The Antagonistic Indian

Representation image [Photo:SNS]

Daily slanging matches in WhatsApp groups and on sundry TV channels, would easily convince one that Indians have degenerated from being peaceloving, rational beings into some species of Angry Birds ~ spewing venom, always at each other’s throats. Leave alone the unlettered who applaud police ‘encounters’ or the razing of people’s homes, unseemly belligerence has permeated the minds of leaders of society who abuse their rivals in public, equating them with asses or propose to send them to Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Even the Supreme Court was forced to take note of the malaise of hate speech. In a recent case, the Supreme Court observed: “Is the State impotent? Can’t it take timely action against hate speech mongers? If it can’t take (timely action), why do we have a State at all?” The petitioners were objecting to the many Dharam Sansads etc. being organised ahead of the elections in Maharashtra, which according to the petitioners, were thinly disguised attempts to polarise the electorate along religious lines. The petitioners highlighted the fact that inaction of Government authorities boded ill for the secular character of the Indian Republic. Regrettably, instead of addressing the anguish of the Court, the Solicitor General tried to obfuscate, by bringing in a communal slant to the issue.

Increasing instances of hate speech have lowered our prestige abroad. Recently, intemperate comments against the Prophet made by a BJP spokeswoman, in a TV show, snowballed into a major international controversy. In no time, the warm welcome accorded to the Vice-President, who was on an official visit to Qatar, turned frosty and the Indian ambassador had to submit an abject apology. Another spokesman, who had seconded the spokeswoman, drew similarire. The Government had to apologise for him also. In a weak defence, the Government attributed the statements to ‘fringe elements,’ not acknowledging the duo as spokespersons of the ruling party. It would seem that unacceptable and untenable views, previously expressed furtively, now appear in mainstream discourse.


The unanswered question before ordinary citizens is: “Whether our public discourse should be so crude and unacceptable that the Indian Government has to apologise to tin-pot sheikhdoms and sundry banana republics? Is it not the duty of every citizen to bring glory and not ignominy to the country? Uniformed forces are exhorted to lay down their lives for the country, but is it not our politicians’ concomitant responsibility to avoid words that promote strife within and outside the country?”

Also, hate speech has spawned a new and opposing set of people: those who feel perpetually outraged. Both categories are interchangeable; often those who are outraged today, become outragers the day after. Current events suggest that there are a number of people waiting patiently for opportunities to get outraged. Unfortunately, for the country, the politics of outrage has shifted public attention from bread-and-butter issues like runway inflation and rampant unemployment. Resultantly, to the exclusion of hunger, poverty and joblessness, current public discourse is steadfastly focussed on religious and cultural differences between communities, and other similar divisive topics. The dangers of such a narrative are manifest; the communal genie, once out of the bottle, can wreak havoc and reduce our country’s stature to that of our neighbours. Also, we would be faced with radicalisation of minorities ~ the problem presently facing Europe ~ probably, because Europe had done nothing to prevent attacks on religious beliefs. As a result, Europe has a very real problem of religious terrorism on their hands.

However, hate speech, though highly distasteful, is the manifestation of a deep-rooted problem. Currently, a permanent state of anger seems to be the norm for many of us. We often see people who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments, face-to-face or on social media ~ harming their social relations in the bargain. Mostly, such cynical and hostile behaviour arises out of one’s inability to deal with the problems of modern life. This dormant anger spikes stress levels, harming the angry person much more than the object of anger.

This phenomenon is not confined to India alone ~ a pandemic of anger seems to have infected the entire world. Fuelled by the anger of a megalomaniac, a war is going on in Ukraine, many democratic countries like France and Israel are witnessing incessant public demonstrations, and no week goes by when there is no shooting incident in the US. The recent surge in stressinduced lifestyle diseases in India is an outcome of the high levels of anger ~ both expressed and unexpressed ~ in the minds of our countrymen. No wonder, out of the 137 countries surveyed, the recent World Happiness Report has ranked India at the 126th position. Indian leaders have been quick to junk the Happiness Report, probably because their privileged position keeps them much happier than the Ram Lals and Shyam Lals. Significantly, the Happiness Report also focussed on inequality of happiness ~ the happiness gap between the top and the bottom halves of the population, pointing out that this gap is often large in countries where most people are not happy.

Applying the happiness gap theory to India: a high degree of inequality of opportunity and income exists in India, leading to despair and frustration, marring the happiness of the bottom half of our population. According to the Oxfam Report titled “Survival of the Richest: The India story,” released in January 2023, 40 per cent of the wealth created in India between 2012 to 2021 had gone to just one per cent of the population with a mere 3 per cent of the wealth going to the bottom 50 per cent.

As of January 2023, India had the third largest contingent of billionaires in the world, on the other hand, 60 per cent Indians survived on subsidised rations. According to Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE) data India’s employment rate was only 35.8 per cent, meaning that only 35.8 per cent of the working age population in India were employed; unemployment is at record levels with the total number of persons employed being roughly at pre-pandemic levels.

Happiness flows from overall life satisfaction, when people are prosperous, healthy, and prosocial, i.e., high levels of what Aristotle called ‘eudaimonia.’ Sadly, along with prosperity, decent healthcare eludes most of our citizens. The Coronavirus pandemic mercilessly exposed the rot in our public health system; almost all Government hospitals, which cater to the poor, were found to be woefully understaffed with highly deficient infrastructure.

The rot was not unexpected because till today, Government hospitals, established by the British more than a century ago, are the backbone of our public health system. The Government spends only 1.28 per cent of GDP on healthcare, which is insufficient, even for maintenance, let alone improvement of healthcare facilities.

One can still say that health and prosperity are long-term goals, and in the short-term, to augment happiness, the Government and society can promote good social behaviour. But the opposite seems to be the goal of politicians, who nurture vote banks, by creating divisions in society, through language and religion ~ promoting a ‘we’ versus ‘they’ narrative. Poor, frustrated and misguided elements in society fall prey to such machinations, spoiling their own happiness and the happiness of others.

The Supreme Court observed that separation of religion from politics would end the malaise of hate speech. This is only an ersatz solution; if we are to have a cohesive and fraternal society, the underlying causes of frustration and anger in the minds of the public need to be addressed, for which the Government needs to enhance its:

A) fiscal capacity (ability to raise money), to ensure income equality;

B) collective capacity (ability to deliver services);

C) legal capacity (rule of law); and also ensure that no section of society feels repressed.

Finally, it is for the country’s leadership to decide which path the country would take ~ a path of confrontation with neighbours and disharmony amongst our own citizens over religious and other issues, or the promised path of vasudhaiv kutumbkam (all the World is our family) and sabka sath sabka vikas?

Taking the latter path is not very difficult. Nelson Mandela had said: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Let us eschew hate and work for peace and harmony.”

(The writer is a retired Principal Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax Greece celebrates National Day and friendship with Viet Nam SYMP)