One thing that we take for granted about years is that all of them come to an end. Each one of them is a tragedy for some and glowing triumph for others. But for most, each year is a continuation of their lives’ arc with mild or minimal changes.
Why then think in years? Perhaps because we need to organize time, to make sense of our lives, to mark our journeys.
And then there is a year that upends our worlds, not only individually but collectively. What is unleashed has been gathering perhaps for years before, but it comes out all at once, then. There is no end to such a year. It shapes the future, gnaws at all years to come.
For most of us Indians, who lived through that year, 1984 was one such. Especially, like me, if you were in Bhopal on the night of 2 December, or were in Delhi in November, or were in Punjab any time. It was a state of siege, a country at war with itself. No institution or faith came out unscathed. And it has not ended yet, it continues to gnaw at us.
I suspect 2016 too is not going to end soon for the world. The political upheavals are on the surface, the forces are deep in the core. Gathering for decades.
An elected leader who has no hesitation publicly promoting “death to the drug dealers”, justice and the rule of law be damned. Or calling another elected president a bastard. When German chancellor Angela Merkel is compelled to say, “When a free-trade agreement with the US drives hundreds of thousands of people to the streets, but such horrible bombings as in Aleppo do not trigger any protest, then something is not right”, something is certainly not right.
Unprecedented changes in climate just bring even stronger denials and untruth. Such is the tapestry of today’s world.
We could stop by in almost any country in 2016, across the world, and watch these ruptures in the arc of humanity. Years in the making but bursting and hurting together this year. Only now do we have the clarity to ask, “What have we done?”, like after Smaug the Dragon is awakened and flying.
These are ruptures in the most fundamental notions that make us human. We are in the fight of our lives, for the good, the right and the truth. I am sure it has happened before, and it will happen again, but that doesn’t make it less epochal. Answers to troubling questions like where do we go from here, how long will 2016 gnaw and will these ruptures heal, depend on what we do now.
I still believe Martin Luther King when he said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. But having lived through 1984 in Bhopal, I would rather back up that belief with King’s own statement: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
The privilege of my job is that I meet and work with so many of these dedicated individuals, that the long insidious unfolding of 2016 only fills me with fight and not despair. Because I know that they are there, not as abstractions or inspirational stories on social media, but real people of flesh and blood. Willing to shed their blood for the good fight.
I met the woman who reveals, in its most intimate detail, her struggle for justice which continues to be denied to her because of her gender. Not only does she not let go of her struggle, but her courage to share energizes everyone around her.
Then there is the young man who has learnt to report stories from the jungles in English, else no one files stories from there that are real in the media. That he lives on the edge of survival, threatened by violence and debilitating disease, doesn’t even give him pause.
The man who runs a shelter for every kind of “the other”—of caste, gender, religion or region, none turned away. He is a lightning rod for the bigoted, and he just takes it with a nod of the head. The principal of a school of a community in the midst of a virtual civil war, who gets the warring groups together after two generations. The principal secretary of education who continues to drive through the miasma of corruption, resistance and sloth, for real improvements in the fundamentals. The young woman who demolishes all barriers of caste and creed between her students within her school, and then uses the school to undermine discrimination in the village. I could go on.
Hope or despair is ours for the making. If we stand away, even if admiring, we let in despair and weakness. If we commit to a shared moral purpose in action, then we strengthen the fight for the good.
All these people are ziddi (stubborn), as was King. That word captures what all these people have in common. They are ziddi and empathetic, they are ziddi and courageous, and they are ziddi and intellectual. The core of their identity is being ziddi.
It is not surprising, because when the good, the right and the truth are all unanchored and untethered, being ziddi, unrelenting under all circumstances, counts more than anything else.
But being so alone is insufficient. We all must be ziddi together, with a shared moral purpose, to put an end to 2016 and not let another year like this arise.
Anurag Behar is the chief executive officer of Azim Premji Foundation and leads the sustainability initiatives for Wipro Ltd. He writes every fortnight on issues of ecology and education.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Anurag’s previous Mint columns at www.livemint.com/othersphere