In an age of beef killings and human shields, speaking up is an act of courage | columns | Hindustan Times
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In an age of beef killings and human shields, speaking up is an act of courage

Speaking up has consequences and, so, in the din of divisive discourse that makes way for majoritarian force, the solitary voice is now hard to hear.

columns Updated: Jun 11, 2017 09:35 IST
A note rests at a makeshift memorial for the two men who were killed May 26 on a commuter train while trying to stop another man from harassing two young women who appeared to be Muslim, in Portland, Oregon.
A note rests at a makeshift memorial for the two men who were killed May 26 on a commuter train while trying to stop another man from harassing two young women who appeared to be Muslim, in Portland, Oregon. (REUTERS)

I don’t know if you ever read Roger Rosenblatt’s essay in Time magazine in the early eighties: the air-crash over Washington, the rescue helicopter picking up survivors and, in the freezing water, the man who each time offers the lifeline to someone else, you go first. By the time it’s his turn, he’s gone under.

That era is over. We now live in an age of spectacle, of Twitter stars and troll slayers. Where we judge people by the number of their followers or Facebook likes.

We live also in an age where what we eat can, and does, become a matter of life and death. Where we justify the use of our citizens as human shields in the name of expediency.

The head of an online travel business says he’d rather not be a Hindu if ‘Hinduism takes away right to choice of food’, and there’s a call on social media to boycott his business. An actor speaks of his wife’s fear of rising intolerance, and this is followed by a withdrawal of advertising endorsements.

Speaking up has consequences and, so, in the din of divisive discourse that makes way for majoritarian force, the solitary voice is now hard to hear.

Perhaps that’s why, when we do find it, we cling to that increasingly rare lone voice seeking in it meaning and coherence in our lives.

When Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez spoke up in 2011 in Mumbai against the lewd comments directed at a woman friend, they paid for it with their lives. But in their deaths we find not just decency but exemplary courage to live by a moral principle.

Last week the cost of speaking up once again proved too high when two men, strangers to each other, spoke up against a racist rant on a commuter train in the US.

Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Rick Best died after being stabbed by a man yelling anti-Muslim insults at two women, one an African-American and the other in a hijab. A third man who also spoke up, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher was treated for injuries.

“He was a hero and will remain a hero on the other side of the veil,” wrote Meche’s mother, the wonderfully named Asha Deliverance on Facebook. This is not the heroism of jumping into a fire to save a life. This is the heroism of everyday living by a belief of doing the right thing – aware that this sometimes comes at grave cost.

To speak up at a time of bigotry is an act of courage. I never learned the name of that man in the water. It was enough that he represented the best among us. It is enough to remember that his spirit is still around, still alive.

Namita Bhandare wites on social issues and gender

The views expressed are personal