the norm.

Delhi. The riots, the brutality, everything was fated when we stopped challenging the political agenda advanced by our leaders. We have become complacent, permitting these leaders to amass power. The legislature, executive, judiciary and the media are now under tightly under the control of the saffron party.

The media, an independent organ that has the capability to express dissent, now effectively faces censorship. Voices are ignored, and opinions are clamped down upon. Censorship and a prevailing bias have begun to dominate it. The fourth estate in the world’s largest democracy is withering away.

Governance isn’t a game. Mistakes are not the ink of a fountain pen that can be whitened away. Even the whitener leaves a mark.

Here, words cost lives. They evoke reactions from those who disagree; reactions that are often deemed violent.

Historically, students have been protesters. This is often used as a mechanism to justify the stifling of dissent via teargassing and lathi-charging. Was there a need for the police to run riot as they did at Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University?

The notion of police brutality is often dismissed with “the police were doing their job” – but to what extent is that acceptable?

We have permitted the government to spin cobwebs for us to lay in. We have allowed them to get away with murder because we chose to pick up a magazine to pore over a pink-pink dress rather than the saffron-saffron tension surrounding us. Those who don’t move do not notice their shackles.

Today, if affluent neighbourhoods like New Friends Colony are witness to the brutal bashing of Indian citizens, we know that the bubble of ignorance we live in cannot protect us. Buses were burnt at the spot where my own school bus would arrive to take me to school. Mobs crowded the park where my father and I used to walk.

Today’s government has reduced heinous crimes to a series of blame games, amplifying Hindu-Muslim rivalry. This government cannot even decide which false narrative to run.  The prime minister and home minister are singing different tunes, unsure of how to address the contention surrounding the NRC, the implementation of which would cost 933% of India’s higher education budget.

Also read: The Saffronisation of Saffron

Due to our complacency, it has been decided that citizenship should be determined by faith and papers that nearly 13% of the Assamese population does not own. As rightly put by Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, “In a country where Ministers cannot produce degrees to show their qualifications, how can we expect poor, dispossessed people to show that they belong to this country?”

Today’s wars are being fought between students and uneducated and unscrupulous ministers. And today, dissent is construed as a crime worthy of detention – because who dare speak against the saffron that makes us Indian?

The government has adopted a totalitarian approach to quell dissent. It has stripped the people of their right to expression (internet) and public assembly. Where then is our freedom of speech?

Ergo, the shutting of the internet and the imposition of an inherently draconian law is this government’s version of democracy.

We have been conditioned to succumb to this fascist government. Propaganda is force-fed to us. Bhakts not only direct, but dictate the conversation with their trishuls. Internet trolling is used to target those who disagree. The armed bhakts happily fall in line to support the internet shutdown and the imposition of curfews: no opinion other than that of the ruling dispensation must exist.

We have kept ourselves mum for too long merely because we aren’t the ones who have been impacted by the violence. But the story continues – from Kashmir to Assam to Bengal and Karnataka, and now finally in Delhi. The plot seems clear: the government must get its way, the will of the people be damned.

We must stop this from happening.

We are stifling the voices of the youth. We encourage teenagers to read newspapers, but castigate them for forming opinions because of their lack of “lived experience”. But what use is lived experience when those who have the opportunity to speak up don’t? When is the right age to have an opinion and join the conversation?

There is no purpose of CBSE issuing a circular which mandates the Preamble to the constitution to be in every classroom when the very government whose job it is to protect it does not honour it. There is no purpose in constructing the Statue of Unity when actions of the government only sow disunity.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, hand in hand with the National Register of Citizens and even the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act create a simple path for the government to crack down on any community. Such acts are reminiscent of the colonial era – the police violence of today holds a mirror to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre; the UAPA is simply a modernised rendition of the Rowlatt Act.

But the government has made all this out to be a benign decision meant to harbour persecuted minorities. Then why has it left our Sri Lankan Tamils and the Rohingyas when their persecution has been widely documented?

Instead, detention camps have been established in Assam. More are being built elsewhere. Are we expected to believe that the NRC will not affect Muslims already residing in India?

Are we so naive that we cannot see persecution in the making?

Wake up. India is burning. As pointed out by our honourable prime minister, we can recognise those committing arson by their attire – they are the saffron-clad army that uses nationalism as a crutch to justify grotesque actions.

Ananya Malhotra is a 16-year-old student studying in Vasant Valley School

Photo: Flickr