India’s civil society has by now patted itself on the back for the umpteenth time having shown the political classes its raw, real-grassroot-democratic power by having its version of the Lokpal Bill passed. Let it now look inward to examine its own internal corruption. News reports and trending blogs indicate how wide, and how deep the problem of regional parochialism runs in our country. While corruption in high government offices and public services bleed the country dry, the issue of regional bias and hatred festers like a sore on our collective psyche.
A recent news report details how a Bengali migrant laborer in Kerala was refused help by residents after falling off a train. Oran, injured and bleeding, went door to door asking for help, and nobody answered. I do not intend to highlight regional antipathy in one particular state or part of the country. His story is probably true of millions of migrant labourers in different parts of the country. Many of them probably take the same ignoble decision that Oran took: he managed to reach the nearest temple, and hanged himself with a rope.
Suicide may serve as a gory extremity of this divisive issue. But it also serves as a timely reminder of a much more difficult issue that India’s “civil” society has to solve for itself. If one were to believe that such antipathy is reserved only for poor migrants, take a look at one of the most trending blogposts in India recently: “Open Letter to a Delhi Boy“, and its sequel: “The National Loss of Collective Shit“. The posts intend to highlight and confirm many stereotypes regarding the allegedly less-than-intellectual-little-more-than-neanderthal Delhi crowd, by a girl from, well, somewhere south of Delhi.
What could have been a well aimed jibe at all that is funny and stupid about Delhi’s brash and rich, turned out to be a venomous rant against Delhi culture. So the posts themselves turn out to be a reflection of cultural prejudices rather than posts trying to indicate the perceived hollowness of Delhi culture.
Indeed, these prejudices run deep within us: the “Madarasis eat sambhar-chawl” to “Punjabis eat rajma-chawl” to how “south Indian languages are so funny” to how “Punjabi is so crude”. These are a reflection of how inward-looking we remain for all our newly acquired prosperity. And this problem cannot be solved by a mass agitation involving Anna Hazare and his cronies. It cannot be solved by hunger strikes and political boycotts. It is a social issue which requires a collective response, but such collective response hinges on collective awakening, and a collective will to action that has nothing to do with corruption, caste, poverty, or religion. Let us see how much stomach civil society has for this fight.