Thursday, September 16, 2010

In which I reason with my brother...

Yesterday I expressed my outrage on Facebook at two news items that were reported in the Times Of India - one about India still topping the list of highest maternal mortality rates in the world, and the other about the existence of an 'Untouchability fence' in Tamil Nadu. My brother, ever concerned about my health and well-being, took me to task for my comments, that seemed to him too vitriolic and negative (and therefore, bad for my health in the long run). He interpreted the comments as indicating that I was ashamed of where I am from, and counseled that respect is rare for people who reject their roots. He admonished me that if I felt compelled to post negative news and comments, I should demonstrate fairness by posting positive news also - perhaps thereby preserving some sort of cosmic balance, particularly since [he said] "No place is paradise and no place is a total hell". He also accused me of searching for "every ill on the planet" to comment upon (Just FYI: this is called the SIWOTI syndrome, "Something Is Wrong On The Internet") - which was still all right, but what shocked me was when he uttered this tired old sermon, "Be positive and solution-oriented, not negative and angry", very Deepak Chopra-esque in its vacuity and naïveté.

To a random pearl-clutching crank commenting thusly, I would say, simply, "f*** off." But this is no crank. This is my sharp-as-a-tack brother; he loves me dearly, and I have nothing but affection and admiration for him. And therefore, he deserves a reasoned response. I could start by counting off the interesting, heartening, even exhilarating news items that I have shared on FB, but that would be petty. Let me address the more serious questions.

Am I ashamed of where I am from? No, but it is irrelevant to me. First, even if I were to be so ashamed, could I do anything about it? Could I erase off my past, my upbringing, my history, my heritage? C'est impossible; so why concern myself with such an idea? Secondly, why would I? My experiences - from everywhere that I have lived - have shaped my thoughts and ideas, leaving indelible impressions on me. Beyond the vague man-made political boundaries, and beyond the pettiness such artificial boundaries seem to endow people with, I love my country, my culture, my people, and it has attuned me to the ground realities therein; but I am not, and I shall not be, blind and imbecile because of that love. I am justly concerned about my country, and I have every right to criticize what I see as a significant failing in the existing system there - because I expect better from my people. It is the surest sign of a small mind to find vitriol in just criticism, to be outraged at honest outrage expressed at outrageous situations. Coming from my otherwise-rational brother, it shocked me; has he perchance bought into the entire ostrich-mentality thingy, just-close-your-eyes-and-all-is-well?

Take for example, the maternal mortality news report. My eternally optimistic brother found himself a sliver of silver lining - in that they reported "some improvements". Improvements? Does he mean the blurb saying "India has seen a dramatic fall in maternal mortality rate (MMR) by 59% between 1990 and 2008"? 63 years after independence, an 18-year statistics showing 59% decrease, and there are still 63000 maternal deaths a year due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and unsafe abortions, and all the Union Health Minister could offer was mumbled platitudes? Am I expected to dance Kumbayah at this? As a country, we have failed to provide safe pregnancy related options to women including assuring their bodily autonomy, consistently neglected maternal health, created a dismal scenario for the girl child - for all our loudly-professed adoration for the pantheon of goddesses, can one not see here a pattern of deep-seated misogyny, woven into the very fabric of the society? Am I expected to be blind to the greater malaise here?

In the other example, the news item about the untouchability fence may have been prima facie optimistic (fence being broken down by the police, and walls being demolished by the administration, and all that), but one doesn't need to be too discerning to look at the real stinker here - ten years into the twenty-first century, 63 years after Independence was achieved through blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices of countless millions, our country still has untouchability as an issue! There are still groups of human beings, harboring bigotry and hatred towards other groups of human beings - to the extent of considering the latter sub-human and worthy of seclusion - simply on the basis of the latter's having been born in a specific family, which a set of antiquated, quasi-religious traditions have relegated to a 'lower caste'. Can one believe it - in today's world?

150 families of caste Hindus (so called higher caste) erected barbed wire "untouchability fences" on Friday to prevent over 50 dalit (so called lower caste, 'the untouchables') families from entering two roads, the reason given by the caste Hindus being that the frequent movement of dalits may "pollute" the sanctity of the graveyards of their forefathers through which the roads ran. Is this a civilized society? Is this abominable behavior not worthy of the greatest of outrage - is that what my brother would have me believe?

But I know why my brother is peeved at me, or my so-called negativity. I called him out on another related issue. A few days back, there was an article in the New York Times, making the momentous pronouncement that the business class in India was rising in the ashes of the Indian caste system. The article was heartening, about the journey of a man from a lower-caste in South India, who overcame his societal limitation to become a high-tech entrepreneur in the Silicon Valley. I lauded the report as signifying a step in the right direction, but considered it too premature for such pronouncements - particularly considering that the southern part of India is not the whole country, and that there were very few changes in the personal or societal spheres in this regard - such as marriage across caste designations, which is still taboo in many parts of India, North and South.

For reasons known to him, my brother had taken a rather magnanimous stance on this, saying [I quote] "only the title is misleading. For the rest, they make a clear distinction between South India and the rest of the country, and stick only to the entrepreneurial sphere." I had to call him out on that. How could I not? The smug implication that barring minimal irritations, everything else was right as rain, was plain wrong and demeaning, and pigheaded on part of that NYT report. And, of course, the news item focusing on the untouchability situation in the Southern India - that I commented on - corroborated that contrary to our wishful thinking, aal izz not well. Perhaps this is what my brother found so difficult to accept? Perhaps, in order to retain his sanity, he needs to cling to that ever-fading feeling of positivity in face of inequities flooding our world every day? Perhaps he hates me for baring the ugly face of these inequities?

If so, I sympathize. They affect me, too. I don't need to seek out "ills on the planet" - they are right there, staring me at the face. I try not to react, but sometimes, it is important to speak out, especially when the issue at hand is of grave social evils - and I do tend to get passionate when they involve my country.

Peace, my brother.

1 comment:

  1. I will call you bhaiyya for this post. Where we are from IS irrelevant...we are inhabitants of this planet, all of us, and we need to share it with compassion and understanding if not love.