11 July 2017 11:06:45 IST

A long-time ‘deskie’, Baskar has spent much of his journalism career on the editorial desk. A keen follower of economic and political matters, he likes to view economic issues from a political economy lens as he believes the economic structure of a society is deeply embedded in its political and social ethos. Apart from writing the PolitEco column for BLoC, Baskar writes book reviews and articles on politics, economics and sports for the BL web edition. Reading and watching films are his other interests, though the choice of books and films are rather eclectic.  A keen follower of sports, especially his beloved Tottenham Hotspur FC, Baskar is an avid long-distance runner.  He hopes to learn music some day!

Whose nation is it anyway?

Context will help understand how India, known for its hospitality, is now hostile to its own

Recently, a heart warming story shared extensively on social media, has been attracting attention. Though this story was reported in the print media a few years ago, it seems to have caught the attention of social media only now.

The story is about how the then Jam Saheb of Nawanagar Digvijaysinhji Jadeja provided home to a group of refugees from Poland who were fleeing from the horrors of World War II. It is still not clear how these refugees managed to reach India. According to some reports they reached the port of Bombay on a ship after being refused entry in several countries, and according to others, they were freed from Soviet labour camps and managed to reach India after an arduous journey through Central Asia. Naturally, the Jam Saheb’s generosity and magnanimity came in for a lot of praise.

After these refugees returned to Poland, they named a school in Warsaw after the Jam Saheb. He was even declared as a patron saint of the school in 1999 in a referendum conducted by students and teachers, according to a report that appeared in The Hindu in 2012.

Times change

As always, it was the comments section on social media that was illuminating in ways more than one. The people who posted and forwarded this quite rightly praised the generosity and magnanimity of the Jam Saheb in helping the hapless Polish refugees. Some even commented about how India has always traditionally been a generous host by welcoming people from other parts of the world. There were also the usual sneering comments on ‘libtards’ and ‘sickulars’, who were accused of perennially bad-mouthing their country.

But just two years after these Polish refugees returned to their country, the Indian subcontinent was torn asunder by partition which resulted in the largest migration in the history of human-kind, of up to 10 million people and the death of 1-2 million people in the horrific communal frenzy that accompanied it.

Though some would question the connection between the hospitality received by the Polish refugees and partition, it would be pertinent to note how a country fêted for its generosity towards foreigners could suddenly turn so brutal towards its own.

This, of course, brings us to the recent incidents of innocent Muslims accused of carrying beef, being killed by self-appointed ‘Gau Rakshaks’, who are nothing but brutal lynch mobs. The tragic murder of 16-year-old Junaid on a train, returning from Eid shopping, was set upon by a mob over a trivial fight over a seat. And it is always a trivial issue that triggers this kind of violence.

Pin drop silence

What’s more disturbing is the silence from the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke out only when he realised that keeping quiet any longer would put him in a negative light, so came the statement from Gandhiji’s Sabarmati Ashram.

And one can discern a pattern here in the government’s response. Even during the Dadri lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq a couple of years ago, the Prime Minster bided his time before commenting, and even then his statements seem to be deliberately couched in abstract terms, where any reference to specific incidents or people is carefully air brushed.

Media reports say that there have been 32 cases of attacks by cow vigilante groups on Muslims, and 23 deaths since 2014. There is no doubt that these self-appointed guardians of ‘culture’ have a greater sense of impunity after this government came to power.

#NotInMyName

The recent attacks also sparked off a series of #notinmyname protests across the country last Wednesday. Chennai too had demonstrations a couple of days later.

Of course, there were the usual criticisms against the protests by people from various political leanings. The most valid question being raised is whether a gathering of a bunch of like-minded people was really going to change things at the ground level and stop the violence being perpetrated in the name of the Holy Cow.

Grasroots movements

Though one has to be realistic about what such protests can or cannot achieve, it is important to note the symbolism behind these protests. They signify that there are a large number of people in this country who are deeply disturbed by these violent events and find it worth their while to come out and register their discontent.

It is tempting to classify the people protesting as rootless, deracinated cosmopolitans who have lost touch with reality in this country, but that would be a mistake as these protests are often filled with grassroots activists who either work with political parties or NGOs, and are often more in touch with ‘reality’ than their armchair critics.

In a milieu where terms like ‘sickular’ and ‘libtards’ have become received wisdom needing no further negotiation, it is heartening that some people have decided to raise their voice against the deafening silence of the government, especially at a time when the Opposition parties seem to be losing the fight against the ruling combine. Whether these protests gather steam and turn into a larger movement remains to be seen.