It was 2019 and technology had allowed me to be in Shanghai airport while adjusting the mood lighting for my apartment in New York.
And there stood a guy at the end of conveyer belt manually dragging each piece of baggage from a truck onto the belt, one at a time for over 300 passengers.
Even though Kolkata happened to be the capital of the eastern corridor of India, the airport technology wing was running a few years late.
Jet-lagged angry passengers grew visibly upset at the long wait. Before I could reach the belt, a brawl had broken out between the conveyer belt boy & a passenger.
A Mr. Sharma (passenger) was furious at Ali (Conveyer belt boy) for touching his holy suitcase. He claimed that his suitcase had sacred Hindu stuff (maybe, like a cow?) which now had lost all its God-value because our Ali boy being Muslim had plastered his Muslim hands all over it.
My flight was suppose to take me to India, I think it might have accidentally transported me back to 1800s.
2019 was a very hard year for Indians.
Modi had just gotten re-elected and the political climate had taken a turn for the worst, forcing Indians to pick sides. Most national media outlets in India had turned into a propaganda machine.
The Modi Government set fire to the communal peace, India enjoyed since 1947. The road to my ancestral home was filled with burnt cars, torn slogan placards and signs of violence everywhere.
It wasn’t just that. You could smell the fear in the air.
Oh Modi-ji! You have colossally fucked it up this time.
The truth was, the most powerful man in the country was making my closest friends feel unsafe in their own homes.
But, how did this man get so powerful?
2014, set forth as a year of change! India was facing a shit luck with leaders for the past decade or so. The sound of failed promises of ministers were still lingering in our ears. News channels overwhelmed us with sensational corruption scandals at prime time while stories of rapes and shooting filled the front pages in the mornings.
It was time for a Gandhi-sized change.
One man stood out. He was strong, spoke with confidence, made realistic promises & his no-bullshit attitude destroyed his competitors. He had something special, he connected with the ordinary working class like no Prime Minister ever did. Draped in cotton waist-coat & iron clad ambition, the man was truly Made-In-India.
He was Mr. Narendra Modi.
Billions of Indians across the globe applauded with watery eyes as he stepped up on the wooden podium to commence his much-deserved victory speech. He folded his hands, bowed his head & made a promise to make India a global powerhouse.
And, he did.
The promises weren’t hollow. His campaigns took off fairly quickly. The poor got free healthcare, foreign trade policies drastically improved, every Slumdog got their own toilet and India got brand new notes. He even set up a special helpline to chat with him.
Modi scored a perfect ten in all counts. Maybe, not all.
The powerful Modi got, the more people started seeing a side to him which was truly alarming in nature. He and his party began expressing their rage towards the Muslim minority in public.
Before we get to that, I think it’s important to understand the social dynamic structure of India.
A country of 1.3B people, where 80% are Hindus and rest 20% are minorities. Out of that 20%, Muslims are the largest minority with over 13.4%. India had a much larger muslim population pre-independence, but the communal war ended with a partition in 1947. The two major muslim regions broke out and became their separate identities— East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and West Pakistan(Pakistan). One we’re friends with, one we’re not.
India was declared a secular nation after independence and since then major political parties have played safe keeping the communal peace untouched.
Except for one party. The R.S.S (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh)
The R.S.S was a small group of individuals who strongly believed that India was meant to be Hindu nation and their life’s mission was to turn India into one. We call them Hindu Nationalists. Basically the people who will be sending me death threats once this post gets published.
R.S.S gained most of its popularity back in the day, from a man named Nathuram Vinayak Godse who shot and killed Gandhi in public. They were pretty much shunned from society after that.
In the beginning, the R.S.S party was super picky about their members. They only recruited Hindus who belonged to the higher castes. But that wasn’t really helping their numbers, they needed people. With a little switch up in strategy, they started recruiting lower caste Hindus as foot soldiers. They worked as propagandists.
One such soldier was Narendra Modi. Recruited at a very young age, he dedicated his entire life for the party. His dedication was rewarded and he quickly rose the ranks up!
How did we forget this so quickly?
The 80s & 90s were another era of violence history will never forget. Communal violence broke out in massive scale in India around a sacred muslim site built in the early 1850s which also happened to be a Holy Hindu site.
R.S.S jumped to the scene pretending to protect Hindu rights, winning some hearts by killing some Muslims. The unrest continued through the 90s, one thing led to another and riots reached the state Narendra Modi happened to be the Chief Minister of.
The Muslim areas of the state were violently attacked by Hindu fundamentalists. Rare pictures of men cutting open pregnant women and dead children emerged. Countless raped women and men with missing body parts showed up at medical relief camps.
The State government chose to remain silent and the Indian Army had to intervene. The world came together and condemned Modi for his inaction.
Your Father Is Brainwashed, Just Like Mine.
My recent trip to India, came as a rude awakening. I found the country divided and my family brainwashed, just like yours.
I couldn’t believe the reasons my very reasonable father produced about not reaching out to his closest friend in Kashmir who was then trapped in a humanitarian crisis.
The same friend who had sheltered us in his family home for weeks when Kashmir shut down over an emergency curfew.
Kashmir is probably the most beautiful place in this planet. Call me biased!
Unfortunately, it carries a history of dispute and violence. During partition in 1947, all muslim majority states went to Pakistan and Kashmir being one was expected to go. Kashmir’s then Hindu ruler decided to stay independent, but was later attacked by Muslim tribesman from Pakistan. Helpless at the time, Kashmir acceded to India.
Since then, Kashmir was included in the Indian Constitution however it enjoyed an autonomous status. This status came with some perks. It meant only Kashmiris could purchase land in Kashmir.
What followed next was, multiple attacks and retaliations from both countries claiming rights to the land keeping Kashmiris always vulnerable & under a certain degree of military protection.
In August 2019, Modi Government revoked that immunity without declaring any future plans. Going by the party’s history, let’s assume the worst case scenario here for the only muslim majority state in the country.
Kashmir was put in a lockdown. A strict curfew with thousands of military patrolling the streets all day. Phone-lines, internet, movement and medical help was suspended indefinitely. Any form of demonstration was met with shootings, grenades and violence.
The world came together to help Kashmir, while Kashmiris lived in a full media blackout for 50+days. People around the world felt the pain Kashmiris were going through. Brutal pictures emerged from lock-down-Kashmir that shook the world.
There lives a fear in every heart in India. Recently, The Government launched an Amnesty bill called the CAA (Citizen Amendment Act) which will fast-track the citizenship route for seeking refugees.
This is great news! But, there’s a catch.
Muslim refugees will not be considered for this bill.
The justification for this ruthless act was — Muslim refugees can seek citizenship from the two neighbouring muslim countries — Pakistan & Bangladesh.
Modi, if you dislike Muslims this much, why don’t you just build a wall?
Wait, he did.
Modi & company constructed their first detention camps for people who will not qualify for the citizenship act.(aka muslims)
We are failing you, India
Everyone of us is failing you, India.
We were suppose to protect our minorities and we are letting them die everyday. We are choosing fear over love repeatedly!We are letting them rewrite our beautiful secular history by caging our own people.
As a child, I often went with my grandmother to areas around the river where she would hand out food to the poor people. They knew her on first name basis. On one occasion, she took her her ring off and handed it to a man on the street. Later when I asked her about it, she said,
“Its Eid, he didn’t have any money to buy gifts for his children — now he can.”
For many years, thats what India stood for me. The love I felt for people, despite their choice of Gods.
But today as I conclude this article, my heart is heavy.
I know my country is falling apart, my people are dying and my faith isn’t withstanding this test anymore. My loved ones are failing me and the ones that taught me to love everyone, are making me pick sides.
I cannot tell you to choose. But as an Indian if you can think of one movie without a Khan in it or a year without a Diwali or Eid in it — you’ll know which side you’re on.
We’re connected in more ways than we know. Don’t let this bigotry divide you.
Your faith lies with your people, not with your God.
I am as credible as my sources. Here they are:
- New Yorker: A detailed account of the violence in India.
- CNN: Profile on the PM.
- DailyO: PM’s achievements
- The New York Times: Recent Communal Violence for Citizen Amendment Act
- New Yorker: The Rise of Hindu Fundamentalist
- BBC: Gujarat Riots. If you want a closer look, look here.
- Multiple: A survivor’s story, while another still believes.
- Bloomberg: Detention camps build to contain.
- Al Jazeera: India’s largest Detention camp
- BBC: Violence in Kashmir
- Al Jazeera: 100 days of Lockdown in Kashmir
- New York Times: In pictures, Kashmir.