Circe is the mythical Greek goddess- sorceress who ruled the island of Aeaea; any shipwrecked mariner who landed on its shores was turned into an animal- wolf, lion, swine- a fate which also befell the Greek hero Odysseus. In 1965 Nirad C Chaudhri, the last of the breed of Anglophiles, wrote a book of essays on India which he titled THE CONTINENT OF CIRCE. It was his postulation that, for various reasons, the Indian sub-continent was a continent of Circe, turning humans into animals. Nirad da was roundly condemned at the time for this sacrilege and betook himself to Oxford in a kind of self-imposed exile. Today, half a century later, he has been completely vindicated – we have become a country of beasts, not so much of the lion and wolf variety as that of the porcine one.
Anyone who has been surprised by the police violence and deaths in Darrang district of Assam last week, or by the murder of a Kanpur businessman in a Gorakhpur hotel by six policemen this past Wednesday , must have been in a coma these last seven years. Because the hatred, the viciousness of majoritarianism, the intolerance, the complete lack of compassion for Gandhi’s ” daridranarayan”, the total lack of accountability, the religious fanaticism which has been building up since 2014 has been there for all to see. It has been steadily spreading its poisonous tentacles as the BJP has consolidated itself and its rule. Geographically, it has gone beyond the Hindu heartland, even into hitherto untouched north-east; it has infected government agencies and services, including the Army and the IAS; it has captured most of the media; it has occupied the mind spaces of society to a point where men have lost their reason and have become, well, swines.
It began, of course, as all bad things do, with the government of the day, ably supported and instigated by the shadowy figures in Nagpur. The strategy functioned/ functions at three levels. One, push through policies to disempower and de-identify all minorities, especially the “abbajans”. Secondly, encourage second-rung leaders to make open and provocative statements targeting minorities, dissidents, farmers, journalists, even inconvenient industrialists, so that the message is clearly understood. Third, let loose the hounds as in Muzzafarnagar and north-east Delhi , our own made-in-India Ku Klux Klan, with firm directions to the police to act as facilitators for the violence. And the rot has set in deep within the government itself.
The brutality shows when a young rape victim is forcibly cremated at midnight by an administration which later tells a court that absence of spermatozoa means no rape took place; it shows when 500 farmers are allowed to die at protest sites and the Prime Minister cannot spare even one tweet of sympathy; it shows when millions of migrants are compelled to trudge hundreds of miles to their homes, with the administration lathi-charging them and hosing them with pesticides to hurry them along; it shows when the government says no Covid victim died of lack of oxygen; it shows when students are beaten up in their hostels and libraries, millions disenfranchised as citizens of the country on the basis of a dodgy immigration policy when you can be shot to death for having a lathi in your hands. It is an endless litany, and after a while the brain stops registering anything except a passive acceptance of our deprivation and brutalisation.
Responding to the dog whistles from Delhi the administration has become totally insensitive and heartless, as exemplified by the NITI AYOG CEO’s assertion that we ” have too much democracy.” Sovereign violence is the answer to any protest, cases against victims the response to mob lynchings. The police in most states are now totally unaccountable, encounter killings a standard SOP, sedition and the UAPA the weapons of first resort for a bloodthirsty apparatus. Even the elite civil services have been infected by the virus of power lust. The SDM of Karnal who has interpreted the CRPC to be some kind of a Handbook on Savagery is, unfortunately, not the only civil servant to do so, he is only the latest example of what happens when the bureaucracy imbibes the perverted values of its political masters. There have been at least seven documented incidents in the recent past alone when officers of the level of District Magistrate/ Sub Divisional Magistrate have displayed utter savagery and a particular ideological bent of mind in dealing with the public. An IAS officer slaps a young boy on a road in Shahjapur district of MP for no ostensible reason; Prakash Singh Rajput, SDM of Surajpur in Chattisgarh hits a young man and forces him to do sit-ups for violating quarantine rules; a District Magistrate in Tripura barges into a wedding function, intimidating and arresting people at will for the same reason; Ranbir Sharma, a Collector in Chattisgarh slaps a man and smashes his cell phone on a road for some imagined slight. A magistrate has no legal authority to use physical force on a citizen, and each of these acts by these officers amounts to a criminal offence, but no attempt has been made to discipline them. This growing trend of civil servants behaving like storm troopers of an occupation force must be curbed with an iron hand before it becomes the norm, as it already has with the police.
This heartlessness and lack of compassion or concern for the ordinary citizen has not spared the judiciary either. Taking due care not to antagonize the executive, it has fallen prey to the same disease. There can be no other conclusion when journalists and activists are kept in prison for years on trumped-up or no charges at all, when hundreds of habeas corpus petitions are allowed to pend for months, when no action is taken on cases of forced encounters, when it takes a court three weeks to decide whether an undertrial who suffers from Parkinsons can be permitted a sipper for drinking water, when a man practically on his deathbed is refused bail on medical grounds, when a woman who accuses a judge of improper sexual advances can be dismissed from service and put under surveillance.
The less said about the major part of the media- print and television- the better. They resemble nothing better than a pack of hyenas feeding off the offal thrown them by a contemptuous executive. Their complete lack of humanity and empathy was more than evident in the coverage of the Tabliqui Jamaat congregation, the exhumation of the still-warm corpse of Sushant Rajput, the sufferings of millions of migrant labour, the demonisation of those who protested against the CAA and NRC, the state assault on students that happens every day, their complicity with the government in covering up the tens of thousands of deaths in the second wave. The media has mortgaged not only its ethics but also its soul to Mammon.
But most disheartening and saddening of all is the brutalisation of our society as a whole. Under the onslaught of a government and a party which has an EVM where its heart should be, our collective social values have all but collapsed into a stinking pool of prejudices, ignorance, triumphalism and religious intolerance. Everything- every repressive action, every incident of state or vigilante violence, every police atrocity, every lie by the government, every distortion of history- is seen through a religious prism, and the hard facets of the prism sanctify and bless all misdeeds of the government and its minions. Underpinning all this is nothing but hatred- for Muslims, intellectuals, questioning students, protesting farmers, liberals, human rights activists, migrant labour, landless dalits. In short, anyone who questions the government or makes it look bad. I am appalled at the kind of forwards and messages floating around on Whatsapp and Facebook. There is no use blaming these platforms, as we are constantly attempting to do. They do the work of Dorian Grey’s picture- honestly reflecting back to us the ugly reality of what we have become as a nation but refuse to admit. We may deny it but that will not change the reality.
It is bad enough when the politics of the day becomes callous and brutal, but this is not irretrievable. Parties in power change and an inhumane or harsh ideology can be replaced by a softer, more liberal one. But once this malignancy enters the apparatus of administration and the bloodstream of society it is difficult to dislodge. We appear to be entering this terminal stage.
I am reminded of two lines form Lord Byron’s Child Harolde’s Pilgrimage which were inscribed by the distinguished jurist H.M. Seervai on the first page of his authoritative book “Constitutional Law Of India”:
“A thousand years scarce serve to form a state,
An hour may lay it in the dust.”
Has Nirad Babu’s hour arrived finally?