By Sagar S Mar. 03, 2020
While reading about the violence that unfolded last week in Delhi can cause anxiety and fear, is ignoring the next piece of news a long-term solution to this “political despair”, or actually a sign of privilege? Privilege that the violence isn’t happening in our neighbourhoods, or that it hasn’t affected our loved ones, yet.
Anxiety and fear are the two most common reactions to reading the news these days — slowly replacing previous reactions, like innocent face-palms and sly smiles. The Delhi violence has likely shocked anyone who’s been keeping up with the headlines, and can’t believe that the capital of a secular country could see such violence in 2020. Predictably, there have been mock calls on social media for the government to pay for the citizens’ therapy.
There’s been more than a few reasons for this despair — over 47 people have been killed (according to reports, the count could rise, considering the number of seriously injured) and nearly 200 residents of Delhi have been injured in a week of violence, made worse by an apathetic visit from the leader of the free world, and the spread of misinformation like we have never seen before.
So, it’s no surprise that a certain level of pessimism has set in. Barring one gunman caught on camera shooting at police officers, few arrests have been made, although several FIRs have – perhaps belatedly – been lodged. Politicians who have been accused of inciting violence, and the mobs who have been accused of carrying out this violence on their behalf mostly remain free. Meanwhile, the rise in communal tension hasn’t been this evident in years, with flare-ups constantly appearing online, even as the residents of Delhi make urgent appeals for peace.
Can we really afford to stay silent when our fellow countrymen are facing these very real fears?
Incidents like last week’s flash violence in Delhi could prompt even the most thick-skinned person to get rid of their internet connections and newspaper subscriptions, and spend a few days away from the madness of the news cycle. This feeling is best summed up by the now-former BJP leader Subhadra Mukherjee, who — before resigning from the party over inflammatory statements made by BJP leaders Anurag Thakur and Kapil Mishra before the Delhi violence — said that “the growing atmosphere of hatred and violence made me feel disturbed.”
Indeed, it is disturbing to realise that we live in a country where even leaders of political parties feel helpless enough to quit. But, at the same time, is ignoring the next piece of news a long-term solution to this “political despair”, or actually a sign of privilege? Privilege that the violence isn’t happening in our neighbourhoods, or that it hasn’t affected our loved ones, yet. Sure it sounds tempting to spend a few days watching The Office reruns instead of logging on to Twitter, but can we really afford to stay silent when our fellow countrymen are facing these very real fears?
At these moments, rather than running the risk of spiralling into a phase of fatalistic pessimism, it’s more important to instead focus our attention on amplifying the few glimmers of hope that this violence has thrown up. Stories of people who, despite the horrors they dealt with, are working to pick up the pieces. Stories that remind us that, while things may seem really bad right now, all is not lost. Stories like that of Mohinder Singh, who along with his son, helped ferry 60 people to safety, or the Hindu priest who said it was Muslim brothers who helped ensure nothing happens to the temple.
It’s the antithesis to “political despair”, or what a few political commentators have been calling “political hope”. Why is it important right now? As this article in AEON explains, “Political hope is distinguished by two features. Its object is political: it is hope for social justice. And its character is political: it is a collective attitude. While the significance of the first feature is perhaps obvious, the second feature explains why it makes sense to speak of hope’s ‘return’ to politics.”
Indeed, it is disturbing to realise that we live in a country where even leaders of political parties feel helpless enough to quit.
Of course this article was written in the context of American politics, but it applies equally well to the aftermath of the Delhi violence. In order to not allow fatigue to set in, and suddenly declare ourselves apolitical, it’s important that we continue this fight for social justice. To keep this spirit going, we need to hold on to all the good we witness around us — such as the one of the Hindu man who eventually had the courage to climb up and take down a Hindutva flag from a vandalised mosque, or the Muslim men and women who formed a human chain to save a temple from certain destruction, getting injured in the process.
Rather than bow out of the conversation for a few more days of mental health, “political hope” would indicate that it is now more important than ever to remind ourselves of the Gurdwaras who opened their doors to the injured, or the Hindu and Muslim residents of Brijpuri, who ignored months of hate speeches, to carry out a peace march together.
Sure the headlines aren’t going to always be rosy, but for now, all we can do is hope for the best. Being hopeless is not an option.
Sagar has lived in Mumbai for most of his life. You can often find him complaining about potholes and local trains when he isn't out having a mediocre time.