Saturday, February 4, 2023
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Why a Sikh cop saving a Muslim man from a Hindu mob shouldn’t make us this happy

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Police officer Gagandeep Singh is a man from a minority saving another from a majority mob. We’ve allowed the binaries to blunt our perceptions to an extent where we need images like these to jolt us.

The image was a striking one. A young man in a khaki uniform facing down a wild-eyed, rabid mob as he protected the man they were after. It’s the kind of image that defines a certain time in a nation’s life, especially a time when the khaki uniform has lost some of its sheen.

We should see this image of police officer Gagandeep Singh in textbooks in a few decades, taking its place next to the pictures of the Independence struggle and those of Emergency.

The idea of a Sikh police officer saving a Muslim man from a Hindu mob shouldn’t have this communal connotation attached. He was, like he said himself, just doing his job. But the sheer fact that this is out of the normal, in the way we describe our status quo, should elicit worry not pride in the way we see our nation.

Imagery is a powerful tool for agenda-setting. It shapes a discourse that can change the course of history and inform our reading of it.

But why are we reacting in such delight to an officer who was just doing his job? Because, we find such wholesome expressions of solidarity so rare that we cling on to them and make gods out of decent people. We don’t stop to question why this is an aberration, and not the norm. We don’t wonder why we are so taken in by the image of a saviour. We don’t wonder why we are so starved for one. What Gagandeep Singh did should be our reality, and an event to applaud and move on from. His bravery should have been a reaffirmation of our ethos as a people, not an unusual paradigm we stare at. Decency and kindness should be our mainstay, not headlines.

India, built on the promise of secularism and religious freedom, has, at least in theory, aimed to be a country where minorities can exist with multiple identities without compromising on any of them. Our preamble strives to afford dignity to all its citizens – an ambitious ask for a country that has always struggled with basic humanity and rights. It’s a massive project, and therefore, one that must be cherished and protected.

The last few years have seen a faltering of this vision. The country’s loudest, most vicious narratives try to position it as a ‘Hindu’ answer to Pakistan’s Islamic identity. It’s a rousing, simplistic chorus that many people find easy to join in. It’s powerful because it asks its participants to suspend their own individual journey towards tolerance and temperance. The Nehruvian idea of a ‘scientific temperament’ comes to mind, which is not just about formal education. It’s a mindset that involves critical thinking and, more importantly, a constant reiteration of the fact that the ‘other’ has as much a right to exist as ‘we’ do.

Slowly, this complex, demanding structure is giving way to one without the intricacies or delicacies. The imposing fortress built of hatred and anger, in which many Indians are now living in, seems almost impenetrable. People inside it simply shun the idea of celebrating differences. This isn’t a new sentiment, of course. But this is possibly the first time it may not have the opposition that has historically kept it in check. Our reserves of rationality have been sucked dry by a toxic barrage of trolling, fake news, and relentless stream of bad news.

It’s this sense of despondency and exhaustion that make cases like Gagandeep Singh’s stand out so starkly.

‘Simple’ social identities are dangerous because they allow for this reality to not exist. It makes people see Gagandeep Singh’s act of courage as an isolated choice. Instead, we should be looking at the violence against minorities for what it epitomises – a man from a minority saving another from a majority mob. We’ve allowed the binaries to blunt our perceptions to an extent where we need images like these to jolt us.

It’s time to ask how we can change this.

Harnidh Kaur is a poet and feminist.

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  1. Author of this piece writes, so she wrote her imagination. Not that there is no bit of truth when she imply minority individuals get attacked in certain individual cases. We are also living in this country but we don’t see such great injustice on minorities. They are well entrenched in the system perhaps with more security and advantages than many born in majority communities. No I am not doing what you think. I am talking the truth. Because whe you illustrate only incidents reported and misreported giving everytime a colour of religiosity to victims it does give a horrible image of society. But what is the truth. Truth is minority in religious terms or in any terms naturally used to get targeted at times by the other. And you talk about ‘minority’ nationally. Think about the reality on the ground. Every nation has a moral and constitutional duty to protect its minority. But is it true that wrongs happen only against minority from majority? Not at all. Many places where minority communities are there in majority similar issues happen there also. Not belittling crimes against minorities but stating a fact on the ground. Using this kind of inhumsn CRIMES is never going to reduce such happenings but tackling with reality sense by various administrative and educative methods are only a solution. Sensation and article made out in that line will be okay fir a few minutes easing. That’s all.

  2. Well-written. Unfortunately your brilliant article will be now met with a deluge of profanities and uncivilized comments from deranged Bhakts and BJP social media troll army.

    And yes I agree with everything you say, Harnidh.

  3. For a normal citizen to do something like this would have been act of decency and courage. For SI Gagandeep Singh, for whom we have great respect, it was all in a day’s work. The fact that he has become an internet sensation tells us two contradictory things about India : one, we have regressed, sharply swiftly; second, the average citizen is uncontaminated, applauds the humanity implicit in the act.

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