Friday, August 8, 2014

Divided in Fear

It is worrying how discussions on communalism keep returning to this section [via the larger public domain] and of how often some sections keep crying wolf, painting monsters only they see and hyperventilating over threats only they perceive. After all, how effectively can a population of barely 6 lakh people be divided? And, into how may sub-groupings? Of course, with some sections, the divisions are a simple two-way process of “us” and “them”, and that is a disturbing condition to suffer because that projects every disagreement as an assault.
To begin with, let us not deny that divisions exist within the Sikkimese society. That much is natural, but what has been exceptionally heartwarming about the State is that the privately held prejudices have not been allowed by the people to pour out in public displays of communal posturing. The State, despite some close calls, has never suffered a communal clash. Its politics and some politicians have succumbed to communalism, but the people have performed much better. The politics of social engineering, of stitching together winning vote-bank combinations have also been tried, and have, thankfully failed as well in Sikkim. But, if people are resistant to communal confrontations, why is the bogey raised so often in Sikkim? Perhaps because it is an easy divide to hack away at and experience elsewhere has shown that the people’s defences eventually crumble in the face of persistent communal posturing. Given that everyone belongs to some community or the other, it is an accepted fact that people are also inherently communal, at least in as much as having a soft corner, if not hate, goes. Also, because we are social animals, this inherent communal streak seldom develops into paranoia or gets directed against other communities. This conditioning of social grooming, however, collapses fast when the leader of a pack smells blood – the possibility of making an issue emotive and convincing a people that they are threatened. Few things move off the counter faster than a fabricated conspiracy theory. The more subtle the fabrication, the more looming is the threat perception. Years of shepherding a disinterested public has honed the skills of these leaders and they are only aided by the blunted perspicacity of the people. People share the blame of allowing space for such voices which keep growing in belligerence because no one holds them to account. One must realise that India has perhaps the best, most detailed Constitution at hand for the protection of its minorities. Ironically, the minorities still feel perpetually threatened. It is unlikely that any minority was ever threatened by the system in the past; it was the majority they feared. As time passed, this suspicion fermented into animosity and now teeters on the brink of hatred. Who allowed this to happen? Surely not the people. Our leaders failed us. This deduction holds as true for Sikkim as it does for the nation.
Those claiming to represent communities started becoming instigators instead of counselors. These leaders forget that democracy offers people the right to self-determination, the right to negotiate, the right to harmonise. Instead, they allowed their supporters only the options of complaint, bickering and suspicion. Someone who speaks for a community should bridge the communication gap between communities. Anyone can spread canards and deal in whispers, but it takes a leader to represent a cause. Leaders of various communities in Sikkim should have been the ones who lobbied support from other groups to address the fears and aspirations of their people. Have they done so? The State needs to realize that while some leaders might keep finding relevance for themselves by seeing monsters in every shadow, the State, which is already a very weak voice at the national level, makes itself weaker by speaking in a babble of incoherent tones and allegations.

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