(Image is used for representational purposes) 
Photo: Prato9x / Flickr
(Image is used for representational purposes) Photo: Prato9x / Flickr

Reading Arendt while India erupts

A young protestor reflects.

It had been a long week and I was standing outside a public toilet.

Ever since the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 has come into being, it feels like India has exploded. It felt like Delhi had erupted with rage which manifested itself in the form of protests that threatened to tip over into fury with the slightest nudge. And quite often it did tip over as well. As with most protests, this too brought with it much needed adrenaline and energy. Unlike other times when outrage has to find space to fit into everyday banality, the protests this time also allowed space for outrage to perform. Over the last two weeks many took time out from their everyday lives to rage, perform outrage, and thus – one way or another –to rejuvenate.

Standing outside that toilet, I found myself looking at Delhi very differently. The protests had made us look up from our phones and at each other, cutting across all kinds of class and caste lines. Auto drivers were talking to their customers, the cigarette seller was picking an argument with a smoker, the domestic help was talking to her employer and we were all also talking to ourselves. And just like that, a sense of community emerged. The threat of breaking up the nation with the CAA had launched people into protesting – a nation-building activity (that is, if you define nation as community and not as nation state). The only chaiwalla (tea seller) who benefitted from these protests is the one who served tea at Jantar Mantar. The other chaiwalla (as the prime minister never fails to remind us he once was) cried foul at Ramlila Maidan, yelling into the mike for close to two hours and picking on whatever was left of the horrible meal he had cooked for everyone. Modi looked the nation in the eye and said that there had been no talk of a nation-wide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and neither were any detention camps being built – both his claims are untrue. As I listened to Modi play his blame game, accusing 'urban naxals', all other political parties and 'anti-national elements', he genuinely looked like he was running out of people to blame. Conflating the conversations around Kashmir, Assam and CAA, he said he was happy to see people raise the Indian flag instead of the gun. Clearly, he'd forgotten the 14 people who died of bullet injuries, or maybe he thinks that's okay since it was done only for 'national security'. Is it possible that Modi and I live in the same country but in different nations?

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Himal Southasian