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Bulldozing the diversity of our cultural identities

The founding fathers of our Constitution dreamt of a nation that will embrace its diversity in its fullness. The majoritarian culture seeks to silence this

Published: 25th April 2022 12:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th April 2022 12:39 AM   |  A+A-

Bulldozers being used to remove illegal structures during a joint anti-encroachment drive by NDMC, PWD, local bodies and the police, in the violence-hit Jahangirpuri area, in New Delhi. (Photo | PTI)

Bulldozers being used to remove illegal structures during a joint anti-encroachment drive by NDMC, PWD, local bodies and the police, in the violence-hit Jahangirpuri area, in New Delhi. (Photo | PTI)

The bulldozer symbolises the power of the state. It has the capacity to destroy livelihoods and leave people homeless. The recent targeted bulldozing of certain encroachments and unauthorised constructions has a pattern, symptomatic of a particular majoritarian mindset that seeks to punish, to silence and to instil fear amongst the minorities. Minorities, comprising about 20% of our population, are required to conform to the will of 80%, colloquially called the 80:20 formula. What we have been witnessing is not just the bulldozing of allegedly unauthorised structures but also the bulldozing of minds by seeking to diminish and destroy the diversity of our cultural identities.

There is hardly a colony in Delhi or perhaps anywhere in our country where encroachments or unauthorised constructions have not taken place. There are over 1,700 unauthorised colonies in Delhi but the administration chooses to look the other way. Encroachments and unauthorised constructions are the result of highly complex factors that include poverty and the exorbitant price of real estate in urban conglomerations. In fact, encroachments and unauthorised constructions have nothing to do with any community or religion. This is why the Ram Navami celebrations and Shobha Yatras taken out on a particular route are intended to disturb the peace. They invoke responses that may be entirely illegal and need to be dealt with an iron hand. That, however, does not justify the use of bulldozers to demolish the alleged encroachments. The proximity between the Ram Navami celebrations and the use of bulldozers in razing encroachments and structures makes one believe that these are not routine anti-encroachment drives. The fact that these events have taken place not just in Delhi, but simultaneously in other parts of the country, reflects a pattern of behaviour that seeks to instil fear and in the process inflame passions resulting in some form of violence, giving legitimacy to the act of bulldozing. Leaders of a particular political party defend bulldozing by stating that those indulging in acts of violence cannot escape such consequences. 

But as I said, this represents a phenomenon, discernible by the manner in which communal temperatures are fuelled in line with the 80:20 formula applied in Uttar Pradesh. It is not a mere coincidence that Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, all BJP-ruled states, are experimental laboratories for creating a national communal divide. The synchronisation of such bulldozing drives is part of a process seeking electoral dividends.  


Minorities, who form about 20% of our population, are required to conform to the will of the majority. What we have been witnessing is not just the bulldozing of allegedly unauthorised structures but also the bulldozing of minds



There are right-wing elements that do much worse. Speeches are made at Dharam Sansads to arouse passions and breed hatred. The narrative being that the majority community is in danger from those who profess a particular religion; that it is time to take up arms to eliminate such elements. While the party in power may not be involved in such events, the fact that no action is taken against such obviously culpable acts suggests that those at the helm of affairs have no desire to stem the tide of hate. Despite the fact that the administration and police at the local level have prior information, they chose to look the other way, allowing for the 80:20 formula to work itself for outcomes politically favourable to those seeking to create societal schisms. Today, our polity is being administered through the prism of religion, contrary to the belief of the founding fathers of our Constitution who dreamt of a nation that will embrace its diversity in its fullness and march ahead celebrating it. However, our majoritarian culture seeks to silence this diversity and ensure that it merges with mainstream politics by vilifying and targeting those who fail to conform.  

It all started in 2014 and has been gaining momentum ever since. Deleting chapters and effacing historical milestones from CBSE textbooks, minimising the role of those who espoused the cause of a culturally diverse India, and manipulating facts to create divisions in society are all matters that make us believe that this is just the beginning of a discourse, the end of which is not yet in sight. 

Of late, in Karnataka, what school girls and college students wear when going to class and in the classroom have become matters of public debate. One can argue the merits and demerits of such a diktat. However, this kind of public discourse leads to highly emotive outbursts, disturbing the equanimity necessary for an environment in which learning in the classroom is the primary objective, not what one wears. There are two plausible reasons why such highly controversial decisions are taken: (1) that this will take the 80:20 formula further and (2) that in the forthcoming elections in Karnataka, this may benefit the ruling establishment, given its poor performance in the state.  

It is time to ponder over what we consider to be fundamental in the governance of our country. Populations cannot be and should not be segregated based on their beliefs; nor for what they wear or the language they speak or espouse. Our national narrative should not be guided by the faith of leading actors in films, nor should movies be financed with an intent to release them just before an election to try and reap political benefits. These are not our national priorities. 

The nation needs a new dispensation. We need a new narrative; a fresh look at what our national priorities ought to be; the quality of education and skills necessary to empower our children in the context of global competition and design the kind of jobs required to meet our future needs. Eliminating malnourishment and poverty must be a priority in our nation-building exercise. These are the fundamental issues of governance that need to be addressed here and now. These issues should be at the forefront of every administration. 

Unfortunately, the present dispensation looks at India quite differently. It wants an India where the will of the few matters and to win elections is a national priority. Sad but true.

Kapil Sibal
Senior lawyer, Congress leader and member of Rajya Sabha
(Tweets @KapilSibal)



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