As the Indian state acts in pitiless, humourless, clueless ways, the joke is on us

That the Indian state is no longer democratic is clear. If democracy is not merely the holding of free and fair elections, India is no longer a democracy. What is increasingly evident though is that it is also a state with no heart for the pain of citizens, no stomach for a good laugh, and no common sense. It is pitiless, humourless, and clueless, lashing out periodically to give us the impression of control and purpose.

Nothing has dramatised its pitiless governance more than the arrest of Disha Ravi, a 22-year old climate activist: a passionate young woman with a fabulous smile. Yet it is not the first pitiless act of the Indian state in recent years. Let’s remember the arrest of so-called urban Naxalites including P Varavara Rao who was 78 years old when he was taken into custody. Or Stan Swamy who is 83 years old and suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Swamy cannot even hold a drinking cup properly and was reportedly denied a straw and sipper. And Gautam Navlakha who at 68 had his replacement spectacles refused by the prison authorities.

The Indian state is not just pitiless, it is also humourless. It takes itself so seriously that it cannot smile at its own follies and mistakes and the fun and foibles of its citizens. It only takes some right-wing busybody to righteously complain about a comedian’s jokes, and the Indian police, which apparently has nothing much else to do, goes roaring off to charge the funny man or woman with an offence. The latest instance is that of Munawar Faruqui and four other associates who were charged with insulting Hinduism and Amit Shah on the complaint of a BJP MLA’s son.

If this was not bad enough, the Indian state is also clueless about the world in which it operates. Just last month it issued guidelines restricting the ability of publicly-funded Indian universities to hold online international conferences and seminars on matters that relate to India’s internal realm. Virtually any subject you can think of can be linked to India’s internal politics, society, economics and security, even topics in the natural and applied sciences. The restrictions therefore could stifle all international academic interactions. By the time the already-overburdened foreign ministry or education ministry takes a decision on an academic event, it will likely be too late. Worse, Indian academics will simply give up trying to engage with foreign colleagues.

The foolishness of the move can be gauged by the fact that in today’s world of the internet, satellites, sensors and other surveillance mechanisms there is very little that dedicated researchers abroad and foreign intelligence agencies cannot access. They really don’t need to manipulate innocent and supposedly irresponsible Indian academics to get information and ideas on developments in India. Without trying to be funny, the Indian state is generating smirking laughter all around the world with its Chinese-like mania for control.

The Indian state seems to live in an absurdist bubble where it thinks that by issuing an edict all is made well. It doesn’t seem to have any common sense. Unless the Indian state now also bans Indian academics from emailing and from publishing in the press or in academic books and journals, how is it going to prevent information and ideas about India becoming available to foreign colleagues? As for foreign governments who want to make trouble, they don’t need to dial up or snoop on Indian academics to learn about India. Their spy systems are perfectly adept.

Pitiless, humourless, and clueless: In 70 years of Indian Independence, this is what we have produced at both the social level and at the level of our state. It is not all Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fault. It is our fault. Somewhere along the way, over seven decades, our chip-on-the-shoulder view of the world has wrought an ugly, ludicrous India.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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