Monday, May 22, 2017

To care or not to care, that is the question (or not. I don't know. whatever.)


I'm torn about this month's editorial cue: we've been asked to think about what political movements Millennials care about and what shape/s activism to come might take, buffeted as this space (also) is by advances in technology and the fact of globalisation. Are we more active in politics than our parents? I want, more than anything, to be able to answer this question in the affirmative. Can I, in all honesty? Nope.

Because generalisations (such as the one I've just made) are anathema to me, I'm going to dial this back somewhat, and focus on what I can speak about with some authority - my location in the heart of a 'developing' post-colony, and what I see of political engagement and activism in and amongst those of my peers I share this space with. But that can only come after I've been able to frame this discussion by locating its back-story. The Indian context is polyphonic in the extreme; as I've said so many times before, it is impossible to speak about India in the singular at all. We are a fractured and fractious polity,  structurally premised on inequality (think of the caste system) and its myriad manifestations.

The fact that the freedom movement managed to - for brief periods of time between the 1920s and 1940s, mostly under the direction of an astute semiotician and all-round splendid gent named Mohandas Gandhi - cobble together the semblance of a 'national' identity and front, and that this oozed into the early years of independent India's very sense of self, is an undeniable truth. This movement was all encompassing, with room in it for everyone from the ryot to the student; the great-grand mother to the stripling 5-year-old who was schooled young into the idiom that we leave no (wo)man behind. It must've been a heady time to be alive, pregnant with possibility. Political engagement was not something "out there", it was something you lived and breathed; its visual markers and symbols were all-pervasive, from one's sartorial choices to one's alimentary ones.

How, so, did we get from there to here?         

In the answer(s) to this question lie stories of heartbreak. Mine, anyway.

The idealistic 'youth' of the nationalist movement became the (slowly - the sheen took some time to wear off) disenchanted parents and 'elders' of the next phase of India's story - decades rife with wars, famines, sanctions (remember the permit raj?) and an increasing distance between politicians and those they purported to represent. By the time the 80s rolled around, and with them the birth of the demographic this entire series attempts to make sense of, politics was already the immoral swamp it is today - something people would attempt to insulate us from as opposed to encourage us to engage with. The 90s brought India kicking and screaming into the global marketplace with our euphemistically titled 'liberalisation' programme, which effectively rendered the 'Socialist' descriptor in our Constitution a dead letter. The state has taken so much of a back-seat that for most of us - those of us privileged enough to not have to depend for subsistence on a leaky, broken public distribution system, I mean - we can spend all our lives thinking about the government merely when we're whining and moaning about the taxes we pay (or, more accurately, design elaborate jugaadu schemes to not pay).

No, we're not political, mainly because most of us are self-absorbed in the extreme, but how can we not be when the mainstream narrative of 'success' we've imbibed from the time we're in our (private) schools and universities and then go to work in (MNC) corporations is so ridiculously monolithic? Capitalism has defanged not just the state machinery charged with our welfare, it has defanged us, by selling us the idea that we can - and should - be apolitical. News flash: there is no such thing. Do you think I'm overstating this point? Think about it for one hot minute: what was the last mass movement you remember having spurred massive youth engagement here? 'India Against Corruption' (circa 2011-2012). What brought people out into the streets then? What drove them to that dim-witted closet-fascist Anna Hazare's arms? The fact that they once had to pay a bribe to a cop who tried to make a fast buck? That they had to pay a petty officer to get him or her to move their file along? We're only really inclined to be a part of something that affects us personally.

I say this with feeling because if it weren't true, man, a lot more of us would be protesting and marching and rallying and organising against the disgusting spate of cow-killings and vigilantism that has India in a vice-like (very saffron) choke-hold. I say this because very few of us give enough of a fuck to do anything about the fact that marital rape isn't - even today - recognised as rape at all; because Dalit atrocities are as high as they've ever been and all we can talk about is how reservations are anti-'merit'. Study after study shows that we 'the youth', also don't vote in large numbers, but are happy enough to spend an afternoon (especially if it is a sunny one) marching to protest results we're not tickled with. Sample this: "Immediately after the vote on Brexit, thousands of young people marched in the streets of England to show their disagreement over the choice to leave Europe. But polls indicated that had they voted en masse (only 37% voted), the result of the referendum would have been the opposite."[1] 

So are we truly as liberated or progressive as we believe we are? Are we hotter on posturing than putting in the time and effort to make a difference, especially if it isn't our own lives which stand to change or benefit from it? So, to end in and with my beginning, to care or not to care? At the rate at which things are spiraling out of control, I'm afraid this isn't going to be a question with more than one answer for very much longer.                     

P.S. Just today I read about the glorious turnout at the 'Bhim Army' rally in Jantar Mantar - 20,000 people, by some estimates. The Bhim Army was founded by an erudite and fiery young lawyer named Chandrashekhar (or 'Raavan'), and Vinay Ratan Singh, and started by "running a school for Dalit children, providing them with a sound education which the government-run schools were failing to impart. In July 2015, the first school was set up, and within two years, the number of schools run by the Bhim Army has shot up to over 300, run by Dalits for fellow Dalits and other children from underprivileged backgrounds."[2] The rally in Delhi was to protest the sharp increase in Dalit atrocities in Uttar Pradesh under the new Adityanath administration. Chandrashekhar seems to recognise that in order for this to work, the movement needs to be intersectional in the extreme - women, Dalits, Muslims, Adivasis - we must all come together. The Bhim Army will undoubtedly come up against the apathy I lament in the post above, but I'm holding my breath to see what will come of this. Is this (tantalisingly titled) front the beginnings of the resistance we've been waiting for? I don't know. But today, I chant full-throatedly, Jai Bhim!   


[1] See this incredibly detailed piece for more: https://thewire.in/136732/young-people-didnt-vote-now-protest/
[2] http://www.dailyo.in/lite/variety/bhim-army-dalits-yogi-modi-saharanpur-chandrashekhar/story/1/17340.html

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