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Azadi Cover

I don’t have a lot of friends who are supporters of the ruling BJP (well at least the ones who have disclosed it publicly), and consequently whenever the conversation shifts towards the ongoings in India, more often than not, we find ourselves agreeing with each other. Although this is perfectly alright for me on most days, on few ocaasions, I find a shadow of a doubt slowly creeping up inside - what if I’m living inside a bubble, an echo-chamber where I only get exposed to the ideas which I already hold to be true, especially relevant now that everything in our lives are getting regulated by algorithms. Whenever this confirmation bias hits me, I long to read something contrarian, to engage with the other side and to try to put myself in their shoes.

So it was with a pleasant surprise that I found out one day, one of my friends “coming out of the closet” and to declare him(her)self to be a supporter of the ruling party. I grabbed the chance to finally be able to hear the arguments from the other side and so, I broke my cardinal rule of not engaging in political debates on social media and contacted him/her. The result was devastating. We passionately debated our views and had heated discussions throughout the day, in the end agreeing that maybe we shouldn’t have bothered to hit each other up after all. I was visibly distressed for a few days after this incident, as if a small flicker of hope had died in that encounter.

If two educated and privileged youths in their early twenties were unable to agree on something as basic as whether Muslims deserve to live in India, or whether India should really become a “Hindu Rashtra” or not, what hope could I have from the millions of others who didn’t have the same privileges as us?

Reading this book brought that hopelessness to the front once again. There are hard-hitting truths written here, things that we would sooner like to forget lest they cause us pain and make vivid the grim reality of our times. But like a festering wound which devours our body if unattended, ignorance is not bliss but a vicious disease which paralyzes us faster than we might think.

My appeal to whoever is reading this would be - reach out to others, engage in conversations, don’t dismiss the whole debate as “unnecessary politics” - your mere existence is political. Politics is not about discussing who should be the next PM, it’s about discussing ideas and how you view others who are different than yourself, to engage with empathy and to embrace the differences, and to speak out against wrongs.

I’ll leave you with a powerful passage from the book itself, where Arundhati Roy laments about the role each of us plays in how the future shapes itself:

After twenty years of writing fiction and nonfiction that tracks the rise of Hindu nationalism, after years of reading about the rise and fall of European fascism, I have begun to wonder why fascism—although it is by no means the same everywhere—is so recognizable across histories and cultures. It’s not just the fascists that are recognizable—the strong man, the ideological army, the squalid dreams of Aryan superiority, the dehumanization and ghettoization of the “internal enemy,” the massive and utterly ruthless propaganda machine, the false-flag attacks and assassinations, the fawning businessmen and film stars, the attacks on universities, the fear of intellectuals, the specter of detention camps, and the hate-fueled zombie population that chants the Eastern equivalent of “Heil! Heil! Heil!” It’s also the rest of us—the exhausted, quarreling opposition, the vain, nit-picking Left, the equivocating liberals who spent years building the road that has led to the situation we find ourselves in, and are now behaving like shocked, righteous rabbits who never imagined that rabbits were an important ingredient of the rabbit stew that was always on the menu. And, of course, the wolves who ignored the decent folks’ counsel of moderation and sloped off into the wilderness to howl unceasingly, futilely—and, if they were female, then “shrilly” and “hysterically”—at the terrifying, misshapen moon. All of us are recognizable.