This is a letter I have been wanting to write for several months. Now with the Lok Sabha elections just around the corner, I finally feel compelled to do so.
We’ve known each other for over 15 years. That’s a long time. You’ve been to my house, I’ve been to yours. We’ve shared countless cups of tea and spent many long hours chatting about life, the universe and everything. You’ve invited me to your family functions, I’ve invited you to mine; you’ve been there for me in my hours of joy and grief and I certainly hope I’ve been there for you in yours.
This is not an easy letter for me to write, but I think it’s important that I do so.
About a year ago, as you may recall, you started sending me messages and videos about how the Congress has been “looting the country for 70 years”. These, along with all the other messages you were sending me on yoga, meditation, positive thinking, friendship etc. I didn’t bother to respond, as is my manner with most forwarded messages that I receive. (Also, I didn’t think you were particularly expecting me to.)
Then you sent me another series of messages telling me how wonderful the Narendra Modi government is. I think I may have replied with a smiley face, if memory serves me right. Everyone is entitled to their political views, you to yours and I to mine. Live and let live, I’ve always believed.
But then you sent me yet another series of messages and these stopped me dead in my tracks. This was a series of WhatsApps about how “Muslims are the biggest threat to the well-being of India”. I couldn’t believe that you of all people had sent me these and if you recall, I actually asked you if someone was playing a distasteful prank with your phone. You told me in all seriousness that you were the sender.
You then sent me a long message explaining in painstaking detail how dangerous Muslims are, and how they are the root cause of India’s problems. At which point, I blew a fuse and asked you, “What happened to all those books you keep reading and recommending on spirituality, peace, and positive thinking?” To which you replied, “Spiritual things are different. One has to be practical.”
Too upset to respond, I put my phone away and went about my work for the day, not quite sure what to make of this disturbing exchange.
For the next few days, you sent me daily videos and messages trying to convince me how the BJP and Modi are India’s only hope and how they are the only ones who can “solve the Muslim problem”.
It was almost as though you were on a mission of sorts to convince me of your point of view. I tried telling you again and again that it is wrong, unfair and dangerous to demonise and stereotype anyone, and that now more than ever, the need of the hour is see each other as human beings more than anything else.
But it didn’t really work and I finally had to ask you in no uncertain terms to please stop sending me such hate-filled, bigoted messages, and ever since we have had a relationship that has been frosty and aloof. We still greet each other politely when we meet, but the occasions have been few and rare, and as we both know, things have changed between us. It has not felt good.
Common friends of ours have told me not to let politics get in the way of a friendship. I’m not exactly sure what to make of that advice. You know I value friendships, because a good friendship is a rare and wonderful thing. But a good friendship is also based on shared, common values, wouldn’t you agree? Just how am I supposed to be good friends with you if you see nothing wrong in demonising an entire community? It’s a sincere question, not a rhetorical one.
I would also like to tell you at this point that if are you ever in a situation where you need my help, I will be there for you. We have, after all, been friends for 15 years. I will try my best to be a blessing, but as far as being on the same wavelength and having the same free and frank camaraderie that we have shared over the last decade and a half, I really don’t know how to take that forward.
We could get into a big political discussion right now and I could ask you a lot of questions about the party and leader you so wholeheartedly support. I could ask you questions about the state of the economy, about the number of farmer suicides which have not decreased over the last five years, about the continued destruction of the Ganga that Modi promised to rejuvenate, about unemployment being at a 45-year high in India, about gigantic, wasteful statues and about why the prime minister follows trolls on Twitter.
But I’ll put those questions aside for now, vital as they are, and ask you three other questions instead:
1. Are you okay with the fact that the BJP-RSS-Hindutva combine wants to ultimately amend the constitution of India and establish a Hindu rashtra where Christians and Muslims will be considered second-class citizens?
2. Are you okay with Muslims being targeted, attacked and lynched on social media and on the streets
3. And, finally, are you okay that your children grow up in such a country?
Those are questions with clear “yes” or “no” answers. My answer to those questions is an unambiguous “no”. What is yours?
Please do let me know. I will be waiting to hear not just from you, but also from the rest of the nation as it answers those three questions over the next couple of months.
Rohit Kumar is an educator with a background in positive psychology and psychometrics. He works with high school students on emotional intelligence and adolescent issues to help make schools bullying-free zones.