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Privileged Opinion and Woke Times

It’s always good to have an opinion, even better to be able to identify yourself with a particular school of thought. However, is it just to look down upon someone who doesn’t?

Because, the ability to have an opinion, is a privilege in itself.

We pride ourselves on being ‘woke’ millennial men and women, who are charged by the spirit of liberalism, feminism, secularism, globalism and a whole gamut of other-isms, but we’re being increasingly intolerant, intolerant of the ‘other’, intolerant of what would qualify as ‘non-liberal’, in general parlance.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am all up for equal opportunities for all, and a non-discriminatory environment where men and women can make their own choices as they please, for as long as they take responsibility for the consequences (whatever they may be), but know that the privilege of having the ability to choose between X or Y, is in itself a privilege that not many get.

For a working woman, it is easy to look down upon a ‘housewife’, homemaker, as I’d like to call them, as being jobless. It’s easy to assume that by virtue of not having to move out of the comfort of a house, a woman is whiling away her time and is somehow less worthy opposed to a woman who works. For, is working at home not a job? And after all, in a country like India, how many women do you think actually have the choice and resources and support to go out there and work and lead an independent life? Because for a majority of the people in the country, a woman’s place still lies at home. Her role is to be a primary care giver, household manager and a source of pleasure for her husband.

Let’s move on to a different example, ask a Dalit kid (I use the term ‘Dalit’ after careful introspection) if he/she thinks his/her caste is a choice. While most upper-caste urban youngsters choose to say, “I’m liberal, I don’t believe in my caste or anyone else’s”, it is more like living in denial. Because the ugly truth of casteism gapes back at our country, in 2019, with vicious and menacing eyes. He/she might try to wean himself/herself off his/her caste, but his/her surname, his/her dialect, his/her color of skin will continue to haunt him/her.

It is easy for someone sitting in an air-conditioned room, staring into a screen to say they have renounced their caste, but for several, it is the only means up the social ladder. You have the privilege to say you’ve renounced your caste because willy-nilly, you’ve extracted the best out of it already (which please note, is a pure stroke of luck), but that kid probably needs it to avail an iota of the opportunities that you get.

The problem lies in the fact that, in our endeavor to be woke, we’re denying what is in front of us. India is a country that is deeply riddled with diversity, differences, that naturally make things far more complex than they seem. It’s easy to say, “I’m liberal”; but in our country, that encompasses only the tip of the iceberg.

At the face of it, it seems very empowering to scoff at Gautam Gambhir’s Tweets and ‘Sadhvi’ Pragya Singh Thakur’s remarks, but the fact is, there are people, and much to the chagrin of your ‘woke’ soul, a huge number of people who actually agree with their ideas. This is India. I am not asking you to vegetate and blatantly accept what is happening around you, but it is imperative to understand the complexities and the point of view of the ‘other’. This dawned upon me when I saw someone on my social media feed, announce that if she had any ‘rightist/centrist’ followers, they should unfollow her right away because she was a liberal. And I was left there, thinking to myself, isn’t that a paradox? How can you be a liberal, when you cannot have views that are entirely liberal? Yes, it is one thing to believe strongly in, but another thing to disregard or belittle someone else’s belief.

We like thinking the utopian way, but somewhere along the line, it results in the death of pragmatism. It seems like a very liberal thing to say that you’re areligious and that everyone should turn so; and here I’d like to involve Marx and invoke his statement about how religion is the opium of masses. But the fact still remains, that religion is an important part of our society. It is like the adhesive that still helps hold a maddeningly heterogenous crowd of people together.

Yes, the atrocities done in the name of religion are unpardonable, but when you think of it, a religion-less society, where there is no alleged supreme power to punish or reward, would be pure mayhem.

My concern is that the term ‘liberal’ is very limiting and is frighteningly turning into a fad of sorts. It pushes a lot of pertinent things under the carpet. Yes, at the face of it, it appears to be a very empowering stance to take, but it’s just the beginning. There are multiple layers to it and it implores a far more nuanced understanding of the nature of our country and one way of unraveling this is by putting yourself in the shoes of the ‘other’.

What is it that makes them think the other way? What are the fears, insecurities, needs, wants, deep rooted desires, behind their choice of a particular way of thought, vis-à-vis you? And perhaps, that would help you turn ‘liberal’ and ‘woke’ in the truest sense. Very honestly, being ‘liberal’ isn’t easy at all, it involves treading the thin line between being empathetic without tripping into sounding patronizing, understanding a seemingly obstinate point of view and at the same time being able to inspire a change without any judgement or disregard for the former, being selfless and thinking outside of yourself, and most importantly, demands some level of grey matter and intelligence while assessing any situation, because none of it is as black or white as it seems, it’s always grey.

Milana Prakash is the Assistant Editor at One Future Collective.

Featured image: JMCC

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