Dressed in chains
The pillars of government have never been on such wanton pillage as now. But we should not be shocked. Seldom have we so fervently persuaded ourselves that this daily plucking and plunder of who we are, this diminution from citizen to subject, is for our own great good; that somehow, complaining or protesting about it, demanding our rights and our rightful place, is an act of sedition. It is as if we have been guilt-tripped into unqualified obeisance of a Lord we have long sinned against by shunning; now must follow the penance of prostration.
Day after day, knot upon rigid knot, we get looped tighter in the coils of what would be deemed shocking in any civil society. But we aren’t a civil society; civil society is what we heckle along barricades and gas and shoot, it is what we pick names for from the thesaurus of profanities, civil society is what we lock behind bars and toss the keys beyond the reach of appeal or reason or law or justice, or, very often, all of them combined. Our civilities we pawned off to purchase the secure servility of hectored propaganda hashtags. We should not be shocked at how we have come to be led. We should not be shocked that we have come under the antediluvian arrangements of deranged despots who we would read about in the comfort that it all happened somewhere far away, not here, no way. We should not be shocked that it is happening here, brought to us live on the hyper-cacophony of our television screens, our shackles presented to us as the armour of democracy. We are being dressed in chains but they are for our own good, prescribed protection. Because all that iron-plating is so much pretence, it can begin to shiver and shake at the distant twittering of birds.
It is possible we feel hobbled and helpless, but we should not be shocked. We put men in charge with hearts of molten concrete and souls full of spikes, they are casting us in their own likeness, we have become a realm of timid ferocities, we bark at our own. We should not be shocked. Many of the things happening around us are beyond shocking. You may have seen images of vistas approaching the national capital embedded with battle-grade rods of chiselled steel. You may have watched those barriers acquire layer upon layer of concrete and churning mortar pour into the spaces betwixt. You may also have wondered what era you’ve been transported to when you saw formations kitted out like medieval jousting squads. But you shouldn’t be shocked. We shouldn’t be shocked. Being shocked is an indulgence we stopped deserving a while back.
We killed a man on the suspicion of what he may have stored in his refrigerator as prospective meal. We were not shocked. We draped his alleged killer in national colours and gave him a hero’s send-off. We were not shocked. We killed a boy, lynched him on a public platform, for his festive headgear. We were not shocked. We made a social media festival of gory lynching. We feted the killers with garlands. We were not shocked; we were indifferent, or we were proud. We cheered the disgrace of a young man hog-tied to the bonnet of an army vehicle and used as human shield. We were not shocked; we commended the architect of dishonourable ways. We were stripped to our skins by a maverick bolt of financial disorder but we deemed it our national duty to clap and comply. We stood in queues to be handed driblets of our hard-earned money, as if it were the gift of holy benediction, a necessary cleansing which will require of us some collective pain. We were willing to be laughed at and mocked for the summary reduction of our circumstances, all for the greater good. It was to render a body-blow to terror outfits, it was to disable Maoist militias, it was to scrub off black money. None of that happened. We were not shocked. We bore the curse of demonetization like karma’s chosen beasts of burden.
We heaped the most sordid curtailments on those we still call our own. We quartered our crown and converted Kashmir into the largest prison house of the living, a whole people muffled and manacled, summarily bundled and divested. We weren’t shocked; we hailed it as the high hour of democracy. We have suffered, under the booming surround-sound of ultra-nationalism, some of the most audacious violations of national integrity — our garrisons invaded, our soldiers ripped, our pride defiled. We aren’t shocked. A formidable neighbour whose name the nation’s leader is terrified to bring to his lips has come to brashly alter our shape on the map and squat on our territory, claiming many of our brave lives in the process. We aren’t shocked; we’ve been told a lie and we live with that lie. We lay smitten with the folksy mumbo-jumbo of how smart we were to chance upon cloud-cover to neutralize radar-detection and conduct a daring air-raid across enemy lines. We have ridiculed ourselves to lies; we shouldn’t be shocked. We can rot in jail, and be denied bail, because of a joke we may never have cracked. We probably were born wrong and bear the wrong name, that’s why. Must we be shocked at such unabashed singling out and Othering? We have been told the name for it from high quarters — termites. Why must we be shocked that termites require extermination? Must we be shocked that the gowned eminences of justice blithely pronounce that a dying person will die anyhow, bail or no bail. Must we be shocked that an ailing, ageing undertrial is denied a sipper to drink from? Must we be shocked that we can be hustled into a police van for carrying a notebook and a pen? Must we be shocked that calling out a meagre mid-day meal for school kids is tantamount to crime against the State? Must we be shocked that the evidence of a young girl repeatedly raped and murdered is coldly set afire under uniformed guard? Must we be shocked if Hathras no longer reminds us?
We should not be shocked; we travelled past the use-before date. And so what if we arrived at Singhu and Tikri and Ghazipur? They too shall pass our station. From where we stand, we watched just this week a man saunter up the steps of Parliament as junior act to the ceremonies of our annual budget. Around this time last year, that man was making garrulous exhorts to murder from a stage as Delhi flamed on its fringes. Look up the headlines from then, if you will, and look around and wonder if the world around us got grimmer this sorry past year. But be not shocked.