Differences don’t disappear in the blink of an eye.
Bigotry and hate does not get purged in five years.
Despite my awareness of the deeply rooted hate sown by the party in power, I held onto a tiny shred of hope from the opposition. So, when I slowly realised that the day of the results was closing in, I found myself increasingly anxious. Like many, I hoped for a miracle, some incredulous alignment of the stars that would change what was to come, while being aware that we would survive this, too. Somehow. But again, I can’t deny my sadness.
Not to sound too harsh, but if the result surprised anyone, then i’m surprised. Not because of any supernatural analytical ability but simply based on the India I saw unfold in the last five years. Hitherto repressed cultural beliefs and opinions that used to be mere whispers, emerged out in the open, often becoming motivations to kill others. This hate is not new, only new manifestation is harsher, bolder, more brazen.
Part of the reason I expected this outcome was my upper caste, north Indian, Hindu upbringing.
Two decades of growing up in an overtly masculine and casteist culture dominating the power narrative at the national level, has left me with enough experience and memories to understand how xenophobia and ‘unity in diversity’ can co-exist.
I’d never written about these experiences until now because I felt it was an isolated experience – my secret shame. However, after sharing this with a friend who’s from the same caste and birthplace but grew up in a southern metropolis, I realised mine was essentially a north Indian experience that no one around me was willing to talk about.
Mulling over the idea of moral superiority or one-upmanship, I came up with a few theories behind this need to have an upper hand. My theories vary according to the arena that one indulges in this one-upmanship in, but I will focus on only one.
Pertaining to politics, especially identity politics, I believe the need comes from the simple human desire to be perceived as a “good person,” or simply the “better” one” – goodness, of course, varying with the prevailing culture trends. With that comes the oft-seen and well-known political way to use said sentiment to drive a party’s agenda.
As I further delved into this, I could draw-out stories from my childhood that remained a little blurry till now. In most Rajasthani meat eating households, mutton is the primary red meat consumed. I stopped eating it when I was 6-years-old after my mother – in order to get us to portion our consumption – scared us enough to make my brother and I immediately give up mutton. That’s the point when the consumption of red meat in my family irreversibly declined. In fact, my brother ended up giving up meat completely by the age of 6 because none of his friends in school ate it either.
I studied at a well-known public school and, looking back, I realise the students belonging to Hindu families outnumbered students from other communities. As children, were was blissfully ignorant of religious identities. My ignorance was backed by a poster that hung in the school reception depicting 4 (male) children (in an all girls’ school) dressed in traditional Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh garments, smiling down at us with “Unity in Diversity” written in shiny gold letters. That poster assured my naïve self that we were indeed a united nation. The tensions with Pakistan were just territorial or “fringe-element driven,” and cricket related.
I became conscious of differences, especially between Hindus and Muslims, as I grew into (a still naïve) teenager after I overheard an adult warn a child against eating from the lunchbox of a Muslim classmate. I remembered an argument between a devout Jain classmate and a non-believing Jain classmate a few years before that over meat. Hearing about this new element of food-based bias got me wondering. Upon my questioning, however, they couldn’t utter anything besides an “it may not be hygienic because of meat,” their voice trailing off into a whisper towards the end.
I am guessing (hoping) it was shame that made their voices trail off. Today, however, I’m sure there are many such instances where they don’t trail off into awkward silence. Sensing a strange and painful emotion in me, my avoidant brain shut down to anything to do with such a conversation because I just didn’t want to think like that about sharing food.
I grew older still and became a MasterChef Australia binge-watcher, dreaming of trying my hand at some of the dishes someday. A significant proportion of the popular dishes, however, seemed to be beef or pork-based and my white meat-eating palette quietly resolved that all the pink would become white when I cook it. Easy.
However, little did I know that my naïveté hadn’t fully deserted me yet. It led me into completely missing out on the popular beef fry from Kerala or Goa’s own chilli fry version, because in the larger Hindu majoritarian narrative that I grew up in – despite not being a religious family – I believed that beef was only available outside the country and in its place, Indians ate buffalo meat (which was a popular meat around Eid where I grew up, just as it is in Nepal).
So, when I moved out of north India and headed south to Bangalore, and heard my friends rave about beef chilli fry, beef curry or a mean steak, one can only imagine how loud the shattering of my ignorance-coated glasses might have been. I was stunned that beef was available in India, and while it surprised me, it also left me secretly awestruck.
Where I came from, slaughtering goats was recognised as a more socially acceptable practice than slaughtering buffaloes or cows, or even goats for Eid ul-Adha. In that moment of awe and pride, I pictured the golden letters of the poster from school and my heart, as alienated as was from the myriad cultures in India, still fell in love with it.
Purging the hate
However, while I’m all for loving my country, I want to reiterate that this love is for the people who have peacefully co-existed, without one-upmanship. With sadness and cold dread, recounting these stories, I couldn’t help imagining the Hindu bubbles in which so many other young children must have grown up; children in Maharashtra who are taught by men visiting their playgrounds that ‘bearded men are enemies’; children elsewhere who grow up into communities who forward message after message of hate; children somewhere who grow up and kill in the name of the cow.
Today, I share this not to bring you down with a sense of doom but to extend a little of what I’m thinking and feeling post the results. I’m thinking that it was clear the bigotry was going to win again because it is deeply entrenched in the daily lives of multiple Hindus – even those like me who never saw eating habits as a divide, but rather used the difference as a bridge between cultures and identities.
I’m also thinking that the process of truly purging society of hate always hurts – much like Moxa cautery. But it does eventually heal if one continues on healing and purging. I intend to. I hope to find you there too. Soon, if not immediately.
Shivranjana is a writer based in Goa. Her interests include gender, mental health and culture. She has authored her first book on emotional abuse, and she can be reached at www.shivranjanarathore.com.
Featured image credit: Shome Basu