The 14th of February - Day Against Intolerance
Let me begin with a disclaimer. I am often a skeptic when it comes to Valentine's day or any other day(including my own birthday, though old habits die hard). 'Days' affirm certain identities, give us an opportunity to celebrate and generally feel good. While I agree we do need such occasions, I also believe that the celebrations(and the rampant commercialization that often goes with it) sometimes obscure the questions we ought to ask ourselves. That's a subject for another time. The question is what now.
The Sri Ram Sene plans to 'marry off'(or en-brother/en-sister) men and women who would want to spend time together on the 14th of February. I am sure their sibling organizations, delighted at the oxygen their cause has received over the past couple of weeks, will be gearing up to go on the offensive on the same day. It's a toss up whether any state government will actually set out to protect those who dare to defy the culture police. The reasons are obvious, the unsavory dictates of politics that have been frequently analyzed and at a deeper level, the large gaps is society that the saffron hordes exploit. All signs point to yet another victory for those who would want to impose an archaic moral code on an ever-diversifying society.
Unless we chose to make a statement. Unless we decide that the 14th of February 2009 will be an occasion for a fresh engagement with our own society and our times. Let the 14th of February be a day of protest, a day for spreading awareness about the organizations and the mentality that give rise to such intolerance. Let February 14 also be a day of contemplation, a day for educating ourselves on our rights and our duties as citizens so that we know what we deserve and how much we must struggle to maintain it.
However education achieves only so much. If there is to be any impact, it must be via collective action. While Valentine's day is essentially a private celebration, the need of the hour is to ensure that people gather and make a statement. We need rallies and banners, slogans and placards. The size of the group does not matter. All that is required is concerted action. Besides any 'enforcer' of morality would think twice before assaulting a group.
Equally important is the right kind of chronicling. It is imperative to record each and every incident that occurs that day and ensure that there is greater awareness of them. We often are unaware of our own cities. We often see incidents like that in Mangalore with the comfort of distance. It is necessary to throw away those tinted glasses.
There will of course be a lot of criticism and doubt about such an idea. "Bah! mere symbolism" is likely to be the most common objection. Another is the question of how necessary such protests are when we have bigger issues at stake. After all, the logic would go, the section of society that is affected by such policing is pretty small and there are so many more significant issues. I understand the skepticism of those who doubt symbolism(see para 1). But it is also true that despite the often ephemeral nature of symbolism(especially in this age of saturated coverage), there are certain times when it does help mobilize opinion and spread some hope. After all, it's just symbolism. It can't hurt and is definitely worth a try.
It is perhaps true that there are issues that are more dire than the freedom of men and women to spend time together in a public space on a specific day. However I do not believe it's ever a question of either/or. The liberty that an individual or a group of individuals enjoy cannot and should not be exclusive in the sense that the achievement of(or the need to achieve) liberty for one group should lead to the suppression of the liberty of the other. There are occasions when an individual must sacrifice aspects of his liberty for a cause but assuredly, the creation of a society based on a prehistoric code of morals is not one such cause!
It is important that even those who are unsympathetic to Valentine's day or public displays of affection see this issues as one of an Indian citizen's basic rights. There is a huge section of the populace which even while rejecting the Sangh Parivar's political and cultural agenda as a whole, remain sympathetic to individual elements of it. They are a constituency that must be addressed and convinced of the need to stand up against mob culture even if it be in the name of an Utopian society of the pure.
So let us for once forgo Archies and gather as a group, whether it be on the streets or on forums online and ensure that the 14th of February is 'celebrated' as India's own "Day against Intolerance"*
*The International Day for Tolerance is celebrated by the UNESCO on the 16th of November every year.
The 14th of February - Day Against Intolerance
- » Published on February 08, 2009
- » Type: Opinion
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