Jan 25, 2017

Long live the republic


It is ironic the Jallikattu stir happened during the days leading up to Jan 26.

There is no denying this was a spontaneous, widespread, amazing show of solidarity. Everyone and her grandmother showed up for the sit-ins. It was full of energy, emotions and had a self-congratulatory tone to it. Celebrities scrambled to declare their support to Jallikattu reminding me of those men who pile onto the bull after it's slowed down by someone else. The rhymes were out too.

But if one were to look at the underlying message of the agitation, it is that we believe the majority has the right to do what we want. The 'Vox Populi, Vox Dei' equivalent - 'Makkal Theerpe Mahesan Theerpu' was quoted often during the protest. Dissent was not given a platform, was not tolerated. Those who had in the past been even marginally associated with PETA were trolled mercilessly.  Not that there was any sane voice of dissent within the state.

In a democratic republic where we have voting rights, representation rights, is this a valid form of protest? Do we not value our constitution? Do we not value our republic? Are we cheering for a mobocracy? Asking for a ban on PETA and a 'permanent' solution, to me is also indicative of a lack of appreciation or even an understanding of what living in a republic means. Do we know there is a difference between democracy and republic?

I think in an abstract way we do. But we also know, even in a democratic republic, the system can and is often hijacked due to vested interests and the law is not always right. And one feels compelled to resort to ex-judicial approaches. An overwhelming sense of unfairness is what brought on this massive movement. There is no denying a clever and potent mix of arguments were made to paint this issue in terms of subverted justice. The arguments appealed to protecting the best part of the culture - valor, rescuing the farmer, saving native breeds for healthy living and so on. And that the law has been hijacked by special interest groups. No wonder people got emotional.  When we are persuaded to be cynical about our judicial system, it is only natural that we believe there is still justification for unconstitutional methods. We ignore that sentiment at our own peril.

The readiness with which we lapped up these arguments, and got down to the beaches and parks is a clear indication that we are still at heart very tribal. We are more likely to take our Whatsapp messages at face value than look to educate ourselves when something stirs and appeals to our sense of identity. Those who had counter arguments carried on with a nose-in-the-air, holier-than-thou attitude. Or sometimes got sidetracked into using ill-thought words to denigrate the intentions of the protesters. But there were a few that did provide credible counter arguments to many of the conspiracy theories. But none of those got forwarded through Whatsapp. None got a platform within the state. Our sense of identity has not yet caught up to the promise of our republic.

I realize the last two paragraphs describe what Dr.Ambedkar warned us of.

So, I for one am going to take a pledge this republic day. To educate myself first before declaring my opinion for or against, to not go by hero worship or just by popular mood, and to thank and celebrate that I live in a republic.

January 25, 2017