Monday, 28 May 2012

Its just not funny

Sometimes you have to wonder whether to laugh or to cry.  Or both.

Two weeks ago our main house of parliament ground to a halt.  Angry members raised their voices. Leaders from across the parties shouting - pushing - demanding that justice be done.  A terrible sense of rage was seen in the august leaders that our 1.2 billion people have elected to represent us and to rule our nation.

What was the issue?  Was it starvation deaths?  Was it the millions of baby girls killed every year before they are born (and at least 50% more baby boys too but that is just run-of-the-mill abortion-on-demand, not sex-selective foeticide), was it the plight of the lakhs of people who are displaced in the name of development, the shoddy state of our hospitals, the thousands of government schools that do not have teachers?  I could go on almost limitlessly - out country faces many grave issues - some local - some horribly efficiently distributed all over this beautiful nation of India.

No, no my friends.  Our august leaders were horrified because of something far deeper.

A cartoon.  In some new textbooks.

We finally have been given school textbooks that actually take the student a bit seriously, that ask the student to reflect on how our country came to be.  And one of the topics is the genesis of our constitution.   It is a matter of great pride that the great Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar was chosen to lead the constituent assembly that convened to draft our constitution.  We became free as a nation in 1947 - but did not become a self-governing nation with our own code of law until we accepted and ratified the constitution - with the 26th of January 1950 being the date when we became a republic based on our own constitution.

For Dr. Ambedkar this task was a great honour and a sign of the confidence and maturity of the ruling Congress party that they entrusted the oversight of this foundational document to his hands.  It was also its own crown of thorns since the new nation was itching for the new and the pressure on Ambedkar to perform was immense.

How better to illustrate the challenges of birthing the constitution than by using a political cartoon of the time that addresses this issue?  And so the authors of the new textbooks chose an appropriate cartoon by Shankar, the doyen of Indian cartoonists.

The cartoon shows a huge sea of Indian humanity looking on as Ambedkar rides a snail labelled constituion.  He is holding the reigns and wields a whip while Nehru wields a whip behind him.

The content and context are clear over 60 years later.  A picture trully speaks more than a thousand words.  The nation of Nepal will be laughing grimly at this as the lurch from crisis to crises as their constituent assembly for the new constitution has consistently failed to come up with a new constitution for Nepal.

But no!  This cartoon is nothing less than a cold-blooded attack on Dr. Ambedkar and all he stands for!  See Nehru is whipping Ambedkar!  A Brahmin is beating a Dalit!  If young impressionable minds see this - will they not be corrupted?

And so the voices were raised and the Lok Sabha ground to a halt.

The fact that most of the worthy ministers of parliament had not even looked at the text-books was moot.  They are the representatives of the people!  Surely so great a man as Ambedkar cannot be humiliated in this way!

We are at a sad. sad time in our nation.  Our leaders show their true faces over and over again - and still get elected (more on that later).

The 'debate' amounted to unified shouting by all comers - each one trying to show that they were greater devotees of Ambedkar and the demand was that these terrible textbooks be immediately banned.  Shockingly the government MPs and ministers were falling over their heels to do just the same.

Debate you say?  What is that?  Most of our worthies know one thing only - that shouting gets them on TV. Forget nuance.  Forget having anything to say.  Have you read the books?  No - but I know this is an affront to the great Ambedkar.  And why are our children reading cartoons?  They should be studying!  These are young impressionable minds!  We must not let them be polluted by these controversial matters!

As we have said before - we say again: cry the beloved country.

Some say that we get the elected representatives we deserve.  If that is true then we have a lot of repenting to do.  Because with all honesty what we see is not a pretty sight.

Every one.  Every single one  of these worthies has spent crores of rupees to get into their seat;  And where did they get that money?  Not from selling chai at the railway platform!  A shockingly large number of these men have criminal records.  Each party cries itself hoarse about corruption and nepotism - but each one of them carry on the same old same old.

So when you are bereft of anything real to say what do you do?  Tilt at windmills.  Take any issue and make a shout-fest of it.

Being horizontal for the last week has given me plenty of time to read.  Dad gets 3 newspapers.  The Hindu (which is a secular, left-leaning paper from Delhi), The Pioneer (a right leaning Saffron rag from D.Dun) and the Garhwal Post (a cheery tabloid from Dehra Dun).  The latter has a page of photos every day of different local political outfits protesting things.  Each one has a group of angrry people raising their hands and shouting something.  Usually there is someone being burned in effigy.  This is what people feel politics is.  Shouting.  Getting your photo in the paper as an 'activist.'  Multiply this over and over.  Magnify it a few orders of magnitude and you see what we have what we have in our house of Parliament.

Forget reasoned debate.  Forget anything of substance.  Noise sells.  Anger gets the flashbulbs and puts you in the paper - or the local cable channel news.

Plus one more thing: we have a severe shortage of heroes.  And I mean severe.

The founding Fathers have all been dropped by the wayside.  Gandhi?  Forget it.   Who cares for him?  Nehru - a few do, but very few.  Other members of the Gandhi family?  Well past their sell-by date.

Only two figures today have stickability.  One is regional - the great Maratha warrior king Shivaji has become a repository for all hopes and aspirations for all folks Marathi.  But outside Maharashtra Shivaji's sun does not shine so brightly.  The other - and this is something that is only a decade old - is Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.  Today his star shines brighter than any other leader.  

Every party, even those who were anathema to him, claim him as their own.  His image looms large wherever you go.  His deification is almost complete.  Look at the pictures being brandished by the activists protesting the cartoon. These photoshopped images have a holy halo radiating behind him.  His greatness - with all the twists and turns that his life took - has been overtaking by his installation as the great untouchable untouchable.   The one against whom no word of criticism can be said since that would mean a castist attack on all those who are oppressed.

How very sad that we have to inflate the images of the past to hide the shrunken nature of our leaders today.  How pitiful that instead of a nation of thoughtful book-readers as Ambedkar had hoped we would progress too, we are a people glued to the idiot tube, willfully closing our eyes to the rotteness around us, shouting down those who we disagree with, celebrating violence and the rule of the mob.

The latest brouhaha started with a cartoon.  But sadly its no laughing matter.

Two millenia ago, a then new religious grouping was being actively hounded out as being 'atheists' since they did not worship the image of Caesar - the absolute ruler of the day.  You would think that their literature would be full of messages urging civil disobedience and open rebellion.  Surprisingly the two main leaders wrote to the followers eerily similar messages: "I want everywhere men to lift up hands in prayer for all in authority."  They were asking the oppressed to pray for the oppressors.  How much more should we be praying for our democratically elected members of parliament.  How sad that so little of my prayer life is really geared towards those who rule us.  And how much they need to be prayed for.  One terrible day they will stand - great and small - before the Master of the universe and will have to give account for what they did with the authority they were given.

And that's not going to be funny either.

1 comment:

  1. It is truly sad to see the affairs in our country. The thought of praying for our nation and our leaders came to mind few days back. For it to come again thru your blog looks like a reminder to do it urgently. Thanks for the blog.