The Tamarind Court of justice

How does one engage with politics in a fruitful way, beyond the platitudes? Apart from voting for your local representative (which I must confess, somewhat shamefacedly, I haven’t ever done) what can ordinary citizens do to make politics less of a political word?

Our press and leaders wallow in the fact that India is the ‘World’s largest democracy’. The strength of the electorate that votes in election after election is bigger than the populations of most countries. But, voting is also a class thing, where urban middle class angst collides with the moffussil realities of the ‘other’ India that doesn’t make it to the 24/7 T.V screens; the India that doesn’t invade middle class sensibilities with its smells and sounds and the India of paan-chewing messiahs and hooded naxal ‘terrorists’.

A common complaint in middle class drawing rooms across India is that politics today has become such a messy affair. “Everyone is corrupt,” is the lament. True, politics is not the same as it was 20 or even 10 years ago; True, also, that each and every fibre of the political system seems to be dyed in the cesspool of venality; Even more true is the fact that going up against the ‘system’ seems like an impossible task.

The common perception here is that ‘we’ are the victims of a system gone so rotten that it is beyond redemption. But haven’t all of us contributed to it, don’t we all have a hand, and share the responsibility, for the way things are?

Take Jessica Lal. She has become an icon that fuels middle class rage. How dare they shoot a (pretty, young, westernized) woman in a (illegal) bar and manage to get away with it. After all, the killer(s) were nouveau riche spoilt young rich kids from political families. There were many eyewitnesses that evening when Jessica was shot, but when it came to the crunch none of them put their (middle class) money where their mouth was.

Of course, you could always argue that “it’s the system maan.” But the eyewitnesses at the ‘Tamarind Court’ were not people who might be called financially or otherwise insecure. They might have shown more spine, done something to engage with the ‘system’ that all of us love railing against in the air conditioned confines of our Tamarind Courts. When the people of planet page 3 fail, why expect poor Zaheera to defy the system.

The people who held candlelight demonstrations beside India Gate saw a reflection of themselves in the Jessica Lal affair. Yesterday it was Jessica, tomorrow it could be my turn. And yet, when thousands of women are raped across that ‘other’ India every day, the India that doesn’t make it to the T.V. screens, thousands paraded naked on dusty village streets for defying caste conventions, thousands shot dead for sullying family honour, our middle class doesn’t erupt in protest. These women are best relegated out of sight and out of mind.

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