“You all are divided into small pieces” - Nishikant Kamat’s Madaari featuring Irfan Khan as a vigilante fighting the system carries this chilling message at its end. Divided into fragments over religion, caste, language, food habits and other issues India is still riven by factionalism, even decades after having attained Independence from the British. Here are some things that still split our country:
In cities, no one cares about caste, or so it seems. But this divide is still a stark reality for all of rural India. In many villages, the ‘Varnashrama’ system is still followed. Chilling stories of atrocities against Dalits emerge with terrifying regularity. The Indian political fraternity has played this to its advantage time and again through vote-bank politics and drive a deeper wedge between citizens. Even among the educated, caste-based issues often rear their ugly head, as was witnessed during the 1990 Mandal Commission protests and during the reign of Manmohan Singh, when his government decided to reserve 27% seats for backward classes. Many problems that threaten to tear apart the inclusive fabric of the country can be attributed to the historical baggage we carry, some that dates back to as many as two thousand years. Be it the Ram Mandir issue in Ayodhya or the rise of separatist sentiments among Kashmiris, our country’s complex and long history has proved to be a burden. The country that has seen many religious riots, primarily between Hindus and Muslims, since independence. From reports of rising ’intolerance’ to allegations of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ becoming a war cry, religion of late seems to be serving a purpose entirely different from what it is deemed for. Many believe that the developments on ground are a direct outcome of a tectonic shift in Indian politics, from minority appeasement to majoritan, Hindu-centric policies. The ‘Right vs Left’ debate has entered people’s drawing rooms, turned friends into foes, social media interactions have turned sour, and TV panelists have almost come to blows on sets. This has even split Bollywood in two halves. For instance, director Anurag Kashyap left Twitter as he and his daughter got threats for allegedly speaking against the government. Conversely, there is another section of the society who slam the so-called ‘intelligentsia’ as Pakistan appeasers and call them ‘anti-nationals’. The politics of language has plagued the nation since the days of re-organisation of states post Independence. Recently, the Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu’s assertion on Hindi being the national language and the recent move to make Hindi compulsory in Under Graduate courses, which was later withdrawn, met with a lot of protests and criticism from the South Indian states. Many believe that the reason for a successful national party like BJP not making inroads in Tamil Nadu is because it’s considered to be a ‘Hindi heartland’ party. Such examples are not rare to find. Two years back, Kannada Development Body’s (KDA) bizarre diktat asking all non-Kannada employees in nationalised and rural banks to learn the language within 6 months or leave the state raised many eyebrows. The media swings between extremes and, in a way, is a true reflection of the times it reports on. Most media debates have the tone and tenor of open war and media portals turning rabidly on each other has become the order of the day. While, the ‘jingoist, war-mongering’ voices within the news industry are getting shriller by day, the ‘left-liberal’ voices often conjure fear and paranoia over precious little. The ‘North vs South vs West vs East’ divide still casts a pall on our country. Time and again, people from the North-East have faced discrimination in the rest of the country. Two years ago, a 12-year-old Assamese girl wrote to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking his government to include the history of Assam and the other north-eastern states in the school curriculum. The request was ignored. Back in 1857, refusing to bite a cartridge cover that had traces of animal fat turned the Hindu and Muslim soldiers against the British and triggered the revolt of 1857. Cut to present day, and food is still a contentious issue. The latest episode involving Zomato delivery boys in Kolkata (they refused to deliver pork and beef as it hurt their religious sentiments) is just a continuation of an issue with a long history. In India, racism starts at home, at birth, and is so engrained in our collective psyche that we fail to even notice its ominous influence. A ‘black sheep’ in a family of ‘fair’ members still a cause for mockery and ridicule. There is an entire ‘fairness’ industry with India’s obsession with lighter skin at its epicentre. Enough said!