Darkness At Noon: Sare Jahan Se Accha Hindustan Hamara.

Subheading: Democracy and everyday life in contemporary India: Part One

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By Amit Sengupta, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO:   In India, the largest democracy, literally, and as a repetitive and ironica lcliché, it has been dark at noon for a long time now. Not because the monsoon is refusing to come in the inevitable regions as it was predicted by the weather station. It’s because there is a certain pronounced heaviness in the air, like mourning which ceases to cease, like daily dying and death; the air seems still, and the stillness is replete with a tragicstasis, the stasis seems in soliloquy and stagnation, and from here to eternity there seems no early morning breeze coming from this way or that.

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Thereby, the darkness at noon refuses to change seasons, and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons sounds melancholy and forlorn. Not a day passes by without this joyless funeral shroud descending on the nation; not a moment is with respite or a movement of liberation, goodness, positive energy — of revelation. A vicious and negative current, of the mind and deed, has been unleashed in the arid landscape, a torrent of bad faith repeated day in and day night, like a bout of asthma and breathlessness which refuses to pause.

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Not a night passes without feverish dreams and the condemnations of
insomnia, like running without being able to run, screaming without
being able to scream, paint, or draw without being able to draw or
paint, writing without a word pouring out in this everyday the meaninglessness of life. Like the Edvard Munch painting, it’s a scream
which turns inwards and becomes stunningly silent even before it is
conceived in the mind, like railway tracks that suddenly face barbed
wires of the borderlines and lines of actual control, a guitar without a
chord or a string, a classical orchestra without a troupe or a conductor,
an opera without a voice, an apparition without flesh, body, or soul.

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If you dare to whistle in the dark, you might just be picked up, for all you know. Writer, theatre personality, and then president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel used to write that when I go to sleep I think I might wake up in a prison. Hermann Hesse wrote about a prisoner who drew a train on the prison wall, and, one day, boarded the train, and both he and the drawing disappeared from that prison cell.

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Stephen Zweig wrote about a prisoner who had to go through torturous interrogation every day. One day he saw a little book in the pocket of an officer’s overcoat. He stole the book. He would then make a chess board in his room and play chess with himself, solo, with bread crumbs. So much so, in this solitary confinement of total isolation, the chess championship became so one-sided that he came to know of every move that he could make and every counter move that his opponent would make in any given circumstances.

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So much so, surprising to all concerned, when free, he defeated the
world chess championship when traveling on a ship, as fast as the game could be, only to lose it in the final instance, because the champion understood his mind, drove him to the edge, the desperate brink, psychologically pushed him to the boundaries of sanity and insanity, and drove him mad. He lost the final game. He lost his mind too.

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Those who went to Adolf Hitler’s Auschwitz and the concentration camps in Germany, Poland, and Europe, and the labor and death camps of the Gulag in Joseph Stalin’s Siberia, obviously, had no such dreams to share anymore. Their reality was their dream, their bitter realism, their hard truth drawn on the rock like a primordial rock painting full of predictable prophecies. No miracles were going to happen here.

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All miracles will happen outside the Gulag and the Holocaust. As the boy with a striped pajama, did the Nazi father and mother suffer as much as all the mothers and fathers whose kids were gassed to death in the concentration camps?

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As the long trains moved through the icy railway tracks of Europe, suffocated with Jews stuffed like cattle out to be taken for hard labor and slaughter, did the civilized people and governments of Europe really bother to find out who are these condemned and exiled inside those goddamned compartments?

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Until that fated day in 1939, much after the Stalin-Hitler pact, when
Germany invaded Poland, did the Holocaust happen with 6 million Jews or more, or did it not happen? Did 20 million or more Russians of Soviet Russia die fighting the invading Nazis in their homeland, in the battles of Stalingrad and Leningrad, and other battlefields?

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And before it, all happened masse, even as the western world played blind and deaf, did Kristallnacht happen in the Nazi-occupied cities and towns of Europe or not — when every home, window, shop, nameplate, identity, of the Jews, tangible and living, were smashed under state patronage, in full police protection? Were they then told not to walk on the streets, not to go to public parks, not to marry outside the Jewish identity, not to do business, or go to work, or travel on trains and buses, and wear the Star of David on their arms?

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And, did a grandmother who stole bread from the bakery in a Stalinist
labor camp, found herself frozen in a cold cask of water as punishment; a cold-blooded death, surely! Or, did people get condemned because they wrapped a loaf of bread or boiled potatoes in a newspaper with a picture of Adolf Hitler?

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In Uttar Pradesh, recently, in the Hindi heartland, which, these days,
seems to be ardently following the post-2002 Gujarat laboratory
experiments out in the open, as almost a gladiatorial sport and public
spectacle, often with bulldozers, the newspaper itself became a story.
A restaurant owner, in Sambhal, predictably a Muslim, went and bought a stack of old newspapers from a scrap dealer, as he would routinely do like other shopkeepers who would sell food, snacks, and other items.

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He was picked up by the cops on a complaint by one of those miscellaneous members of Hindutva/Sangh Parivar fronts which apparently flourishes under State sponsorship: why? Because he had packed a chicken dish in an old newspaper for a customer. Coincidentally, the old newspaper carried pictures of Hindu gods, and, that, indeed, offended the religious sentiments of the Sanghi crusader. “The Independent’, London, reported that his family said: “Does anyone look at the headlines of a newspaper or the photos carefully before using it as a wrapper?

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Can anyone be sent to jail for this? He has never hurt any ones sentiment & quote; Consider that India, like many countries, has a history of wrapping and packaging with all kinds of pictures to attract customers: cinema actors, gods, and goddesses, cricketers, birds, animals, and even freedom fighters and politicians. Social media has reproduced a brand of cigarettes in British times called the Kali cigarettes. Match-boxes, firecrackers, notebooks, and all kinds of packages have all kinds of pictures – including gods and goddesses. So, how come, this sudden, deep, anguish and angst?

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So what happens if a Hindu restaurant owner sells chicken and mutton wrapped in an old newspaper with pictures of a Hindu god or goddess? Or even Jesus Christ or Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi? Will he be packed off to jail for hurting religious sentiments in UP?

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In the Mohammad Zubair case, senior lawyer Coli Gonzalves made a
point in the Supreme Court on Friday, July 8, 2022. He said: They have arrested people for hate speech. They have been released on bail. And hate speech started again. “I have not spoken against any religion. Where is the crime against religion?…”

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The Supreme Court castigated Nupur Sharma as categorically as it could be. She is free. Zubair exposed her hate speech. He is in prison.
Indeed, democracy in India in contemporary times is going through
tragic shadow-lines. It is truly ‘Darkness at Noon.

Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

 

 

Amit Sengupta

Amit Sengupta

Amit Sengupta is an independent journalist, academic, and writer. He has worked across the mainstream Indian media in national English dailies and magazines as a senior editor for more than three decades. He has been Associate Professor, English Journalism, IIMC, Delhi, Visiting Faculty, MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, and Dean, NISCORT Media College, NCR, Delhi. He was a Fellow at Wellesley College, Boston, in 2016. He lectures across India and on campuses, dies Creative Writing Workshops, and writes for national and international media outfits. He has reported from the ground in India and abroad for many years. 

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