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An insightful article from The Hindu:
Which Mrs. Iyer?
By Rahul De (published Feb 8, 2003):
|Which Mrs. Iyer do we emulate, the one who is the humanitarian or the one who is the strategist...? I fear the answer to that question.|
As I came away from the film "Mr. and Mrs. Iyer" there was one question that I puzzled over for the longest time: why did Mrs. Iyer suddenly claim Raja as her husband? The first answer, the most obvious one, that came to mind was that she wanted to save his life as a humanitarian gesture — a need to protect a fellow human being. And she could do this despite having had doubts about him, earlier, when she had realised that he was a Muslim (while she was a conservative Hindu Brahmin) and had had a despairing moment after realising she had drunk water from a bottle he had touched to his lips. So when some murderous fanatics came into the bus they were travelling in and started picking on the passengers, `testing' the males to see who was a Muslim they could isolate, Mrs. Iyer's reaction was to thrust her child on Raja's shoulder and when the goons asked him about his identity she said he was Mr. Iyer, father of her son. They moved on and picked on a frail old man, whom they killed, while Raja was spared.
Another answer that came to me later was that it wasn't a humanitarian gesture at all, on the part of Mrs. Iyer, but a utilitarian, functional one, wherein she didn't want to lose out on a man who was helping her with her child, and who, till that point, had been the only one in the bus to do so. In a later moment in the film, when they were isolated in a forest guest house, and the violence had come close to them again and Raja said that he wanted to leave, she held him back saying he was the one she and her child, Santhanam, could rely on for safety. He could not walk out on them.
Mrs. Iyer's motives in saving Raja's life are poignant at this juncture in history when many of us are wondering why such a large number of people, many from the educated middle class, joined hands in the genocide and murder and disenfranchisement of thousands of innocent Muslims in the State of Gujarat. After the torching of a train car in Godhra, in which 58 persons were killed, a pogrom of mass extermination was unleashed in a coordinated and planned manner by the Sangh Parivar elements in Gujarat, and this was aided by the educated classes. It is now well documented by several enquiry commissions that officials of the State Government participated in this genocide by preventing the police from protecting citizens and by providing crucial demographic data to the murderers to carry out their deeds with deadly precision. After the carnage Hindu doctors refused to treat patients whom they could discern as Muslims, they were turned away from dispensaries or left unattended on hospital beds, and Hindu lawyers refused to file cases on behalf of Muslim victims who wanted to claim compensation.
After all this, I shivered with anger when I heard the pronouncements of the leaders, who had led the murderers in Gujarat, about the onset of `Hindu Rashtra', `cultural nationalism' and the saving of `Hindu Gaurav'. An outrageous and inhuman rhetoric that fed on the plight of the victims had become an election campaign. As a Hindu who grew up in middle-class India I had never had the feeling that either Hindu pride or Hindu heritage was in any sort of danger and needed rescuing. I grew up knowing that a multi-religious, tolerant and secular society was a given and that the occasional eruptions of ethnic violence were aberrations resulting from modern India's traumatic birth. There were, too, fringe elements who played up communal tensions, but they were a minority and would soon disappear. However, this last never happened and the fringe elements are now claiming to be the dominant players, poised as they are to forever change the social fabric of India.
Perhaps, the dilemma that Mrs. Iyer poses for us is one that we face in our lives today. (Here, my referent, `we' is the larger set of the educated, upper-caste, Hindu middle-class that Mrs. Iyer belongs to). We confront today the forces of fascism that threaten to destroy all that we have stood for, in the past and now, and replace it with a narrow, murderous and obtuse worldview that dares us to look it in the eye. Mrs. Iyer protected her fellow passenger instinctively, imaginatively. The quandary for us is how we are going to do the same for our fellow passengers. Which Mrs. Iyer do we emulate, the one who is the humanitarian or the one who is the strategist; the one who is horrified by the situation and rushes to rescue, or the Tam-Bram Hindu who calculates that saving a particular Muslim was in her and her son's best interests?
I fear the answer to that question.
Nowadays, it is difficult to use words such as `secularism' and `tolerance' and `human rights' as these have been carefully and deliberately poisoned by the Sangh Parivar. Even some of our intellectuals, who otherwise do not support the Sangh elements, consider these ideas `western' and of not much import in our non-western society. It is as if such concepts belonged to an archaic and foreign reign that is now over and the erstwhile, shamefaced, rulers have taken their ideas with them. To use such words is foolish, if not anti-national.
So we cannot now stand up for our fellow citizens, the minorities who are being victimised, on the grounds of secularism, tolerance and basic human rights. We cannot now claim that they have a right to live their culture and practise their faith in whatever manner they choose and we have to uphold this right as it is a fundamental basis of our democracy. We cannot now say those things.
We have to choose another Mrs. Iyer. We have to calculate the worth of supporting our fellow citizens and we have to couch our emotional states in the language of market analysis and economics. We have to say now that riots are bad for business, killing and rape take a toll on the exchequer, communal tension adversely affects productivity and India's decline in the indices that measure human rights could jeopardise its chances of getting great deals at the World Trade Organisation. And so on. Charts, diagrams, figures, PowerPoint bullets and executive summaries have to replace arguments about human dignity and justice.
Cruel though these words may sound, they are, I feel, the only strategic option left to us. We are, like the mainstream media, caught between the Scylla of cheerleading market reforms and economic liberalisation on the one hand, and the Charybdis of somehow explaining the horrors of the communal carnage let loose in Gujarat on the other, and this is especially bothersome since both are being unleashed by the same political forces. To make matters worse, it appears that we are unable to see any causal link between the one and the other. It is in this context that I suggest, positively and not mockingly, that the assault on minorities has to be challenged on a rational basis and the ideology of hate has to be subverted by showing that it is not economically sound. Hate feeds the political vote-mill but in the medium and long-term it leads to instability, economic uncertainty and decline in consumer and investor confidence. This enables demagogues to further the hate agenda, setting off a vicious cycle. There are many instances in history where this cycle has played out its lethal consequences.
Mrs. Iyer needed the putative Mr. Iyer, and he needed her, to complete the long and difficult journey in the film. In like manner we need our fellow citizens to complete our long journeys, for our very rational and selfish needs.
(The writer is an Associate Professor of Information Systems, IIM, Bangalore.)
Other links and articles:
"Love in times of riots" by MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER (The Hindu, Feb 24, 2003):