Searching For Hope In A Wasteland Of Hate
Hope is lighter than grief, trauma, misery, hatred, and injustice, the heavy emotions with which it resides, writes Priya Ramani.
Indian hate 2021 could easily be the inspiration for a Don’t Look Up-style disaster comedy.
Scenes from Christmas included Hindu extremists chanting Santa Claus Murdabad as they burned his effigy; many disrupted celebrations; and a Christian television anchor, wearing red as she informed viewers that a statue of Jesus had been desecrated at a historic church in Ambala, Haryana.
In one photo, someone had gently rested the severed head of the statue on a bed of colourful melted wax, leftover from Advent candles celebrating the birth of Christ.
Yet in Nagpur, just 6 kilometres from the headquarters of the hateful Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a friend reported she attended an interfaith Christmas celebration at a temple (that will remain unnamed in these uncertain times) where speakers emphasised the importance of unity. “We cut a Christmas cake and decorated the mandir with Christmas decor,” she said. “We put a Santa cap on the statue and ended the day by singing a bhajan that said goddess Durga, Kali, and Mother Mary were all one.” Jai Jesus Jai Sai Khudaye, Durga Kali Mary Maye.
Hope lies in alternate narratives that may not make it to your daily news source.
At a Hindu hate conclave held in Haridwar, there were many calls—recorded on camera and shared on social media—for the genocide of Indian Muslims by saffron-clad men well known to India’s ruling politicians.
Hope lies in our response to this hate. Public outrage forced the police to act. Seventy-six Supreme Court lawyers asked the chief justice to ensure the hate speech wasn’t ignored. Citizens protested on the street.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was right when he said here that hope is the human spirit, standing vulnerable but strong.
Where does hope live, I asked a friend.
I’m summarising his response but, for him, it lay somewhere between Tolkein’s epic tale, the lessons of history, and Prophet Muhammad’s wisdom (fear the prayers of the oppressed for they reach the lord directly).
Hope lies in the 100-watt smile of Sudha Bharadwaj and the raised fists of Natasha, Devangana, and Asif after they were released from prison. Hope is labour activist Nodeep Kaur, who went back to show solidarity with protesting farmers the day after she was released from jail. Hope lives in the spirit of Umar Khalid whose lawyer Tridip Pais demolishes the police case against his client at every court hearing.
Hope lives in victories, individual (Deepa Mohanan) and community (the year-long farm protests)—and those who enabled these wins. Hope lives in the powerful images of human rights protests of our recent past. Hope definitely lives in Shaheen Bagh.
Hope resides in the north-east, where chief ministers are uniting to demand the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, which gives armed forces a free pass to act against citizens with zero consequences. It denies victims access to constitutional remedies.
Hope lies in an artist’s magical thinking. “It appeals to the universal spirit of humanity. Given the current situation in India, where so many feel threatened by religious fundamentalism, an ideal cultural and secular space needs to be created,” curator Bose Krishnamachari told The Indian Express about his sprawling show ‘Lokame Tharavadu’ (The World is One Family), ongoing in Kerala’s Alappuzha until Dec. 31.
“In smaller ways, communities need to come together and art can play a role in fostering that,” he added. Hope lies in many such creative efforts by illustrators, comics, and musicians.
Hope resides firmly in Tamil cinema that is increasingly speaking up for oppressed castes and Malayalam cinema that routinely smashes the patriarchy. Hope lives in the hearts of interfaith couples who continue to love outside the confines of religion and caste in a country that in 2021 worked overtime to criminalise their relationship.
Promotional poster of Suriya's Jai Bhim, running on Amazon Prime Video. (Via The Quint)
Even those who are elbow-deep in the sludge of hate, waging relentless daily battles, can see hope if you nudge them. “Things are becoming darker, there’s nothing positive in terms of Indian democracy,” said Pratik Sinha, founder of invaluable fact-checker Alt News.
“The independent media are becoming stronger,” he added, a few moments later. Hope, for Sinha, is the way mainstream media was called out in the farmers’ protests. “An aggrieved section of people do recognise the extremely dangerous role that mainstream media has played in recent years,” Sinha said.
Hope is the Nobel Prize, awarded to a journalist battling an authoritarian regime. Hope is the global Pegasus investigation that uncovered how governments used spyware to target those who speak out.
(Image: Maria Ressa)
Journalist Alishan Jafri, who along with colleague Naomi Barton, runs The Wire’s Heartland Hate Watch project that tracks hate against Christians and Muslims said that, for him, hope lies in the response of Muslim citizens to the non-stop onslaught of Islamophobia and new, unfair laws that drive them to be second-class citizens.
“The CAA protests gave Muslims the ability to resist, ask questions even to their allies that they were not asking a few years ago,” said Jafri. “Nobody talks about revenge, everyone talks about justice and holding elected representatives accountable.” Muslims have found a way to make themselves heard even as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party keeps them out of Parliament.
Hope lies in our continued search for it. In the words of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, “Kahin to hoga shab-e-sust mauj ka saahil, Kahin to ja ke rukega safina-e-gham-e-dil.” (Somewhere the lazy waves will reach the shore, Somewhere the ship of sorrow will reach its destination.)
What’s your source of hope?
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.