On 15 August 1947, India gained her long awaited independence. The compelling rhetoric of Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech couldn’t help but ignite hope in the hearts of the millions of people who heard India’s first Prime Minister deliver aspirations for India’s autonomous future. The most inspiring words of all are the constituents of one particular sentence from Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny:
“To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.” They signified a united India, a hopeful India. Today, these words are at odds with the situation in our nation.
The end of the British Raj
Since the initial British invasion of 1763, Britain struggled to control the segmented yet large areas that now constitute as modern day India and Pakistan. However, they soon managed to impose control over these regions and in what was a landmark turning point in the violent colonial rule of the nation, the British were made aware of India’s inherent desire for freedom.
The Indian rebellion of 1857 inspired a series of divisive political ideologies which till date, remain ingrained in our minds. The fact that Muslims and Hindus united to fight against the British in 1857 ignited a fear amongst the colonial rulers. This unity would be the end of their rule, and they knew it. It was also the beginning of the ‘Divide and Rule’ policy in India, a horrific yet successful strategy that lasted from 1857 till the partition and independence of India and Pakistan in 1947.
From reorganizing the army to include only those who did not rebel in the revolt of 1857 to creating separate electorates for muslims and hindus, the British left no page unturned to divide and rule. There were muslim electorates for them to choose muslim leaders from and similar electorates for Hindus. They attempted to partition Bengal on the basis of religious grounds even though India had never had boundaries based on religions. “Divide et impera was an old Roman maxim, and it shall be ours”, wrote Lord Elphinstone post the revolt of 1857 and they practised Divide et impera till our soils were drenched with Indian blood – Indian against Indian. A united India was a ghost fleeting through history and it ceased to appear with the partition of 1947.
However, 15th August 1947 was the beginning of a new India. A democratic, united, fair and just India and unlike our neighbour Pakistan that had decided to establish itself as a Muslim state, we enforced a secular constitution. India was a fair and just nation and our future should have immortalized our vision for independence.
Modern Day India
This vision has, however, faded away, reminding one that as our nation gains more years of independence, our sight has also become increasingly clouded. Today, we are shocked to witness the news we read, the stories we hear and the dangerous political rhetoric that is now clear propaganda for modern day divide-and-rule policies by our political leaders.
According to a report by the BBC, Amnesty International has carefully studied the effects of divisive political rhetoric and concluded that divisive political rhetoric is extremely dangerous for the world. “Instead of fighting for people’s rights, too many leaders have adopted a dehumanizing agenda for political expediency,” Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said in a statement. “The limits of what is acceptable have shifted. Politicians are shamelessly and actively legitimizing all sorts of hateful rhetoric and policies based on people’s identity: misogyny, racism and homophobia.”
In India, we are increasingly witnessing the harmful effects of hateful, derogatory, communal and divisive rhetoric made by our political leaders, their parties and politically inspired independent organizations.
On the 28 September, 2017, the Bajrang Dal stopped a Hindu woman from marrying a Muslim man in Meerut because they believed she had been brainwashed into converting to Islam and wasn’t really in love with him. According to The Indian Express, UP witnessed 60 communal incidents in 2017 alone. Recently, an acid attack case came to light where a young boy was attacked and blinded with acid because he drank from a well that was not allowed to be accessed by his caste. We frequently read comments calling women “dumb feminists” who know nothing, even though it is repeatedly stated that feminism is the equality of all genders, and not propagating women being superior to men.
There are numerous arguments to explain such unnecessary incidents in 2017. Perhaps such thought processes have been in place since we gained independence due to the years of oppression we faced, perhaps change is a gradual process and we have made progress and are miles ahead in human rights as compared to nations like Saudi Arabia or perhaps it’s just that our politicians purposely continue to create rifts between communities, religions, cultures and genders because that makes it easy for vote bank politics.
“Hate-speech” Accusations & Success Rates
According to an IndiaSpend analysis of self-disclosed crime records of candidates who contested various elections since the past decade, it is shown that those candidates with hate-speech cases against them were actually three times more successful in winning the election.
According to the Self-Sworn Candidate Election Affidavits to the Election Commission of India, only 10% of the total candidates with no criminal records, 20% of the total candidates with criminal records and 30% of candidates with hate registered speech cases against them were victorious in the last 12 years.
*Number of candidates in various Parliamentary and state assembly elections in the last 12 years
**Under IPC 153A, 153B, 295A, 505(2), 125 of RP Act
Source: Self-Sworn Candidate Election Affidavits to the Election Commission of India Get the data
When the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh openly states, “In India minorities exist mainly on the goodwill of the majority. Step out of line and there will be blood,” or claims, “I will not stop till I turn UP and India into a Hindu Rasthra,” we can not help but wonder why UP reported 60 communal incidents this year alone.
When Sakshi Maharaj states, “Every Hindu woman must produce at least 4 kids to protect Hinduism,” we can’t help but wonder why the Bajrang Dal thought it was permitted to forcefully stop a Hindu woman from marrying a muslim man in a democratic and secular nation.
When Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi states, “Women wearing lipstick and powder are the same as J&K terrorists,” we can’t help but wonder why our nation continues to report unprecedented numbers of violent and horrific crimes against women.
When Mamata Banerjee states, “Rape cases are on the rise because men and women interact with each other more freely now,” we can’t help but wonder why educated women are not joining the workforce.
When Sheila Dixit asserts, “Rs. 600 per month is enough to feed a family of 5,” we can’t help but wonder why the divide between the rich and the poor continues to increase.
When Mulayalam Singh Yadav claims, “We should avoid the use of computers and English in India,” we can’t help but wonder why such a large number of our graduates are actually unemployed.
However, if we focus on the rhetoric, there is one thing we do not have to question. The absolute presence of divide and rule. Adityanath Yogi and Sakshi Maharaj with Hindus against Muslims, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi with men against women, Mamata Banerjee with institutions against women (by victim blaming or denying sexual assault cases that come to light in Bengal), Sheila Dixit with the rich against the poor and Mulayam Singh Yadav with oppression against development.
There is no doubt about the fact that our most eminent politicians succeed on divisive speech. As long as Indians are pointing fingers at other Indians, the government can get away without being accountable for the progress that actually matters. While men fight against women, sexual assault against young boys and girls in schools will remain rampant, while hindus fight with muslims, our schools will continue to be underfunded, while the rich continue to struggle with the poor, our income inequalities will continue to rise and while ill-directed ‘nationalism’ continues to be at odds with globalization, our schools will be teaching outdated material that will be irrelevant to students as they graduate years from now.
It is time for all of us to stop responding to dangerous political rhetoric. The next time a politician asks a woman to not go out, we should ask the politician to make our streets safer, the next time a leader asks hindus and muslims to remain at a distance from one another, we should ask our leader to remember that we are a secular nation and the next time a leader propagates that it’s anti-national to be learning english and computers, we should remind him of the dismal state of our economy.
Political rhetoric is dangerous, but only because we feed into it.