Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Shadows Series IV : A Counter Culture of Courage

When Madhavi Kapoor wanted to sell her flat in Pune and found that her efforts were being thwarted because her buyer was a Muslim, she did some thing unusual. Instead of humming and hawing to her buyer and fobbing him off with vague answers and then identifying another buyer, she took on the housing society head on. Her reasoning is impeccable: She had given her word to the Muslim family in question and so would not back out and further more, after coming to know of the reasons of the housing society’s objections, she became more adamant.

As she puts it, it became a matter of principle. So much so that the lady has promised to keep an eye on the situation and is prepared t move the National Human Rights Commission if she finds her buyers being harassed on account of their religion.Madhavi Kapoor is no human rights activist which is why her act deserves to be highlighted more. Most people, especially from the majority community would choose to duck and dodge rather than get involved. The flat is in a good location, other buyers can be found, so why alienate members of one’s own community – in this case, not just the religious community but even the Sindhi community. The unnamed Muslim family can be called lucky because Mrs. Kapoor did not hang Martin Neimoller’s well known quote as a tapestry on a wall.

“… They first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew….”

When faced with uncomfortable situations which do not directly affect one’ own life and comforts very few can expect to find some one like Mrs. Kapoor who stood up and made a stink. Most of us will react in one of three ways, and not one of them is of any meaningful help.

Apathy is the most common reaction. There is so much going on, life is so crowded that there seems little point in burdening yourself more by taking on more and choosing to get involved. The conscience can be coaxed into somnolence by the simple logic that this is the business of some one else – the politicians, the law enforcement people, the activists, some body, any body but not ours. From traffic accidents to genocides, this is the commonest response of them all.

The next and the most visible response is aggression. This is what Mrs. Madhavi Kapoor as well as the housing society management displayed through her active involvement and advocacy on behalf of the Bohra Muslim buyers of her property did; thought the word aggression typically has negative connotations of violence for us. But aggression and advocacy when carried out in the ambit of the law is great and what makes Mrs. Kapoor’s response nobler is that while most of us will stir ourselves out of our apathy.

But the most chilling response that we can construct is that of acquiescence. Though on the face, apathy and acquiescence might both look alike, acquiescence is far more sinister. Apathy makes you look the other way when you could do better but acquiescence makes you an active participant in a perverse act, be it in so flaccid a gesture as a participant in a rabble or the one who says “Aye” as a degenerate and retrograde resolution is carried by the show of hands as probably happened in the Pune housing society.

With the culture of apathy being the prevailing theme, displaying daring and courage is really living by a lonely counter culture that merits accolades and appreciation at every turn. May be the Godfrey Philips Bravery awards which have a grouping for recognizing and honoring those who have involved themselves in acts of social courage will take note of Madhavi Kapoor’s act. We will always need many more of them to display a different kind of aggression – one that declines to acquiesce and accept what is unjust and wrong.

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