Many Indians have declared via social networking sites that they intend boycotting this year’s Republic Day (January 26), in the wake of last month’s gang-rape (now also -murder) incident in New Delhi.
It is possible that some of them boycott all Republic Days. But are others targeting just this year’s alone? Will you attend or watch them in the future?
Have you been comfortable with not just the flag-anthem-presidential-speech-on-the-eve-of routine but the display of tanks and missiles (those phallic symbols of a nation’s manhood) during the New Delhi parade and the marches by uniformed ranks of men and some women? All that macho-ness of a wannabe superpower?
How comfortable have we all been in the knowledge that the armed forces, the paramilitaries and the police have carried out large-scale rapes and have brutalised vast numbers of people including women in Kashmir, the North-eastern states, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa?
That the politicians and the state security machinery have been complicit, and worse, in the rapes carried out as part of pogroms against Sikhs in New Delhi in 1984 and Muslims in Gujarat to mention only two of the most horrific episodes in post-Independence India?
Dalits are raped by upper caste people in villages on a daily basis. Why does Jantar Matar not ring with denunciations of such daily horrors?
And no, please, I’m not getting into a this-is-a-middle-class-protest argument. One young woman had a horrific experience and she succumbed to her injuries after a brave fight. This happened in the national capital. Her case got reported as opposed to many thousands of others that did not. This deeply tragic episode has sent shockwaves through Indian society. Her memory needs to be respected. And if what befell her can be a catalyst for badly needed progress in Indian society, so be it.
Many people have been saying, rightly, that what happened to her in the capital happens to shockingly large numbers of women in other part of the Indian republic. The rape of a tribal woman, Soni Sori, was supervised by police superintendent Ankit Garg, who received a presidential medal on Republic Day 2012 for his pains.
This in a country that conferred the Bharata Ratna (literally “India diamond”), on A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who has been a darling of the Hindutva types because he endorses what they cherish — their nuclear manhood.
To be honest I too had had once thought this “missile man” deserved the highest honour the Indian nation could confer. I had imbibed deeply the nationalism taught in schools, fed by All India Radio and reinforced by a jingoist media as well as “patriotic” filmmakers.
When I lived in East Asia for a total of 23 years, I was exposed to the intensity of nationalism displayed by many – though not all – Chinese, Koreans, Japanese and Vietnamese. After a more than six-year stay in Beijing, I was influenced by Chinese style nationalism.
In 1998, India tested a nuclear bomb, detonating massive confusion in me (and many other Indians, besides): On the one hand I deeply resented the fact that four white boys and one yellow boy could have their nuclear toys and all the rest of the boys had to make do with “conventional” weapons. On the other, I was aware that the tests and counter-tests were a deeply troubling development in the subcontinent.
Added to this nuclear toy fixation is the Indian establishment’s desire to join the veto-wielding five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – incidentally the same five that have their nuclear manhoods officially endorsed in that international atomic Apartheid document, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – instead of working for true international democracy and universal nuclear disarmament. But then those wedded to phallocracy within their borders would naturally be comfortable with it on the international plane too, wouldn’t they?
A couple of Indian documentary filmmakers such as Anand Patwardhan (in his Ram ke Naam — In the Name of God) and Rakesh Sharma (in his Final Solution) have shown the link between this nuclear fixation and genocidal Hindutva ideology.
When it comes to matters nuclear, Hindutva chauvinists and many secular nationalists’ viewpoints converge.
Unsurprisingly, many of the most vocal voices raised against the Koodankulam nuclear plant are those of women, the Dalits, fisherfolk and others. The Indian republic has so far sought to suppress the opinions of these “ordinary” people against patriarchal decision-making.
Will one woman’s horrific gang-rape and death as well as consequent protests nationwide be soon overtaken by other crises, other issues to keep the country’s parliament in a state of paralysis? Or will people at large realise the full horrors of the breakdown of law and order and will civil society be able to mount a sustained campaign for positive change, eschewing blood-lust and demands for medieval punishments?
Can what occurred in New Delhi in mid-December lead to positive change? Perhaps to an induction of more women in the next post-election parliament? To a less macho, less male-chauvinistic, less patriarchal republic, a republic whose passport one need not be ashamed of carrying and whose anniversaries one need not boycott?