The Odds Don’t Matter

By Kinshuk Kumar

There seem to be these two people within me who have never seen eye to eye on any issue. They have always been at each other’s throats. I’ve known them all my life and I know exactly how either would respond to a question posed to it. Which isn’t all that difficult since one of them is a perpetual cynic while the other is hopelessly hopeful.

Now as would be expected if a guy was blessed with such a pair of friends, I’ve had considerable fun at their expense. All I had to do was ask them what they thought will happen when India plays its next one-dayer. Or if the test I was about to take would be a cakewalk or a disaster. And then I let them have a go at each other.

I never kept count but when I was younger, both seemed to be even and neither looked like a runaway winner. As the years have gone by, however, the cynic within me seems to have started defeating the optimist quite regularly. And now it has stopped being fun.

But it’s not merely because the cynic is like the all-conquering Aussie side under Steve Waugh while the optimist in me seems like the current Indian test side that can’t remember the last time it won anything worthwhile. It’s also because of the kind of questions I started asking the two of them- uncomfortable questions that I probably should not have asked at all.

A lost test match really isn’t all that bad. But it’s quite frustrating when you find the latest round of public rage against the state’s criminal neglect of the public good mellow down.  And then I can almost hear the cynic within me go, “I told you so.”

When an Anna Hazare or an Arvind Kejriwal rises in protest against the shamelessly blatant abuse of power by those who hold it or when thousands gather at India Gate to voice their anger against the pain inflicted on the women in this country the optimist, all battered and bruised, hopes that things will change for the better. The cynic, though, gains in confidence as he sees these movements fall flat on their faces, with the State using all its might to squash all protests.

The optimist within me sees hope in every single candle march, every single voice of dissent out there (on platforms both virtual and real) while the pessimist can’t help wondering if any of it would lead to any real change.

At the moment, the cynic does seem to be winning every time and the odds do seem stacked in his favour. But no matter how outrageously hopeful the optimist within me might seem I’ll still do the crazy thing and back him till the end.

(The writer is my brother. He’s also an engineer-turned-banker, a feminist, a cricket fan, a movie buff and among the most intelligent, fearless and down-to-earth people I have ever known.)

Advertisements

On Markandey Katju and the fine art of outsourcing protest

Justice Katju’s latest article ridiculing protesters who raise their voices against rapist-murderers was fresh proof of his prejudiced and recalcitrant mind. It’s tragic such people often slip truisms of the ‘media is celebrity-obsessed’ variety in their otherwise vile rants and end up striking a cord with way more people than they ideally should.

Justice Katju’s latest verbal fit is also symptomatic of a deeper malaise: the desire to outsource our protest and obsessively look for mass support for our cause. In other words, it articulates the desire to see our protest shouted out to the world and its TV cameras by those who have the time, energy and ability to.

This desire, if it remains just that, isn’t dangerous. It becomes so when it appears unfulfilled and causes mistrust and loathing towards that one and only group of people that can be counted on for support for any worthy cause- the protesters. Yes, that same bunch of often young, mostly ill-paid, permanently sunburned and far more dented and far less painted as a certain President’s progeny will have you believe.

So Justice Katju’s tirade was an expression of his annoyance at seeing what he thought was a bunch of women protesters obsessed with something he believes is a non-issue, or perhaps not as worthy a cause as those he (thinks he) is personally passionate about.

We should know this because we often come across less obnoxious versions of Justice Katju. We have all seen many who like their protests outsourced. There are many who hate it if the cries out there don’t exactly repeat their own.

When Bombay mourned Keenan and Reuben, what nagged at our mind was what Arundhati Roy taught us about urban protests and protesters. ‘Why no candle marches for soldiers blown up by Naxalites?’ some asked when Bombay socialites teared up over 26/11. Kashmiri Pandits are often dismissed as obsessive nuts and are judged about their silence over Gujarat. And speaking about the Gujarat riots automatically gets you branded as a fake, Congress-loving ‘pseudo-intellectual’ whose ‘pseudo-secularism’ makes her intrinsically indifferent towards Sikh or Hindu targets of violence.

Protesters tend to be specific. And that’s alright.

The truth is, it’s quite alright for an individual to feel more strongly about one issue than another. It is okay- practical even- for us to pick our battles. Barring the ideal but sanitized calls of the ‘give peace a chance’ variety, protests are almost always episodic, localized and centered around specific instances of human rights violation. A placard will either say Khairlanji or Malala or Kundankulam or Occupy or Palestine, depending on the where the placard writer is placed physically and emotionally. The underlying message is ‘down with injustice’. Invariably.

But if the average protest still appears too narrow in its focus to you, then here’s an advice- don’t do a Katju on it. It’s unproductive and sounds stupid. Be proactive and start your own protest. If your average TV anchor looks biased to you, don’t start sending her offensive tweets. Just draft and circulate your own petitions.

If your heart bleeds for Kashmiri Pandits, tell the world the injustice they have been facing. If Bhopal bothers you, then write about it every day. If Aruna Shanbaug gave you nightmares, share her story repeatedly. And if Nirbhaya woke your conscience, then blog about her for the rest of your life even if nobody cares about her anymore.

Voice your concern continuously, with or without overt support from others. Try also to lend strength to any cause which sounds worthy of support. But if you can’t, then the least you can do is not mock it.

Don’t envy or belittle the support brutalized victims manage to get. That support is really all they have. That support is really all we have.

Your open derision might successfully trigger apathy or even hostility toward ‘the other cause’ and weaken it. But it will never get support for yours.