India’s bored, portents are ominous
Culture, condoms, misogyny... We are sailing dangerously on an authoritarian swell that may end up singeing us all and provoke a youth revolt a la’ France 40 years ago
No re-plastering, the structure is broken’, is a slogan from the May 1968 revolt in France that echoes the sentiments of today’s Indian youth in many ways. This is because presently India identifies more with intolerance and radicalism and less with inclusiveness and geniality. The nation though seemingly a melting pot of cultures is actually burdened with cultural differences and ideological clashes from within and these are possibly just waiting to explode like in the France of 1968-69. Forty years on, the social and political upheaval that shook France is still fresh in people’s’ memory and not without a valid reason. A non-threatening movement that started with students seeking sexual freedom eventually took everyone in its fold and became a classic example of the power that the youth have always had.
Back in May ‘68, the above slogan reflected the disenchantment of the young as they openly went anti-establishment and put forth their demands that were neither outrageous nor unjust. What they were asking was probably the basic tenet of freedom: ‘Be what you want to be and let others do the same.’ The youth back then was simply reacting to the ‘daddy knows best’ attitude that had always set the dos and don’ts list for the younger generation till then. With globalization attaining its early form in the 1970s, the May ‘68 events in France also set the stage for irrevocable changes in societies and the mind-sets of people. The 1968 revolution of France was a trendsetter in its own right. A stark reminder of the strength of the youth and how it could bring the whole nation to a standstill. The movement brought to the fore the fact that it is impossible to suppress the aspirations of the young generation for long.
World over, they yearn for liberty and would retaliate if their freedom is at stake. The sentiment to be free to make one’s choices is the same irrespective of country, religion, caste or culture.
Boredom at times becomes a powerful catalyst for revolt. It was a ‘no action-no fun’ sentiment among young men and women that paved way for the student agitation in France. What began as a simple revolt 40 years ago in France engulfed the whole nation and shook the very framework of society and politics. The coincidental occurrence of the workers’ strike for higher wages magnified the agitation many fold and in the end, the French government had to accede to all the demands. Had the two events not coincided with each other, none of them would probably have acquired the enormity that they attained at that time. With a feeble education system to rely on and little enthusiasm in the job arena, the Indian youth of today is also a bored and fatigued lot. Even the once strong societal threads of India are increasingly becoming fragile. The young are constantly being judged on the basis of their performance both academically as well as professionally. Add to this the constant cultural hammering and moral policing and you have a brigade of disgruntled and angry youth that is ready to explode at the slightest provocation.
Today, India is fast becoming a country where personal freedoms are perceived to be gravely compromised. The list of restrictions and bans is becoming incredibly long. When the Uttar Pradesh Government constitutes an Anti-Romeo Squad to put a curb on so-called promiscuity among the youth, there is no pushback to stop this blatant breach of people’s fundamental right to freedom. If only the system had paid more attention to other problems that plague the lives of young people in modern times... even strolling in a park with friends, especially if of the opposite gender, is looked upon with suspicion now. That is the sad reality. Sunny Leone was not allowed by the Karnataka Government to perform at a new year’s bash as the authorities feared a law and order problem in the State in the wake of threats of agitation by some radical groups. These fringe elements were, of course, “merely” trying to protect the “culture” of the State. According to them, watching the actor groove to raunchy Bollywood numbers will corrupt young minds. And moral policing does not stop at that. The South Delhi civic body recently proposed a ban on display of non-vegetarian foods by restaurants and eateries as it hurts the sentiments of vegetarians. In a multicultural, liberal country like India, these are outrageous moves. Of course, if restrictions are the norm today across political dispensations and seemingly with the support of those who elect them, how can condoms be left behind? A country set to become the most populous one in the world by 2022 is still apparently embarrassed to watch a condom advertisement on TV from 6 am till 10 pm. But the authorities are absolutely fine with Bollywood heroes urging people to eat pan masala for instant success during these hours. Such a display of hypocrisy is possible only in a cultured country like India.
India seems poised for a dictatorship of the people with heft on the ground in the near future, wherein citizens will probably have to live their lives according to a rule-book devised by the not-so-friendly neighbourhood goon. The recent controversy surrounding the release of Bollywood flickPadmavati is probably the last nail in the coffin. It can’t get more dictatorial than this when even creativity and freedom of expression are being curbed by self-proclaimed protectors of culture protesting about a film before it is released. Bigots of all description should remember that the nation’s young are not just the backbone of the economy but also the torch-bearers of our culture. They look forward to living free, with an open mind and in a progressive environment. If they are denied free will for too long, they are capable of snatching it by force like their brethren did in France 40 years ago.
Interestingly though, after the May 1968 revolt in France, many of the student leaders went on to become journalists, politicians, writers and eminent personalities in a number of other fields. Will India’s youth of today similarly transform into tomorrow’s responsible adults or will they wither into oblivion due to a lack of purpose or direction? As A.E. Stevenson, the American politician, once said, “A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular.”
Will India ever attain freedom in the real sense? Time will tell.
(The writer is Associate Editor, The Pioneer. The views expressed here are personal)
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