Domestic silence amid nationwide protests an act of extreme privilege: Idea of the Indian family needs rewriting

  • Resistance is to be the proverbial thorn in your family’s back, the rebellious black sheep, the unsubmissive voice of reason and confrontation.

  • It’s in actively disparaging age-old traditions to create newer, more equitable ones.

  • Only by deconstructing and rewriting the Indian family, can we imagine a just state.

Last week, amid nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register for Citizens (NRC), Sana Ganguly, a private citizen, seemingly shared an excerpt from Khushwant Singh’s The End of India to her Instagram story. For those unfamiliar with the work, Singh takes a scathing look at the effects communal politics can have on the secular fabric of India.

Even as many on social media lauded her for holding a mature view of the political situation, her father, BCCI president and former captain of the Indian cricket team, Sourav Ganguly, tweeted: “Please keep Sana out of all this issues... this post is not true… she is too young a girl to know about anything in politics [sic]”.

The tweet not only invalidated what Sana seemed to believe in (as evinced by her Instagram story), but also patronised her for her gender and age — and hit close to home for those of us observing from the sidelines, who’ve had the experience of having our opinions shut down by immediate family members, those closest to us, entrusted with our education and growth.

For young Indian millennials whose politics deviate from the populist sentiments espoused by the state, an ideological battle with family members has become much too common, and a near everyday feature on WhatsApp groups with relatives. Unlike Sana Ganguly, not all of us are condescended to by a public figure on a platform like Twitter, but we’ve had our share of uncles and aunties, mothers and fathers, cousins and siblings, challenging our politics with plain old bigotry. And almost always, when bereft of logic or a clapback that is founded on evidence, we’ve had family members turn to our parents, chastising them for not having raised us better or not disciplining us enough.

Today, university students and young people are actively leading the resistance on the streets and online against the implementation of the CAA and NRC, and have been fronting an opposing movement far better than any political party. By mobilising over social media, they have managed to rival the government’s propaganda network. It comes as no surprise then that Uttar Pradesh DGP OP Singh appealed to parents across the country to “not allow their children to go out” for participating in the anti-CAA protests. He is not mistaken in believing that Indian parents have strong control and influence over their adult offspring.

 Domestic silence amid nationwide protests an act of extreme privilege: Idea of the Indian family needs rewriting

Today, university students and young people are actively leading the resistance on the streets and online against the implementation of the CAA and NRC, and have been fronting an opposing movement far better than any political party. File photo.

In the North Indian patrilineal family, the youngest are never active participants in its culture and politics, but passive receptors. Their role is to receive and internalise the values handed down by elders, and put them into practice when building families of their own. This is how the Indian family maintains its caste and social hierarchy. And naturally, this culture of unyielding obedience also makes its way into public life.

Aristotle defined the family as a fundamental unit of the larger community; where a family helps integrate its members into a shared life, which then enables them to become members of the community, and then eventually of the country. For Aristotle, the family is the root of human relationships, and the state the eventual end point. Unlike Plato, who sought the perfect essence of the state, Aristotle furthered the idea of ‘becoming’, one where the family enables the progression of the state. The Aristotelian exercise of a state and family mutually influencing one another takes on a new meaning in the Indian political landscape.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has eschewed a personal life and family in favour of the political landscape — a point he has chosen to reiterate several times, and which his followers use to credit his selfless spirit. The message that is reaffirmed is that Modi is the head of the country — a stand-in for the Indian family — and as its youngest civilians, we owe our loyalty to him. This is also why every critic and challenger gets called “anti-national”, someone not in allegiance with this country — much like any feud with the head of the household would cast a family member out.

So is a mass struggle against a government’s anti-Muslim, anti-Dalit, anti-poor policies possible without a resistance first beginning at home? I think not. But what does this personal, intimate, person-to-person resistance look like? For many young people, it begins with owning up to the politics that automatically disqualifies them from the synergy of the household, whether that is claiming atheism or pledging support to the anti-caste struggle. For many others, it’s about countering propaganda shared by family members on WhatsApp groups with fact-checked counter-truths. Some people have succeeded in winning over family members through debate. But when all debate fails, most young people must find a compromise: by keeping politics away from the family kitchen table.

Is that even possible? Where the personal is political, domestic silence on the rise of fascism in the country is an act that reeks of extreme class and religious privilege. Maintaining personal relationships with those fanning and maintaining a communal agenda is only possible for people who will never be directly affected by said agenda, who can go on with their lives happily for having taken a moral political stand, even when they haven’t fought enough to uphold it. Challenging governments will only get us so far, without actively challenging individual attitudes to social change.

Where a family is the macro representation of the state, resistance looks like snapping the code of deference — the one that decrees respect and obedience for elders no matter how toxic and damaging their views. To those who argue for compromise in favour of family, how about defining what a family means to you and building your own?

Resistance doesn’t necessarily ask you to break apart from your own family, except in situations where it is existentially necessary to do so, but compromise can be eschewed for consistent debate — by challenging your family’s views on all fronts. Resistance is in ceasing all religious participation that is incompatible with a just society, in marrying outside one’s caste, in listening to those marginalised. Resistance looks like accepting and championing for non-traditional families, whether single parent or queer households, and using privilege to fight for their rights. It is in politicising the home, the apartment building colony, the neighbourhood, and then the larger community.

Resistance is to be the proverbial thorn in your family’s back, the rebellious black sheep, the unsubmissive voice of reason and confrontation. It’s in actively disparaging age-old traditions to create newer, more equitable ones. Only by deconstructing and rewriting the Indian family, can we imagine a just state.

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Updated Date: Dec 30, 2019 17:24:57 IST