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regular-article-logo Sunday, 21 July 2024

Unlearn the lessons

The impunity with which Modi attacks minorities in his speeches is disturbing. Not only is this unbecoming of a person who holds the highest elected office in our nation but it is also irresponsible

T.M. Krishna Published 31.05.24, 07:43 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. Sourced by the Telegraph.

“As Indians, we must be deeply disturbed by Mr Narendra Modi’s (the Prime Minister!) language and low level of political discourse. Social media has been as bad or worse. If we feel this is par for the course, then there is something very rotten within us.”

I posted this note a few days ago on my social media handles and, as expected, there was abuse, whataboutery and selective reading. Kee­p­ing all that aside, what was evident was that those who took offence either have no problem with Modi’s words or are willing to excuse all these excesses because of their blind belief in him. This only makes his unrefined comments much more problematic. A friend who saw the comments under my post wrote to me asking if there was any sanity left. What my friend was referring to is actually a lack of emotional coherence and independence. And this leads to a loss of humanity.

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The impunity with which Modi attacks minorities in his speeches is deeply disturbing. Not only is this unbecoming of a person who holds the highest elected office in our nation but it is also irresponsible. Each time Modi makes outlandish and provocative comments about Muslims, it is not only a Hindu consolidation strategy. He reconfirms biases that are closely held by hardcore Hindutva supporters and Islamophobes. It plays up their already simmering, unreasonable anger and even provides justification for those who want to target Muslims. It is evident from Modi’s tone, the way in which he delivers those lines, and the audience’s response that this cannot be written off as just high-decibel electioneering. They are also not one-time mistakes.

Right through these elections, Modi has repeatedly made such statements. He has curated his own personality as a strong, undefeatable, nearly-mythical Hindu saviour. Every word he utters is influential; therefore, it is disappointing that he does not seem to care about the larger repercussions of his utterances. This is not just about one election; it is about what such statements coming from the top do to our already teetering social fabric. Modi cannot ignore the fact that there are people who hold on to every word that he utters as the word of god! As much as we find his recent claim that his existence was divinely ordained ridiculous, there are many who actually believe it. I have heard people speak of the ‘tejas’ on his face. He is definitely aware of his impact on his followers. Yet, he ignores the dangers involved in speaking with such insensitivity and callousness. If the prime minister does not show measure in the way he conducts himself, I am not sure who else we can depend upon.

Some may turn this discussion on its head and ask difficult questions of us, the citizens. Even if Modi is continuously spouting unacceptable comments, why are we not recognising the problem and demanding probity from him? One thing has become very clear over the past decade: the education that we have been consuming generation after generation in this country has nothing to do with morality and critical thinking. The middle and upper-middle classes have foregrounded a kind of empty intelligence that results in high-efficiency output of various skill sets. Our entire school and college education revolves around churning out such ‘intelligent robots’ so that life can become materialistically comfortable. Nowhere does ethical intelligence, humanity, compassion and love feature in what we learn. All these are taken for granted or thrown to the wolves because they do not, according to the market place, generate higher productivity. There are economists who even refuse to speak of societal fissures when addressing growth. They use the trope of field specificity to escape responsibility. At the same time, there are others who cry themselves hoarse about the falsity of such a premise. Yet, again and again, the business world and the stock market sacrifice human beings at the altar of profit and continue to pressure educators to keep the supply chain homogeneously skilled and unthinking.

When intelligence that transcends transactionality is not cultivated, we fall prey to hatred and rumour-mongering. WhatsApp Uni­­versity is successful not only because it appears convincing, has a wide reach, and is bite-sized but also because it is so easy to convince us to hate and be hostile. The result is the plethora of unfeeling expressions that we are bombarded with on an everyday basis. We have not learnt to love. The reader may wonder if this needs to be cultivated. It is not enough if our environment is imbued with humane values. We also need to be taught what it means to be non-judgemental, just, treat people equally, and recognise and acknowledge our own limitations. And, above all this, learn to listen, unlearn, and converse with people who are different from us.

Love and compassion in their truest sense cannot be felt, or acted upon unless they are disentangled from societal normatives. Babasaheb Ambedkar wondered whether love can really exist in a society that is so uneven and merciless. For love to dominate our lives, we have to discard the terrible habits that society has instilled in us. Instead of giving us the emotional and the psychological capacity to fearlessly embrace unconditional love, our education system makes us divisive lovers. We are only taught to follow rules, remain domesticated, and not challenge power structures. Any and all transgressions are punished.

‘Mugging’ — the memorising of lessons, questions and answers — is a word we are all familiar with. In this form of rote, there can only be one correct answer and that answer need not be understood; it is to be accepted. Added upon this is a disregard for the process of arriving at any answer. When we learn in this manner, we do not know how to even frame a question. Questioning is not an easy task. It is not just a line with a question mark at the end. A question is a deeply thought-out phrasing that has clarity, humility and is never trivial, condescending or disrespectful. Learning to question in this manner also teaches us to differentiate between critical thought and bigotry, an essential differentiation that we are ill-equipped to make.

I began with Modi but then turned the tables on the citizens. I did so because we are unable to demand better from Modi. I use the term, ‘we’, as it is used in our Preamble — ‘We the People’ — and not in a narrow, ideological way. Expecting the highest standards from the prime minister of India must be universally felt. And the fact that we cannot come together even for that is telling. For us to be able to come together in unison in such common cause, we need to change the way we learn. Otherwise, we will continue to participate in this cacophony.

T.M Krishna is a leading Indian musician and a prominent public intellectual

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