Happy birthday, George Orwell: 4 reasons for you to pick up 1984 again

  • Sneha Bengani, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 26, 2016 14:26 IST
George Orwell’s real name was Eric Arthur Blair. (Facebook/George Orwell)

Reading Eric Arthur Blair has never made more sense for Indians as it does today. Blair, who, you ask? The British author of socio-political commentaries Animal Farm, Shooting an Elephant and 1984, and popularly known by his pen name George Orwell.

As the world celebrates the polemical writer’s 113th birth anniversary, one cannot help wondering how 1984, one of his most celebrated works published 67 years ago, is a fine mirror reflecting the many issues that torment modern India and its populace.

Listed below are four reasons why Orwell’s critique of a fictional province set in 1984 reminds you of India in 2016.

Attack on dissent

1984 was chosen as one of the 100 best English novels from 1923 to 2005 by TIME magazine in 2005.

The novel is set in Airstrip One, a province under the absolute control of a government that keeps tab on every move, every heartbeat of its citizens. Everything is under surveillance and thinking is a punishable crime. Dissent of any kind — in thought or deed — is rewarded with nothing short of a painful death.

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While India is a democracy, the recent events — the rise in the number of deaths of journalists and activists, JNU row, the intolerance debate, the noise over censorship, the appointment of ruling party’s members in most major institutions — are just many ways to drown the voice of the people who dare to speak.

Feminism in practice

Orwell’s books often discuss the horrors of totalitarianism and social injustice. (Facebook/George Orwell)

The book’s female protagonist Julia is a rebel and not without a cause. In spite of being a citizen under a totalitarian government that imposes strict diktats on its women, she dares to exercise freedoms and choices that she does not have. Unafraid and pragmatic, she devises her own means of living her life the way she wants in a world that is continuously falling apart, piece by piece. Does it sound very different from where Indian women are today?

A new vocabulary

One of the most remarkable things about 1984 is the set of new words that Orwell coined while writing it to be able to effortlessly explain the hopelessness of living in a dystopian society. Words and phrases such as doublethink, thoughtcrime, newspeak, Room 101, memory hole, blackwhite, duckspeak and ‘Big Brother is watching you’ effectively translate the horror and handicap of a populace reduced to puppets at the hands of the state.

1984 deals with issues such as nationalism, censorship and surveillance.

Our present-day parallels are pretty much as powerful and perform the same function as Orwell’s words do — they cause national unrest, protests, revolutions, make heroes and take lives. To mention a few: nationalism, Hindutva, beef ban, sedition. You are only too aware of the rest.

The widening economic gulf

One of the guiding principles of Ingsoc (the government’s political system in the novel) is to make sure that the poor remain poor as the rich get richer. As many as 116 farmers had committed suicide in India till April this year whereas according to Forbes, 100 Indians have net worth of over $100 billion. Can the contrast be any more pronounced?

Orwell’s birthday today gives us a great opportunity to ponder if we are walking towards 1984 from 2016.

The writer tweets at @sneha_bengani

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