A ray of light

Mari Marcel Thekaekara counsels against despair as Prime Minister Modi’s second term begins.

Here’s to hope. Around the world, almost universally, there is a feeling of gloom and doom. In most cases, justifiably.

The threat of warfare, the return of age-old hatreds, and rising inequality have afflicted South Asia in particular. In these times, it’s easy to give in to despair. Yet, I’ve learned time and again, that whenever we hit rock bottom and feel there’s absolutely no hope, a ray of light emerges.

A few days ago, Indian newspapers carried a story about the suicide of 27 year-old Payal Tadvi, an Adivasi medical student who hanged herself because she could no longer bear the humiliation and abuse heaped on her by three senior doctors. The reason for her bullying? Resentment after she got into medical school through a disadvantaged students quota system.

This happened in, of all places, our most modern, sophisticated and happening city – Mumbai. The death of Payal, a young, hopeful, first generation doctor in her family, is an unspeakable tragedy that should shame us as a nation.

Payal’s tragic suicide has made headlines all over India and students have protested passionately. She will live on in the collective memory as a martyr for the Dalit cause.

It’s the newly manufactured, venomous campaigns against minorities which has brought us to boiling point.

Her colleagues, who were suspected of having bullied and harassed her, have now been arrested under the Prevention of Atrocities Act. This is a tiny victory for the struggle against caste. A cold comfort indeed. But in these dreadful days, we have to cling to crumbs.

In the last five years, India has seen a virulent campaign of hate spread poisonously and deliberately across the country. Hatred is being whipped up, mainly against Muslims. Many hapless, Muslim men have been butchered. Ostensibly, often falsely, for carrying beef. Christians are next in line. They too have been viciously smeared by false propaganda.

One hate-monger, the charming Sadhvi Deva Thakur, a Hindu preacher, openly advocated sterilizing Muslims and Christians to keep their numbers down. Naturally, the overwhelming success of a party who openly favours changing India’s secular constitution has left minorities and liberals devastated.

Yesterday, I received a small forward which restored my faith in the innately tolerant nature of India’s majority. All these centuries, in spite of their differences, in religion, culture, language, clothes and cuisine, people have co-existed on this vast and complex subcontinent. It’s the newly manufactured, venomous campaigns against minorities which has brought us to boiling point.

Inevitably, a group of Hindus have decided they’ve had enough. Calling themselves ‘Hindus of conscience’ or ‘Sadhana’; they’ve publicly declared they want to take their religion back from the venom-spewing Hindutva brigade.

They state on their website that they seek to strengthen the liberal voice in the Hindu population and become a flag bearer of social justice and social action.

This, of course, is music to the ears of most Indians who believe in the inclusiveness and secularism held sacred by the makers of the Indian Constitution. So, in spite of darkness and despair, there are a few lamps lit, to give us a glimmer of light again. In spite of everything, we have hope.