The year of love and hate
This was the year shadowy hate groups grabbed the spotlight and broadcast their anger across the country. Elected representatives made no effort to curb these vitriolic voices and steer public debate to the real concerns of millions of Indians: healthcare, education, jobs. It was easier to huff and puff and help the haters blow our house down.
Yogi Adityanath began the year by endorsing US President Donald Trump’s immigration ban against travellers from a handful of Muslim-majority countries. “Similar action is needed to contain terror activities in this country,” Adityanath said. Two months later, he was appointed the chief minister of India’s most populous state. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs such as Sangeet Som, Shobha Karandlaje and Ananth Hegde all got into trouble for the hateful statements they made this year. These are not worth repeating here.
BJP president Amit Shah even said something that inspired me to write “My Letter To Alia, Malia, Jamalia”, which was my favourite column of 2017. And when I suddenly found myself on a stage in front of a largely Muslim crowd in Rajasthan, asked to talk about why I had hopped on to human rights activist Harsh Mander’s month-long Karwan-e-Mohabbat (KeM, or Caravan of Love), a response to the spate of bovine-related crimes earlier this year, I told them it was because, as a journalist, I felt it was my duty to record his special journey. But that it was also because I was grateful to live in an India where my daughter had already formed her gang of Alia, Malia, Jamalia (the seven-year-old’s equivalent of Amar Akbar Anthony). I dreamt that every Indian child would have that same chance and not grow up in a religious ghetto where you learn to fear and distrust anyone who is not exactly like you.
This year, there were debates about Hanuman vs Tipu Sultan, Eid vs Diwali, patriot vs anti-national, Hindu vs Hindutva, mandir vs masjid. Twenty-five years after an angry mob tore down the Babri Masjid with the sheer force of their hatred and some basic tools, it was like we had come full circle.
It was the year we used a domesticated ungulate to disguise our hate crimes and cheered throatily as we revived old divisions. It was also the year we underlined in bold our refusal to acknowledge the right of interfaith couples to love and marry each other. Some of us hailed as hero a man who hacked and burnt another man in what looked like a macabre piece of performance art. Overnight, some of us suddenly became the Indians whose names sounded like Junaid’s and who now thought twice before going on an interstate train journey. Many Indians shared their accounts of the everyday bigotry they faced in this country. Of course, Christmas didn’t escape unscathed.
This was the year you could easily have succumbed to the hate and begun to believe that all this misplaced present-day rage was the fault of the Mughals. That the majority community was the real victim. That minorities were finally being shown their place.
Or, if you were like me, you emerged from the flames charred by the antics of your countrymen yet more resolute, soldered by love that you instinctively understood was not yours to hoard but to spread. It was the year I began using the red heart emoji I had always dissed and chatting warmly with strangers on social media. I saw hope in every gesture of love, however small. I revisited and romanticized the ideal of national integration.
So here’s to the Kerala village that defied the local mosque’s call to ostracize Kunnummal Yusuf’s family because his daughter Jaseela married a Christian. Hundreds of villagers participated in their reception, according to a news report.
And cheers to the courts that did their bit. Love has no barriers, said the Kerala high court, quoting poet Maya Angelou: “It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Or the Allahabad high court that stated the obvious: Every citizen has a right to celebrate any festival peacefully. Thank you, Delhi high court, for dismissing a plea for Vande Mataram to be recognized at par with the national anthem.
Props to the gurdwara in Joshimath that opened its doors to Muslims so they could offer their Eid prayers under a roof on an especially rainy day—a snapshot of everyday India that might not have even been noticed in any other year.
Here’s to the citizens who marched and sang and performed, all to communicate that this hate was #NotInMyName.
Great idea, to the Mumbaikars who went carolling to protest the hate against Christmas. “Tonight I will go to Church not because I am a Christian, not because I am enamoured of Christianity, but as an Indian I want to reassure My Christian sisters and brothers that I respect their freedom to practice their religion,” Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, tweeted on Christmas eve.
Well done to the children who reiterated this year that we live in a country where you don’t have to be Hindu to win a Bhagavad Gita recital competition.
One salaam for Rahul Gandhi—whose election to the head of the Congress party was likened to the succession of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. That barb didn’t faze the younger politician, who opted instead to used the word “love” in his speeches more than once in recent times.
Cheers to designer Manish Arora, who used the façade of the Jindal Mansion on Mumbai’s Peddar Road as the canvas for an installation titled All We Need Is Love. He strung together 2,000 embroidery hoops with different fabrics from all over India. The hoops in the centre form a pink heart and the entire installation glows at night, a small reminder that, as Arora put it, it’s love that connects us all.
Jai ho to the father who told his rabid neighbours to vamoose, that his daughter would marry the man of her choice and not theirs. Hurrah to those who quit bigoted WhatsApp groups. Double that if they explained why they couldn’t bear to be part of the group before they hit exit. Yay to those who still believe all Indians are our brothers and sisters. Encore to those who refuse to believe secular Indians have no parentage. Yoohoo to those who still believe in old-fashioned ideals such as decency and humanity. Gratitude to the celebrities who used their clout to speak up against hate. Yes, I’m talking about people like Anand Mahindra, who tweeted after the Rajsamand murder: “If we are to lay any claim to being a civilised society, then justice for this act must be delivered decisively and swiftly.”
Most of all, a big thank you to all the Indians who chose to believe in the power of love over the politics of hate. We need more of you in the new year.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.
She tweets at @priyaramani