"I hang my head in shame in the India of 2020."
This is not about the sorry of millions of our more unfortunate journalists playing out on prime TV these days. It is not a piece about the government, or about politics or economics. It is neither critical nor sacred. It is not about Mr. Narendra Modi either. This is not about our Finance Minister with the rictus of arrogance stretched across her face. It is not about a judiciary which has thrown away its moral compass in the arid deserts of ambition and preference. It is not about Mr. Rahul Gandhi or Ms. Mayawati or Mr. Nitish Kumar for they have already become irrelevant to the pathetic course of events unfolding.
This piece is about me and the burden I carry, a burden of shame, that has been sitting on my back for the last few weeks and cannot be dislodged, no matter how hard I try. It's a burden which just got heavier this morning when I read a post by an army officer describing his moving encounter in Gurgaon with families of "migrants" walking their way to Bihar, no footwear on the weary soles treading on melting roads, hungry and uncomprehending four year olds, of how they wept and tried to touch his feet when he gave them a few five hundred rupee notes.
At belonging to a country and a society which exiles tens of millions from their cities, fearful of catching an infection from them, from a virus brought here, not by them, but by flying in from abroad.
I am ashamed of my middle class status, of many of my friends, and the larger family even. Cocooned safely in our gated societies and sectors, we have locked out our maids, drivers, newspaper man, delivery boy and a dozen others who have built for us the comfortable lives we now desperately try to cordon off from the less fortunate. We have deprived them of their livelihoods. We encourage another extension of the lockdown because our salaries and pensions are not affected. Our primary concerns revolve around resumption of deliveries from Amazon and Swiggy: the lot of the migrating millions is dismissed as just their fate- the final subterfuge of a society that no longer cares.
I am ashamed that people like me can encourage the police to beat up the returning hordes for violating the lockdown, which, in the ultimate analysis was meant to protect "us" from "them". For the life of me I am unable to comprehend how we, sitting in our four BHK flats, have the heartlessness to blame sixteen tired labourers for their own deaths: why were they sleeping on railway tracks? How can one not be ashamed when I hear my peers decrying the expense of trains/ buses for the returning migrants, the costs of putting them up in quarantine, when they approve of their likes being flown back by Air India ? This is not double standards, this is bankrupt standards.
I am ashamed of my social milieu which lauds the leader for dismissing the cataclysmic sufferings of almost five percent of our population as "tapasya", as if they had a choice. I am mortified to see the layers of education and affluence, the facade of civilisation being peeled back by a virus to disclose a heart of darkness in our collective inner core.
All age old prejudices, bigotry, racism and narrow mindedness have reemerged, fanned by a party which has fertilised their dormant spores.
I can no longer recognise the religion I was born into, it no longer has the wisdom of its ancient sages and rishis, or the compassion of an Ashoka, or the humility of a Gandhi. It is too full of anger, of hatred, of violence. It has replaced its once lofty ideals with even loftier statues, caring deeds with dead rituals. It once fed the poor but now drives them away as carriers of some dreadful disease, without any proof. It even finds an opportunity in this pandemic to stigmatize other religions.
Did it even occur to them that they owe a duty to this country beyond protesting around at India Gate? That they could have used their vast resources and vaunted training to set up field kitchens for the hungry marchers, putting up tents where the old and infirm could catch a few breaths, arrange transport for ferrying at least the women and children?
I am ashamed of our lawyers & judges who have now become prisoners in their carefully crafted ivory towers, who had repeated opportunities to order the executive to provide meaningful relief and succour to the exiled wretches, to enforce what little rights they still have left, but spurned them at the altar of a dishonourable appeasement.
I am ashamed of our governments who have forsaken the very people who elected them, and are using their vast powers, not to provide the much needed humanitarian aid these disorganised workers desperately need, but to take away even the few rights they had won over the last fifty years. Of a Joint Secretary to government who can apportion blame for the infections by religion.
They will reach their homes ultimately, those marching millions, minus a few thousand who will die on the way. They will not even be mentioned in the statistics: there will be no list for them. And we will pat ourselves on our collective, backs that one problem has been taken care of, the danger to our so called educated civilisation has been beaten back, the carriers have been sent away, the curve will now flatten. But the mirror has cracked and can never be made whole again.
"Umar bhar Ghalib yahi bhool karta raha,
Dhool chehre par thi, aur aina saaf karta raha."
Actually, this piece is not just about me- it's also about you, dear reader. Look into that cracked mirror. Do you feel any shame, just a little, for what we have become, for the lost soul of a once great nation?