You know how they say that a cultural change is only evident in hindsight? Sometimes, it would appear, one can witness it as it happens.
Yesterday, a local Indian airlines, Spicejet, on a flight from Hyderabad to Bengaluru, ended the flight welcoming everyone to Bengaluru, and thanking the passengers for having chosen Spicejet — quite like airlines around the world.
Today, the same airlines, on a flight from Bengaluru to Hyderabad, ended with welcoming everyone to the destination city, and expressing gratitude for having chosen said airlines — and added, at the end of both the English and Hindustani announcements, the phrase “Jai Hind!”.
“Jai Hind!”, the phrase translates as “Victory to India!”, is used by the Indian military on a daily basis, as a salutation, and at parting. In a civilian setting, especially in peacetime, and during a commercial transaction with no pretense towards national security, the phrase is more than incongruous. A European equivalent might be an Air Berlin flight from Cologne to Munich ending with “Es lebe das deutsche Vaterland!” (Long live the German Fatherland!). The phrase is, in itself, entirely harmless, or even a wholesome thing, quite like “Jai Hind”, but we know from not just European history where the militarization of civil society typically leads — to the erosion of liberties.
Nationalist or parochial sentiment is often encouraged in primitive circles to distract from real problems. It is so much easier to blame the Other, and to exult in an intangible, former glory, than to deal with boring issues of unemployment, sanitation, public health, housing, access to education, roads, food security, et cetera.
Could the repeated “Jai Hind!” have been an aberration, a case of an over-enthusiastic cabin steward? Probably not, for yesterday, the Times of India, an Indian daily, reported that a legislator in Bombay was suspended from a legislative body because he refused to utter the phrase “Bharat mata ki jai!” (Victory to Mother India!) when asked to do so by a co-worker. It appears incredible, does it not? The refuser happened to belong to a minority religious group, and might have been inspired by a co-religionist, an elected member of the Indian Parliament, who recently said he would decline to utter the phrase even if he had a knife to his throat. Today, the same paper reported that the official mouthpiece of a major political party, one that is Right-wing and identifies itself with a dominant religious group, suggested that those who refused to vocalize that particular phrase be stripped of voting rights and citizenship. Refuse to utter this particular sentence and you shall be disenfranchised and banished. In 2016.
As if that was not enough, the editorial apparently suggested, “Why put a knife to their throat? Chop off their heads in a legal way.” In India, in 2016. Except that there are not a lot of legal ways to chop off people’s heads. Not yet, anyway — but as freedoms are snatched away, and it becomes mandatory to say certain things, and to not say certain other things, laws will get drafted, and willing judges found, and head chopping there will be aplenty.