Image Source: Isha
When I look around and think about all that’s been happening in our country over the past decade, I feel like India is split into two distinct camps.
Both these camps are polar opposites in nature. They seem like they’re engaged in an imaginary tug-of-war, acting on their beliefs about the world and the society we live in. In the process, they’re pulling the country apart.
These two groups are starkly different in nature, but what’s common to them both is their ability to shape India’s future.
Luckily for us, one group’s superior. It goes about its work quietly and relentlessly, while the other makes desperate splashes in the sea while calling out for attention.
I like to call these two camps agents of hope and agents of despair.
The Agents of Despair.
It’s not hard to recognize this lot. They’re the ones who hog cable TV space every time they’re caught in the act. Think Kalmadi, for instance — the Indian politician and ex-Member of Parliament infamous for his corruption scandal in relation to the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Or the infamous conspirator, A. Raja — the primary accused in the 2G spectrum scandal. Or Babu Singh Kushwaha, the man implicated in the murder of two Chief Medical Officers in relation to the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam.
Image Source: Economic Times
As politicians, these men are usual suspects. It would be a mistake, however — one we commit quite regularly, to think that politicians alone harm the idea of India and its people.
Think Sri Ram Sena, for instance. “The Army of Lord Rama” has been infamous for their acts of moral policing. So moral and pure is this army that 40 of them chose to attack unsuspecting girls having a good time at a pub in Mangalore, Karnataka – kicking, slapping, and punching them monstrously.
They launched this vicious attack on them because of their prehistoric belief that girls wearing short dresses and hanging out with boys at pubs violated traditional Indian values. Well, unless violence and thuggery are part of “traditional Indian values,” I’m not sure how the math adds up for this self-righteous bunch.
As per the latest statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 93 women are raped in India every day. Unfortunately, the number of cases of rape keeps increasing each year.
Think of the men who seek out women on the streets and molest them, harass them, rape them, and at times, kill them.
It’s impossible to think that regular Indian women who lead their lives peacefully can be subjected to such traumatic experiences. Like anyone else, they have families — brothers, sisters, parents — and are in pursuit of their dreams.
Yet, men — who believe they have a right over a woman’s body and who rake up the “she was asking for it” excuse to commit their heinous acts — mercilessly attack them.
Of course, there are more such agents of despair. Think of terror groups, like the Indian Mujahideen, who attack innocent civilians in order to achieve their politico-religious aims, like creating an Islamic state and implementing Sharia Law. The 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts, which claimed around 50 casualties, was the highlight of Indian Mujahideen’s extremist portfolio and a massive shame. Such terror groups are top-of-the-line agents of despair.
Now, let’s take a look at the other side.
The Agents of Hope.
This group comprises people who drive social and political change in the country. They’re writers, filmmakers, artists, academicians, activists, and the regular people — essentially, everyone who gives a damn about India, and humanity in general, and do something about it.
Think of writers like Shashi Tharoor, R. K. Narayan, Khushwant Singh, Anita Desai, Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy and Ramachandra Guha — all of them have written extensively about India and its diverse culture and people. It stems from a love for the country and a quest for a humanistic approach to life.
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While they speak highly about India’s past glories and how it’s headed for the stars in the years to come, they never shy away from writing about the problems plaguing India and holding it back. Despite being mistaken for being anti-India or unpatriotic, they’ve marched on ahead fearlessly expressing themselves, capturing as well as changing the Indian imagination.
It’s for this reason that works like Malgudi Days, The Great Indian Novel, The God of Small Things, A Suitable Boy and India After Gandhi are forever etched in our memories.
Image Source: Penguin
Among filmmakers in recent times, Anurag Kashyap (Gangs of Wasseypur), Anand Gandhi (The Ship of Theseus), Kabir Khan (Bajrangi Bhaijaan), Pan Nalin (Angry Indian Goddesses) and others have been leading the way towards building a better, more hopeful and more mature India with inspiring and realistic subjects.
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Stories that are rich in philosophical examination, that portray brotherhood across the borders, that take us on a journey of the struggles of young Indian women, and that take us right to the heart of India — its villages — are great steps ahead for Indian films, away from the churn of typical boy-meets-girl stories that usually flood Bollywood’s offerings.
However, in assessing the contribution of people who work towards building a more hopeful India, we tend to leave out the everyday heroes — the brave men and women who lead without a title and whose work goes unnoticed for years, sometimes decades, but they carry on. They keep striving to change India and succeed in great measure. They’re not rich or famous, but do their bit for society because they care deeply and embrace humanity wholeheartedly.
Who are these everyday heroes?
The Forest Man of India, Jadav Molai Payeng. In an area of Assam ravaged by floods, where the wildlife population was dwindling, Payeng started planting bamboo in a washed-out area of land three decades ago. Today, that region is a 1360-acre forest area called Molai Forest, where Bengal tigers, apes, birds, deer, rhinoceros, elephants, and other animals now reside. Against the backdrop of rampant deforestation and continual loss of biodiversity, Payeng swam against the tide and single-handedly built a new reserve.
Image Source: Living Circular
Toilet Man, Jockin Arputham. From almost having committed suicide while living in the slums of Mumbai, Jockin went on to transform the lives of thousands of slum dwellers in India and abroad. He fought for shelter, sanitation, and water for every slum-dweller and encouraged people to stand with him in this process of redevelopment. As a result, 30,000 houses were built for slum-dwellers because of his efforts. For his monumental work, he was even nominated for the Nobel Prize in 2014. In a country where such a large section of the population still lives below the poverty line and struggles to get its basic needs met, Jockin was able to give them shelter.
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Mother of Orphans, Sindhutai Sapkal. Born as an unwanted child in abject poverty, Sindhutai grew up to become the mother of 1400 homeless children in India. It started with her begging for food for her daughter after she was abandoned both by her husband and mother. After realizing that there were many kids who had no one to feed them, she started begging for food for every homeless child. She now has a family of 207 sons-in-law, 36 daughters-in-law, and over 1000 grandchildren. In a country like India, which is known for its large extended families, Sindhutai has led the way by including children she didn’t even know as part of her family.
Image Source: The Better India
Sunitha Krishnan, the woman who works for the rehabilitation of trafficked women, and Aabid Surti, the man who tackles Mumbai’s water conservation problem by fixing leaking pipes or taps, are just two more names in a long list of India’s everyday heroes.
These men and women constitute what I think are agents of hope in India. They’re the real role models in our society, who each one of us should be looking to emulate. And it’s this group that can drive real social and political change in India.
India needs more agents of hope if it has to move to a place where crime rates are low, tolerance is high, food and shelter is widely available, public infrastructure is better developed, and the general standard of living is improved for everyone.
It’s the start of a new year for India and for us all, and a perfect time to begin a new chapter in our lives.
Are you ready to be an agent of hope?