Posted by Kanav Sahgal
My name is Kanav, and I identify as a cis-gendered, homosexual, male. While I was born as a Hindu, I reject religion and I identify as agnostic. I have been apolitical for most of my life because nobody in my family and close friends circle actively discussed politics. Even when politics was discussed, common talking points included “reservations are bad”, “Muslims are horrible” and “protesters are all mad”. I was socialized from a young age to believe that being vocal about politics was unacceptable, especially if one had a different point of view from those in positions of political power.
Things began to change in 2018. A few months before the Section 377 judgement, I came out to my friends and some family members about my sexual orientation. Mind you, homosexuality was still a crime in India back then. The younger generation of the family supported me, whereas the older generation brushed it away- they still pretend as though I’m straight. Why I’m mentioning this story is because I wanted to reiterate an important point: In a country like India, majoritarian laws can never be morally justified on the ethos of equality, liberty and justice. I realized as early as 2018, that even if the law of the land labelled me as a criminal, and even if the ruling party refused to take a stand to support the LGBTQ+ community, I knew in my heart and mind that I was right, and that was all that mattered.
Ever since the 14th February 2019 Pulwama attack, anti-Muslim sentiments in the country have been on the rise. The day of the attack, I shared an image of an Indian and Pakistani holding hands right, urging for peace. However, my post was met with backlash.
Ever since the 14th February 2019 Pulwama attack, anti-Muslim sentiments in the country have been on the rise. The day of the attack, I shared an image of an Indian and Pakistani holding hands right, urging for peace. However, my post was met with backlash. Most of the people who criticized me where pro-BJP and anti-Muslim. And mind you, the 14th of February 2019 was just the start.
From supporting Triple Talaq in the name of “women’s rights”, to organizing mass protests against the Sabarimala judgement on the grounds that it was an “attack on tradition”, it became evident to me that the ruling party was not just communal, but also determined to divide Indians based on religion. Those people who criticize Congress for not being a secular party are not wrong. However, those same people need to hold the same standards of what it means to be secular while judging the BJP.
I attended the CAA and NRC protests yesterday at India Gate, New Delhi with a friend and was overwhelmed by the energy and the crowd. People from various walks of life were present. Interestingly, I noticed a lot of privileged young people attend as well, holding placards and standing in the cold. The government shut down nearby metro stations, but that didn’t stop the protesters from walking in the cold and protesting.
India doesn’t remain India if people with different views aren’t able to exercise agency and free speech. Even if someone’s speech offends you, nobody should have the right to clamp down their voice. Why? Because tomorrow it could be your views that may be considered “inappropriate”. Let’s not forget that not very long ago, it was treasonous for the Germans to openly support the Jews. Fast forward many years later, and those same people would now be labelled as being “anti-semitic”, and rightfully so.
I had to lie to my family to attend the protest at India Gate, and by then it was clear that I was, and shall probably always be, the black sheep of my family. Most of my family members hate all Muslims. To the point that my great grandmother told me the other day that if I didn’t wear the janaeu (the so-called sacred thread for Brahmins), I would automatically be deemed to be a Muslim (as if that’s a bad thing) and that I wouldn’t get married (she doesn’t know that I am gay, and that same-sex marriage still isn’t legal in India). I have had debates with my family, telling them that as an individual with agency and autonomy, it is my prerogative to reject and select those aspects of the Hindu tradition that I deem fit. In response, I was called “selfish” for saying this. Another elderly family member told me that “sometimes you should just do things to keep elders happy”, to which I replied, “yes, basically you are teaching me to be fake”.
Other family members, who secretly dislike the BJP have told me that while they agree that the economy is in doldrums, they are afraid to dissent, for fear of being arrested and being verbally attacked by BJP supporters. I have been warned by some well-meaning family members to not be too vocal about my political views on social media as well, to which I replied “Why is India even called a democracy then?
Other family members, who secretly dislike the BJP have told me that while they agree that the economy is in doldrums, they are afraid to dissent, for fear of being arrested and being verbally attacked by BJP supporters. I have been warned by some well-meaning family members to not be too vocal about my political views on social media as well, to which I replied, “Why is India even called a democracy then? Moreover, why is there such an atmosphere of fear? Who is orchestrating this fear and why should we give in?” If mere words can land you in jail, then how are we different from totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia and Iran, which many Hindus love to chastise for their strict religious laws based on the Sharia. India too is becoming a Saffron Saudi Arabia. The only difference being that the Arab supremacy is replaced by upper-caste supremacy.
I have lost many friends this year too, but I am glad. I am glad that, at 28, I am no longer apolitical. I can unequivocally say that, despite being born a Hindu, I love my Muslim brothers and sisters. I doubt many CAA and NRC supporters can say these exact same words without flinching. It is very clear that the BJP-RSS has divided the country across religious lines, while conveniently ignoring more important issues such as the economy, farmers distress, infrastructure etc. It is incumbent upon us, as citizens of this nation, to rise against the communal hate, to protest peacefully (always) and to stay proud of our identity and beliefs.
So, why do I still protest then? Well, it’s simple. It’s because many years from now, history will be kind to the protesters and not to the conformists.
Kanav N Sahgal is a post-graduate student at Azim Premji University, Bangalore where he’s pursuing his Master’s Degree in Development. He identifies as queer for personal and political reasons. An ex-corporate professional, Kanav is passionate about his newfound career trajectory in the development sector, where he aims to read and write about social issues especially within the realms of medicine, gender, sexuality and law. You can find him on Instagram and Facebook.
Featured Image Source: Business Standard