Saturday, April 18, 2015

Divisive politics and the notions of majority and minority

Fire in a slum in Delhi NCR, where the majority was a minority. Pic: Parvez Imam (2014)
It was a sad state of affairs - the political campaigns in India during the 2014 elections.  Every big player tried to outdo the other with street smart tricks, under the belt blows, lies and lures.  The election could have been a sign of a healthy democracy but unfortunately the antics of the major players focused on dividing people and playing to the hilt what we know as the ‘vote-bank politics’.

No denying that India is a land of diversity.  From geography to people to cultures, languages and even food, we are one of the most diverse countries on the planet.  Should this be our bane, boon or merely a slogan for some sort of book-of-records claim to fame?  The self-styled guardians of the land, the so called servants of the people (who actually turn masters the moment they get some power) see to it that people are continually pitched against each other.  Given our history it isn’t very difficult either.  Instilling fear against the ‘other’ is the easiest task in this country of billions.  A mere use of the words ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ gets more than half the job done in no time.  Not because these words are special, but because of the way they have been used repeatedly by those who play a divisive politics happily.  The partisan within us is trained to get triggered easily, even if we may never have faced any communal violence or discrimination ourselves.

We know that smooth talkers get by most things pretty easily.  Be it business, politics or anything else in life, inspite of umpteen popular sayings that warn us about people who sugar coat their words not only do we fall for them, we also try to learn their exploitative ‘art’ ourselves.  And why do we need to sweet talk?  Why did the social system place so many road blocks all around our lives when it is supposed to actually do the exact opposite?  Instead of challenging that and working together to remove these roadblocks we simply chose to sweet talk our way around them because it seems to be the easier thing.  Our focus shifts to ‘greasing the palms’ to extract ‘favors’ and keep going ourselves, ignoring the larger humanity. 

One may argue that we have imbibed this attitude out of our helplessness as individuals pitted against a monstrous system.  But can we ignore our selfish trait when it comes to doing things for others or for future generations?  We know well that in the present system we can only live well if some ‘others’ do not.  All the talk about patriotism and love for our country is either a jingoistic exercise of showcasing a farce or usually an abuse of these terms to suppress anything that may question a rotten system so that the status quo is maintained.

Now dig these definitions from oxford dictionary.  ‘Majority: The greater number.’  ‘Minority: The smaller number or part, especially a number or part representing less than half of the whole.’  It is only by a crooked and wile logic that we agree to apply these words to people and imagine ourselves as clumps of sorts to get an image of a larger (and hence more worthy) and a smaller (hence less worthy) individuals.  What an amazing way to reduce real, live people into a simple binary of worthiness and worthlessness.  The blindness that ensues through this game stops us from seeing humans - people in whose veins and arteries blood runs and who experience all sorts of emotions and struggles every day - the same as you and me.  We disengage ourselves emotionally from the 'other' group – an epic segregation of people from people – and willingly reduce ourselves to a mere number rather then the thinking being that we actually are.  The real casualty therefore is not the 'other' but  rather our most powerful quality - the thinking capacity.

If this is not the biggest crime against humanity, then what else should be?  What logic (but for a petty one) makes us believe that a group of people with a bigger number value has a right to suppress another with a smaller number value?  This is how we become willing perpetrators of inequality.

Will we ever give equality a chance?  Can we re-learn to look at people as people - each as precious as the other and not as majority and minority or vote banks of caste, religions etc. etc.?  If yes, we may ignite a new flame where diversity can become our strength and the base for multiple dimensions of cultural explorations, assimilation and knowledge.  If not, it shall remain the most unreasonable reason to hate another, as it is.  The choice is entirely yours.

Parvez Imam
(Unedited version.  Initially published in the Financial Chronicle, April 24, 2014) 

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