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No Politician Can Save India, But Who Will Step Out Of The Way And Let Us Save It?

The world’s biggest effort against hate begins soon.

The only way India and Indians will get past the hate that has battered our society and targeted our minorities these past five years is to step out of our neutral bubbles and redeem ourselves. Sorry to break this to you but no messiah (or chowkidar) is coming to save us. We will have to save ourselves. 

Think of it as a beach cleanup, one piece of plastic at a time until, finally, after three years and 20 million kgs of garbage, you are rewarded with a pristine stretch. Only this will be much harder. This plan is way more ambitious than the Versova Beach clean-up in Mumbai. And we will need many Afroz Shahs to be obsessed with this work. It will require legwork, not tweets.    

Shah’s strategy is simple. The Mumbai-based lawyer gathers a group, picks a polluted area and starts work. After Versova Beach, he’s now cleaning (yes, personally cleaning) the filthy Mithi river in Mumbai. When I met Shah over bun maska at a Bandra restaurant a few months ago, he and his volunteers had been at work for eight weeks, and cleaned 200m of the 18km river. 

Ridding India of hate will be a much slower process. 

Shah and his band of volunteers work without any external grants or recognition. We will have to do the same—methodically tackle the bigots in our families, children’s schools, places of residence and offices, then move slowly outward to our neighbourhoods and all the other communities we inhabit. 

We must do this face-to-face and not on WhatsApp. If it works, it will be the world’s biggest effort against hate. 

The one freedom that hasn’t been restricted on any platform has been our freedom to hate.

Maybe things would have been different if we had reacted differently on 28 September 2015 when a mob—consisting largely of neighbours and people he had known for years—barged into Mohammed Akhlaq’s house and brutally murdered him in front of his family because they didn’t approve of the contents of his fridge.

If Akhlaq’s horrific tragedy—which occurred in the backyard of those of us who live in Noida—marked the early Narendra Modi years, the Gurgaon home invasion earlier this week has become the pointer of hate that marks this government’s term-end. Once again, a mob of 20-25 men entered a Muslim family’s home in Dhumaspur village with weapons, abused and attacked them, then left. Both times the ghar mein ghuske marenge idea was executed perfectly by foot-soldiers of the Sangh Parivar. 

Also Read: Why Hindus And Not Muslims Must Prove Their Patriotism

Between these two markers of Noida and Gurgaon lies a New India where it’s okay to be hateful and Islamophobic. Where cows have more rights than citizens. Where the twin ideas of nationalism and patriotism have been twisted beyond belief and everyone who speaks up about this must face the frenzied chant of Go to Pakistan. 

The one freedom that hasn’t been restricted on any platform has been our freedom to hate. Elected representatives repeatedly showed us how to do this. They did this so often that last year I even compiled a Twitter thread about it here. In fact, I became so obsessed with love and hate that I wrote more than 30,000 words about these two extremes in my weekly column in Mint Lounge. 

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, following the Christchurch terror attack. Photo courtesy: Christchurch City Council Newsline/Kirk Hargreaves (CC BY 4.0) Cropped from original.

If we had done a New Zealand after Akhlaq, talked publicly about kindness and compassion, stood guard for our Muslim fellow citizens, covered our heads—or whatever alternate method pre-approved by educated Hindus who mocked the “celebration of the hijab” on Twitter—in solidarity, we might have been the dam that was so badly required to stop this poison. 

Instead we draped the body of Akhlaq’s lynching accused in the tricolour. Mahesh Sharma, our minister of state for culture and tourism, the Lok Sabha MP of that area, showed up to pay his respects and tweeted a picture of himself from there, giving the government’s longstanding Incredible India tourism campaign new meaning. Click here to see what happened to another accused in this case. 

Akhlaq’s lynching accused Ravi Sisodia’s body draped in the national flag. Credits: Twitter

Through all this and much more, we kept quiet, giving the facilitators and the foot soldiers of hate a free hand. We let perpetrators and victims of hate crimes believe that India was okay with this. And now here we are again, ready to vote our leaders for the next five years. 

We will have to clean up the mess we made ourselves. No politician can save India’s soul. But which political parties are likely to step out of our way, or extend background support while we mend India, one family at a time? 

For a few minutes before we vote, we must forget about everything else and just ask ourselves a simple question: Which political parties facilitate and thrive on hate? Which parties will support us when we begin the arduous task of cleaning up the dirty beach? Which ones even want a clean beach? You already know the answer.

Also Read: Here’s How Well-intentioned, Sane Media Allow Hatred To Flourish

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