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Return of “Darkness:WHEN WILL INDIA SEE LIGHT?,By Proloy Bagchi, 25 July, 2012 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 25 July 2012

Return of “Darkness”


By Proloy Bagchi


A kind of darkness seems to be descending on the country, when one looks around.  Akin to what Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul described in his travelogue, “An Area of Darkness” published in 1964, nearly 50 years ago.


The time when the country was emerging out of centuries of imperial rule and searching for an identity. Highly religious, caste-ridden and tradition-bound, he found a stagnating India. But more forbidding, we seem to be witnessing an encore in the second decade of the 21st Century. 


Ominous, as this sounds, undeniably the people’s thought processes seems to be consciously and unrelentingly heading towards the medieval ages. Although this cannot be reckoned as the sign of the times, specially when serious efforts are under way to achieve material progress, yet many societal aberrations strongly suggest that regressive tendencies are getting free play.


Importantly, with each passing day, suppression of women’s freedom and their abuse appears to be gathering strength. The Khaps, a sort of socio-political village grouping, have become active again and are issuing diktats which are reactionary to the core. Ironically, that too, in the prevailing atmosphere of freedom in a modern democratic society.


Pertinently, the Khaps and their agglomerations, Sarv Khaps, were, for ages, instruments of administration in the village republics of north-western India comprising the modern northern Indian States of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Wherein, from time immemorial Indian society has been organised around the village unit.


Significantly, the republican fabric of the village administration did not die out despite the emergence of subsequent systems of administrations. However, with the establishment of panchayats, Khaps lost much of their significance.


But, they continue to function in some pockets and issue uncompromising diktats, mostly on marriage norms and against women. Though archaic, their power and influence continues to be formidable. Only last week a young couple was killed by the girl’s father and brother in UP’s Etah district. Unacceptable to the Khap panchayat, the couple was murdered despite an order from the State High Court for providing police protection to them.


A fortnight ago, another girl paid with her life for marrying a boy against the wishes of her family in Mathura. In Haryana, a class 12 student was done to death by her father in Sonepat. Her crime? She fell in love and wanted to marry a boy from the same gotra and same village. Ditto, another case in Kaithal.


This in not all. Recently, in a Taliban-like fatwa, the Khap of UP’s Asara village banned love marriages, prohibited women below 40 from shopping and using cell phones outside their respective homes.


More appalling, was that political parties came out in support of the Khap. Even the young and well-educated Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav parried questions and avoided condemning the fatwa, thus indirectly turning a blind eye to the sinister system that takes the community back to the dark, medieval ages of patriarchy.


Undoubtedly, women are at the receiving end. Earlier this month, a 20 year girl was molested and stripped by a gang of around 50 hoodlums as she came out of a bar with friends in Assam’s Capital Guwahati. Notwithstanding the national outrage over the incident and arrest of one person, the perpetrators are still at large.


In fact, this was worse than a similar incident in Karnataka’s Mangalore city in 2009. A Hindu extreme right wing outfit, Sri Ram Sene organised an assault on girls at a pub. They were physically attacked and many sustained serious injuries.


Why? The Sri Ram Sene believes girls have no business to go to pubs as it goes against the tenets of Hinduism. Whereby, women should be appropriately dressed, confined to the kitchen and obediently serving every need of their husbands and families. Just as was the norm in traditional Hindu society decades ago.


A similar tradition-bound society is what Naipaul encountered during his travels through the country to discover his roots over four decades ago. Gloating over its ancient glory, India was indifferent to material progress. Guided by the Karma theory, the country wallowed in poverty, squalor and filth. Its leaders were disinterested in material progress and oblivious of the economic revival taking place apace in war-ravaged countries across the globe.


Content with the 3.5 per cent “Hindu rate of growth” our leaders were blind to the untold human misery that surrounded them. Sadly, the very same construct is slowly but surely making a re-appearance. Whereby, the society is getting radicalised with religious bigotry striving to occupy centre stage.


Worse, radicalised fringe elements of Hindus and Muslims have been successesful in brow-beating the Government in to submission.


Recall, how Sri Ram Sene goons raided an exhibition of the late famous Indian artist MF Hussain and vandalised all his paintings for depicting Indian Gods and Goddess in “vulgar” poses. Adding fuel to fire, other Hindu extremist groups joined the Sene and ensured that Hussain lived the rest of his life in exile. He died in London last year.


Similar is the case of a Bangladeshi doctor-turned-author Taslima Nasreen. She was exiled from her country in 2008 for authoring an ‘undesirable’ literary work and lived in India, her country of refuge. Here too, she faced physical attack from a Muslim political group in Hyderabad and was forced to seek refuge in Kolkata. But there too, a radical Muslim outfit threatened her with death. Kept under (virtual) house-arrest in New Delhi for months, Nasreen later left the country.


India-born Booker-prize winning author Salman Rushdie also was meted somewhat similar treatment early this year for authoring Satanic Verses published 24 years ago. The Muslims cried foul as his book allegedly mocked Prophet Mohammed. Under pressure of Islamic fundamentalists he was prevented from attending the Jaipur Literary Festival.


The tragedy of it all, is that in all these instances, weak-kneed Governments, States and Centre, deliberately did not adopt their avowed secular stand. Thereby, playing along with the fundamentalists for reasons that were patently political.


Alas, not only competitive radicalism but equally abhorring is the pervasive corruption which is overwhelming the country. Today, it has gone viral and infected every segment of society --- politicians, bureaucracy, industrialists, small businessmen, traders’ et al.  Billions of rupees of the common people hard earned wealth have been siphoned off from public funds by them. Thus, throwing cold water on the much-acclaimed sizzling “GDP growth”.


Indeed, ethical values had never plummeted to such depths. With hardly any sign of governance, law and order is on a long holiday. Looting, kidnappings, thefts, molestations and rape are routine. Unfortunately, what one sees all around is a shade that is much darker than what Naipaul saw! ---- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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