Swachh Bharat of the mind

  • Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Oct 26, 2014 21:48 IST

Three incidents last week show how far India is from being the liberal, humane society we often erroneously imagine it to be.

An eight-year-old boy enters the sanctum sanctorum of a temple on the outskirts of Bangalore in the hope of getting some prasad but is brutally assaulted by the priest who is enraged that the child violated the purity of the premises.

In Maharashtra, three members of a Dalit family are dismembered and their body parts strewn across a farm, in what locals believe to be an honour killing.

And members of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha vandalised a coffee shop in Kozhikode as part of their campaign against “immoral activities”. Add the routine harassment of women in public spaces, the vilification of Muslims, the attacks on people from the North-East, the everyday vitriol on social media and you get a picture how rough and unsavoury India continues to be, marked by prejudice, hate crime and not infrequently superstition.

There are any number of reasons one can point to for this state of affairs. This is arguably a legacy of poor law enforcement aided by the active undermining of police autonomy by the political class — which has over time nurtured a culture of illegality. People think they can get away with wrongdoing because they can always call someone powerful to neuter police action. This needs to change.

Both the Centre and state governments should take acts and rhetoric of hate seriously. Violence against Dalits remains a national scandal even if it does not always make the headlines.

It is deeply contrary to proclaimed ambitions of unity and nation building. These incidents also point to a larger crisis of liberal values, which cannot be wished away. The priest’s instinctive rage towards a child innocently wandering towards a sanctified condiment betrayed persisting beliefs about ‘impure’ human beings.

Vandalising coffee shops to prevent mingling among the sexes suggests an inability to grasp the elementary notions of human agency and freedom. It is also very poor sociology on the part of self-proclaimed moral guardians.

Millions of young people no longer countenance being lectured to on personal choices. Politicians must learn that lesson before it is too late.

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