In the Puranas, Bhrigu, a sage who is known for his quick temper and propensity to take offence, visits Lord Vishnu and finds him sleeping. Bhrigu takes this as an insult and kicks Lord Vishnu on his chest. Vishnu wakes up from his sleep and inquires whether Bhrigu had hurt his foot. He massages Bhrigu’s foot. An embarrassed Bhrigu begs for forgiveness and leaves. Lakshmi, Vishnu’s consort is angry at her husband’s reaction. Vishnu explains, “Would a father get angry if a baby kicks him on his chest?” Lord Vishnu wears the mark of Bhrigu’s foot on his chest, and it is called ‘Srivatsa’.
Long ago, when Buddha was travelling the length and breadth of this ancient land, preaching compassion and love, a young man confronted him. The angry man started abusing Buddha. The great sage was unfazed. When the man ran out of abuses and stood panting at the verge of a nervous breakdown, Buddha asked him, “Son, if you gift someone something and they do not accept the gift, who does the gift belong to?” Perplexed, the young man replied, “I guess it would belong to the bestower,” Buddha smiled and said, “I refuse to accept your gift of abuse,” When the notorious General Dyer, the chief perpetrator of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, suffered paralysis in the last phase of his life, many Indians said it is Karma catching up with him. Gandhiji chided them saying one should never harbour hatred even towards a man like Dyer.
‘Forgive their crime, but not forget it. Bear no ill will in your heart, for that, would consume you all.’
The reason for telling these disparate tales is to remind us about a civilisation that is disintegrating before our eyes. India, as a civilisation always had its roots stuck firmly in the values of compassion and forgiveness. The new India has no time for a Buddha or Gandhi. The all-forgiving Vishnu who bears the mark of an insult on his chest as a symbol of paternal love has been replaced by the image of an angry Lord Ram standing before a raging sea with his arrow taut on his drawn bow.
We rage against anything and everything. We cannot take a joke, cannot withstand criticism, boil against advertisements, bay for the blood of dissenters and still have the gall to call ourselves democratic and tolerant.
Our country is entering an economic recession and would push many more into the jaws of poverty in an already impoverished land. The economy works in cycles, and we may be able to salvage it sooner or later, hopefully. What we cannot recover is the soul and character of the country we have lost. Impartiality, representation, liberty and justice, the four pillars of democracy are all cracking while we enjoy the antics of television anchors and social media trolls.
An influential journalist is arrested. Many powerful politicians rally behind him for they smell a political vendetta by their opponents. So far it is politics as usual. Things change when he gets a preferential hearing in the Supreme Court. Nothing wrong with the bail, for bail and not the jail should be a norm until the charges are proved. The issue is about impartiality before law when his case is fast-tracked in a country where more than 75 percent of prisoners are undertrials.
Contrast this with the desperate plea of an 84-year-old undertrial suffering from Parkinson’s for a straw to drink water as his withered hands are too shaky to hold a glass. When the court takes 20 days to decide on whether he can have a straw or not, it is time to ask ourselves what sort of monsters we are becoming. Let the honourable court decide that according to the merit of the case against the accused, and if his crimes warrant hanging, let him be hanged. But to deny fundamental human rights to an invalid shows a lack of empathy as a society.
This old man has some voice for he has some political backing, and we hear about his pitiful plight. Not many are as fortunate. Take the case of around three lakh 3,35,000 undertrials stuck in Indian jails as of August 2020. Of these, 21.7 percent belong to SC, 12.3 percent to ST, 30 percent to OBC and 21.5 percent to Muslims, says the collated data of the last 17 years. Most of them have no voice, no means to have a legal representation, no powerful political friends to get their cases on the fast track or no one to pontificate about liberty of man by citing their arrest.
The nation does not want to know about their plight. Such acts are mirrors held up to our face. If we remove the shades that well-crafted propaganda has placed over our noses, we can see what we are mutating into. The civilisation of Buddha and Gandhi has vanished. We have buried compassion in the deluge of WhatsApp forwards and fake news and chosen rage as our religion now.
Anand Neelakantan email@example.com
Author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy