Sunday, January 25, 2009

Conscience where art thou??

A few days back, as the 44th President of the United States addressed America and the world, in his inauguration address he said - "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals". The statement was burnt in my mind. It came from a man and a country truly understanding the meaning of democracy. I was awestruck and felt jealous of The United States. As the new President went on about his address, he remembered the founders of America and recited their ideals, crystal clear and undiluted across two centuries and I couldn't help but think of what the Indian Prime Minister had said after the 26/11 attacks and the reforms hence discussed. 

In a nationwide press release - the Indian Prime Minister, after being criticized about the country's security said, "Human rights may be infringed upon in the wake of new anti-terror laws" . It deeply upset me - not the statement itself, but that I accepted it as fact. Caught amidst fundamental questions about my pride as an Indian, my country and its origins and about myself as an individual: I have to admit, I couldn't come up with clear answers. 

In theory they are both democracies. On the one hand there was America which had successfully overcome its own racial prejudice and had chosen to vote upon logic and hope. And on the other hand was India, where in a national survey (less than a week old) only 46% of the people believed that democracy was the right way to govern with 21% actually saying that a dictatorship would be better.

A nation whose leader called upon its citizens to do their duty and to deliver the gift of freedom to future generations - and a nation whose leader was informing its citizens that he could not protect India's democracy without violating it. 

Since then, as I went about my daily chores, there has been a looming question in the back of my mind: "What the hell is wrong with us?? Indians, As a people as a country???"  And so I read once more of the Indian independence movement and in doing so traveled back in time.... 

A time when a child saw his father beaten and cursed by his British master - "thrashed" as the Queen's vocabulary would call it. Beaten to be reminded of the fact, that as Indians, they were slaves to their British ruler. As the father walked the child home, struggling to hide his shame, they walked past signs stating - "Indians and Dogs not allowed".

Even the mere imagination of an enslaved life brought me to tears. How could you live in your own country as slaves?? 

Even at his little age, the child had an unmistakable sense and an innate understanding - that this was just plain and simply wrong. As he grew over the years, so did his sense of injustice. And along with the child, the nation grew to find itself humiliated beyond tolerance. With each lash the white master sowed seeds of rebellion that were coming to fruit. 

The child became a revolutionary, and along his comrades was sentenced to death - a sentence he accepted gladly. Before he was about to be hanged, he was asked - "Why are you doing this?? What is your prize??" and he had replied - "I have a dream - that children of the future would be born free - in a brighter, stronger India". As history has it, he went to the gallows - smiling. Across the nation people burnt their foreign clothes and goods and shunned away from work. A man rose with a message of peace and unified the country to stand strong yet non-violent.  People woke up each day to participate in protests - only to be met with lathi charges or sometimes with brutal gunfire. As the day receded, the women tended to the wounds. And the baffled  white master, came to find the same people bandaged and ready for fresh assault - day after day. Until he was forced, to question his own conscience. Until a day came when he could stay no more - and India was freed. 

I am sorry if I seem to lecture in history - but people have paid with their blood for a freedom, that we today take for free. What Lincoln called - 'The last full measure of devotion".  Perhaps, that is the problem with the India of today; we haven't paid the price ourselves but were offered freedom on a silver plate. Hence - the erosion of morals and the all consuming selfish apathy. 

In a way - it does make sense. Only when faced with utter adversity and hardship - is one forced to ask himself harsh questions - is forced to establish his identity. Only when forced to, does one ask himself - "What do you stand for and What is it that you believe??"

Only after swallowing scathing swills of guilt  is the human conscience nourished. 

I hope that the questions we ask of ourselves today shall render us stronger tomorrow.

There is a legend that says - 'A life sacrificed to save another's does not relinquish its soul - that such souls come back to roam the living world as winds and every once in a while come back to life as a new being. 

I can only hope it is true.  As you feel a wind tomorrow, listen to it, may the voices of our freedom fighters whisper to you across the ages. And may their spirit give you the courage to do the right thing.

Jai Hind,

  - Sanket


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