Wednesday, 19 November 2008

a sleepless night

i couldn't sleep last night. mostly, i think i was feeling disturbed having read sapna's blog after posting here. i hate reading about the activities of right-wing groups in india, partly because of my own identity, partly because of the disturbing stories i've heard from friends and family, and partly because of my own experiences.

of the latter, let me say that nothing untoward has ever happened to me nor have i seen first hand any acts of violence when visiting india. it's more the atmosphere and the fear of living in a place when violence is happening relatively close by. i was in aligarh (northern india) on 6 december 1992, the day the babri mosque was demolished. it wasn't so much the demolition of the mosque but the random violence afterwards and the fear that spread throughout the state and through most of the country that was most disturbing.

i remember living in total curfew which lasted at least 2 weeks, and having to travel to delhi during that period. we had to get permission from the district police commander, and have an escort to take us to the railway station. the tension was palpable, almost shimmering in the air.

i remember my first trip to india back in 1978. again, having to live in aligarh under curfew for a month. i don't think people here can begin to imagine what it's like not being allowed out of your house at all. i remember hearing the riots in the neighbourhood one night, and gunshots as well. i remember us cowering in the house, hoping desperately that the rioters would pass us by.

but even more than the fear of violence is the helplessness. the knowledge that there is really nothing you can do to fight back. even speaking out can lead to potentially dangerous consequences, if not for yourself then for your family members who have to live in that atmosphere long after you've boarded the plane for nz. so you learn to swallow your anger, and keep it inside. to vent it only in the company of family and close friends. there really is nothing more soul-destroying than powerlessness.

i face bigotry here in nz. i face it often. but it's not often that i feel powerless. if it's verbal abuse, i usually return that with interest. if it's something more insidious, i know there's the human rights commission and all sorts of other support to help me get justice. i can speak about my experiences in any open forum or through a letter to the editor, without worrying about what will happen to me. in this country, i have a voice. without that voice, i know i would just shrivel up and die inside.

so how do they live, those minorities who live constantly in fear and constantly feeling powerless? how do they get up every morning and carry on their daily struggle, knowing that the deck is heavily stacked against them and there is no way out? what an amazing amount of courage it must take.

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