By Radhika Swarup
I recently had the dubious pleasure of reading Chetan Bhagat's Times of India blog post on the "Anatomy of a liberal". The style of his piece is as frothy as ever, though sadly a little short on credible detail.
If his analysis is to be believed, I fall into the liberal camp. I have been educated in English-medium schools, have travelled abroad and have a fairly fluent grasp of the English language. This also means, apparently, that I brought hot dogs to school in my tiffin box, a fact that would have astonished (and delighted) me, given that I grew up in a vegetarian household. My liberal upbringing also entitled me to outings to Disneyland, a fact that sadly escaped my parents, who insisted on taking me to Appu Ghar instead with the rest of India.
That rest of India, argues Mr Bhagat, is made up of nationalists. Unlike the pampered and privileged liberals, the nationalists are made up of the patriotic, the aspirational and the talented. They are the salt of the earth. They work hard to attain their success. Nothing is handed to them on a platter.
Unlike, of course, us liberals. We just coast by on our English-medium education and allow our cultural advantages (since when is an excursion to Disneyland classed as a cultural advantage, in any case?) to get the best jobs and the highest stature in society. And from this high perch, we sit, calmly sipping tea and looking down on the nationalists. We turn against Hinduism, against Indian languages and customs. We reject the essence of India.
I have a few questions arising from Mr Bhagat's entertaining analysis:
1. Does being born in an English-speaking environment mean that a child grows up to be an anti-nationalist? Can one not speak English well and still be patriotic? Or horror of horrors, can one not speak both English and an Indian language?
2. I'm a Hindu. Does that mean I'm no longer privileged? Does that mean I'm no longer a liberal? Can I now be talented and patriotic?
3. Can privilege and talent not coexist? For all my having attended a foreign university -- a sure marker of privilege in Mr Bhagat's eyes -- I won my place on the basis of a scholarship. Many thousands of others who have studied at Oxbridge and at Ivy League colleges have also been funded by scholarships.
4. Mr Bhagat accuses the liberals of looking down on all those who do not conform to their ideal. It certainly looks like his "nationalist" persona is as guilty of prejudice as the liberals he so happily decries.
5. I'm all for liberals drinking tea. Tea is great. It's fragrant, comforting and packed full of that elixir of life -- caffeine. But do others not drink tea? Other Indians, our worthy nationalists even?
The crux of Chetan Bhagat's argument, perhaps, is that India's liberal class is great at taking umbrage. There is much to take umbrage at right now. There is a rising feeling of intolerance -- towards dissent, towards resistance, and towards alternative belief systems -- a wave ably represented by Bhagat's article. There is also the increasing spate of violence towards religious minorities. The incident at Dadri, where a 52-year-old Muslim villager was dragged out of his home by a mob on the suspicion of eating beef, ranks high in the list. What is astonishing, isn't the atrocity of the crime, or the fact that the mob attacked one of their own -- a neighbour and a long-time resident of the village -- on the strength of a rumour, but the fact that the incident was immediately explained away. Prominent politicians sought to play down the incident, calling it an accident; the Prime Minister, normally a prolific user of social media, chose to stay silent on the topic; and in Dadri, the village where the murder had taken place, the villagers expressed no remorse.
Those expressing shock and sadness at the events in Dadri are often labelled derisively as pseudo-liberals. We are accused of not feeling for crimes against Hindus. For not acknowledging that Islamic fundamentalists burnt trains with Hindu passengers inside them at the start of the whole sorry Godhra saga. But that is not true. I feel very strongly about all forms of intolerance. Muslim perpetrators of crime are as guilty as Hindu ones. But the truth is that India is a Hindu majority country, and it is important to speak up for the outnumbered and the vulnerable. It is important, too, to consider the Hindus in our neighbouring countries. I know that the greater the perception of anti-Muslim feeling there is in India, the more the Hindu minorities in our neighbouring Muslim countries will be persecuted.
And it isn't like we are a nation of a single faith. We are not a nation that speaks a single language. We're not even a country that eats the same food or shares the same facial features. What sets us apart is our diversity. That is, and always has been our strength. And those who harbour a ghetto mentality are the ones who go against the spirit of India. Your nationalist sentiments, Mr Bhagat, would do well to heed that.
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