On May 23, 2019, the curtain will come down on the darkest five years in the history of independent India. What lies on the other side of that curtain is anybody’s guess. And while media channels work themselves up into a frisson of speculation about coalitions, majorities, vote swings and vote shares, the bigger questions weigh heavy on our hearts.
Will the people of India walk away from Narendra Modi or will they embrace everything he stands for? Will our democracy breathe freely again or will it be choked to death? Basically, what we are asking is, will the darkness dissipate or will it deepen?
We will know soon enough.
The darkness, sad to say, has always been around, but in May 2014, it found a new lease of life (or was it death?). It spread out slowly and surely across our cities and our villages, our mohallas and our kasbas, and then, like a terrifying beast of prey, began claiming victims. It snuffed out the lives of Pehlu Khan, Mohammad Akhlaq, Mohammad Afrazul and 16-year-old Junaid. Their only “crime” was that they were Muslim.
The darkness sowed fear, suspicion and hatred, and turned friend against friend and neighbour against neighbour even as it suddenly brought into the question the very existence of those who have always been an integral part of Indian society.
The darkness looted and pillaged. It ate up livelihoods across India and rendered millions jobless, helpless and even homeless. It brought hundreds of thousands of farmers to death’s door and turned their families destitute. It put paid to the dreams of hundreds of thousands of young men and women longing for a university education. It rendered the promise of achhe din impotent. The darkness even laid siege to the domains of Maa Saraswati, the venerated goddess of knowledge who is invoked at the beginning of every school function, and pointed India back to an era of dark superstition. The darkness didn’t even spare mother earth. Thousands upon thousands of miles of forest and green were sacrificed to the merchants and men of profit.
What has been truly odd about this great darkness, though, is that it has been celebrated and feted as if it were the light!
A Hebrew seer once mused,
“If the light that is in you be darkness, behold, how great is that darkness!” How great indeed is the darkness that seems like light to so many. How complete is the deception that lets you feel you are standing in the light while you are actually sitting in the dark, and how total the delusion that lets you believe you are an instrument of good while all the while you are being used as a channel for evil. This same seer also said, “The time will come when whosoever kills you will think that he does God service.”
That time is surely here.
But the nature of darkness is also such that it takes just a tiny bit of light to break its power.
That’s why when we read a newspaper report informing us that 150 Hindu prisoners are also observing roza along with the Muslim inmates, in Tihar Jail, no less, we feel a sudden surge of hope. All is not lost! The darkness is not as final as it seems. Humanity has a way of shining forth in the strangest of places and when it does, it reminds us of all the others who, despite everything the darkness threw at them, have let their light shine…
Dr Kafeel Khan, who managed to save the lives of 60 oxygen-deprived children in a hospital in Gorakhpur, and despite being thrown in jail for this act of heroism, has survived to tell the tale and become a symbol of courage.
Umar Khalid, Shehla Rashid and their compatriots who stood up fearlessly to a fascist regime and valiantly filled the gap that the opposition parties of India simply refused to fill for years.
Kanhaiya Kumar, who despite his overwhelmingly humble origins has mounted a huge challenge in Begusarai to Giriraj Singh of the BJP.
G.D. Agrawal or Swami Sanand as he was better known, who actually fasted unto death and gave his life for his beloved river, a true son of Maa Ganga, in stark contrast to the pretender who claimed loudly to have been called by her and went on to do nothing for her.
And then there are those like Imam Rashidi of Asansol who lost his son to communal violence but who, through his tears continued to exhort the people of his city and elsewhere to live in love. And Yashpal Saxena from Delhi, who, despite the murder of his son, refused to let his death be communalised.
Let’s also not forget Gauri Lankesh and all the other brave journalists, reporters, human rights lawyers, fact checkers and RTI activists who, despite everything, are risking life and limb to bring us the truth.
So yes, the darkness is formidable, but it is not unchallenged. The powers that be may have invoked Nathuram Godse, but the spirit of Gandhi still moves amongst us. And as our day of reckoning approaches, there is reason enough to believe that no matter who comes to power next, there are enough of those who will not let the rest of us go quietly into the night.
In the immortal words of E.B. White…
“As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly.”
This article originally appeared on The Wire and has been reproduced with permission.