Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Roadies contestant and the Balochistan connection


He must have known what to expect. The auditioning panel always dishes out unhealthy dose of humiliation. So he smiles, seemingly unflappable.

It’s been so long since I saw television that I’m stunned at the sight of a young man being insulted on national television. I’m squirming on behalf of this aspiring Roadies contestant, angry at the ‘judges’ who are calling him stupid to his face.

But the next minute, the young man loses my sympathy when he says that he agrees with the ‘Ayodhya verdict’, though he doesn’t know what the verdict is. He doesn’t know what the Ayodhya issue is. He thinks Ayodhya is where a ‘war’ happened and confuses it with the big one in Kurukshetra (which features in the Mahabharata). This strapping young man also doesn’t know who the president of India is, but assumes she is male.

By the time the video clip ends, the interview panel is falling about laughing. They are calling him ‘cute’. How else do we deal with the fact that young, school-educated, urban Indians don’t know a thing about themselves or the forces that are shaping their nation? They’re so ignorant, they’re like children.

And what does the unfortunate Roadies aspirant have to say for himself? “I don’t watch the news much.” Yeah, why find out about politics or history when you can watch Roadies on TV, or even better — be on TV!

I wouldn’t have cared about his refusal to read newspapers, or choosing to spend his life in the gym. But the thing is, he has a vote. Sooner or later, he will look around and notice that things aren’t okay. He will be angry and will want to fix things. But he will not know about Ayodhya. And because he doesn’t read the news, he will not know how, despite a high-profile investigation being underway, official documents that could have told us about the Gujarat government’s handling of the riots might have been destroyed. And so, he will not use his vote wisely.

There was another video doing the rounds on Facebook a few months ago. A BBC (Urdu) reporter goes about Lahore, in Pakistan, asking people what they knew about Balochistan. Most people didn’t know anything, not even the names of Baloch towns. But they say, ‘It’s part of our country’. Others excuse themselves saying, ‘I’m not interested in politics’.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We know there’s trouble in Manipur and Kashmir. But not much about the people there. Try talking to people in Mumbai or Delhi about why things are so bad in Kashmir, and you inevitably hear: “It’s an integral part of India!”

But we don’t want to know why there are questions about this integrity of India. Why get into the details, eh? We are not interested in politics. And we don’t like to read newspapers. We watch Roadies; we go the gym. And if things get bad, heck, for the sake of our nation/religion, we will use our muscles.

Watching the Roadies audition reminded me of some young men, volunteers for the Bajrang Dal in Mumbai, who wanted a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. So I asked if they had read the Ramayana.

They hadn’t, and didn’t want to. They just wanted to take a train to Ayodhya and do whatever their leaders demanded. I also asked them if they had Muslim neighbours, friends, colleagues? The answer was: no.

A few months after this interview, Gujarat 2002 happened. I always wondered how young people become part of hate pogroms. Now I think I know. It comes from not knowing, not wanting to know.

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