Controlling the Present to Dictate the Past

75 years ago, we finally became free from British rule; we had become India and Pakistan — countries with separate, distinct identities. However, we still had a shared past — of loss, of love, of separation, of tenderness. We both had similar scars that we’ve tried our best to let time and good memories heal.

When we talk about Partition, I hope we know that India was not the only country that suffered, it was not the only country to see generational trauma. Families on the other side of the border who had to flee overnight from this side of the border haven’t had everything handed over to them on a platter either.

‘He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past,’ wrote George Orwell in his seminal 1984. And the way my country is headed, I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the near future, it becomes criminal to merely possess a copy of 1984, and anyone who has ever dared to read the book or speak of it, is sent to Room 101.

It would never matter that Orwell was born in India.

I think it is deeply tragic that the Prime Minister felt the need to announce that henceforth, 14 August will be observed as ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’. It’s a no-brainer why this announcement has come on India [and Pakistan’s] 75th year of independence.

I wouldn’t be surprised if fellow Indians, some of whom I’ve had the misfortune of learning from, and studying or working with, would have welcomed this announcement with glee, and will surely ‘celebrate’ this day, for these are the same people who hold the people, and not the government, responsible for the easily avoidable COVID-19 deaths. These are the same people who were grossly offended by Danish Siddiqui’s photographs, they celebrated when he was killed in Afghanistan; they called it Karma. When the PM wouldn’t condole Siddiqui’s death, why would his followers? These are also the same people who are delighted beyond compare at the construction of the Central Vista, and the destruction of countless structures and memories; the Central Vista — a structure so obscene, no reasonable-minded Indian should feel any modicum of pride.

But I’m expecting too much. I said reasonable-minded Indians. We’re no longer reasonable. And I doubt we’ll ever be. We’re the country where our Solicitor General has ridiculed people in distress and literally gasping for breath with words such as “unhappy girlfriend” and “cry baby”. We’re a country where the Parliament passes bills without debate and deliberation; we’re a country that states on record that there were no COVID-19 deaths due to the lack of oxygen; we’re a country that vetoed a puny Rs. 4,000 crore package to serve breakfast to kids in government schools citing ‘funding constraints’. Never mind that our kids are stunted, never mind that they’re malnourished. The government literally went ‘khaane ko paisa nahi hai’.

We are those who continue to subjugate Dalits, and take pride in doing so. We are those who use the euphemism Islamophobia, when what we suffer from is a visceral hate for Muslims. We advice Muslims to hide their identities in public, but at the same time, encourage Hindus to be ‘proud Hindus’. We want everyone, and especially our children, to be ‘kattar deshbhakts’, because that’s the only way we can indoctrinate entire populations and win elections.

“Kheenchi hai lakeerein iss zameen pe, par na kheencho dekho, beech mei do dilon ke ye deewarein/ Duniya mein kahin bhi, dard se koi bhi, tadpe tou humko yahaan pe/ Ehsaas uske, zakhmon ka ho ke, apna bhi dil bhar-bhar aaye roye aankhein”

It might yet be a good day to revisit Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and AR Rahman for when they collaborated for their countries’ 50th year of Independence. They might still be the Gurus of Peace that we so desperately need.

75 years is a long time. It’s a long time to move ahead, move forward, instead of descending into an abyss of the past that we’ll never be able to exit. And to all the followers of ‘he who controls the present’, I’d advice you to observe 26 May 2014 as the day India was reborn, for India as we know today, never existed before that day.

If only Nehru had…

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Shreya Sethuraman

Shreya Sethuraman

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