I write this post with acute self-awareness. To be more precise, acute awareness of the many privileges I enjoy, because of/despite the many labels I carry, and the unique privileged perspective it gives me on the sidelines of history.
I write as an educated woman of Indian origin, and now a British citizen. A self-employed, tax-paying, citizen of a well-established welfare state. And I write as I travel across the English channel in comfort… indeed, some style and romance even, on the Eurostar.
I travel for work… and every word of this is important: it is fulfilling, cerebral, paid work. Work I enjoy, no less. And work that renews my connection to my roots.
I do so in a week where I witnessed, on a symphony of screens, events that are quite simply, History in the making.
In India, I watched a polarised debate take place, kicked off – as the best debates are! – in a university campus where the drama continues day by day. The debate has sparked intense discussion, as passionate citizens spanning generations search their souls for what their idea of nationalism is. Define what their patriotism looks like. And articulate loud and clear: my nation is bigger than my opinions. But equally, it is bigger than yours!
Proud to be a ‘military daughter’ I nonetheless found myself on the fringe as some of my friends, service kids themselves, railed against the JNU students with surprising ferocity and (without taking the time to explore the many facets of the Truth behind all the media clamour) were, perhaps reasonably, outraged at the forgotten sacrifices our soldiers make on the frontiers, guarding a nation that these young ideologues were so ready to challenge, seemingly keen to discard. I was unsettled by the juxtaposition of these two ideas, so I found it deeply reassuring to read this piece by Admiral L. Ramdas, no less than ex-Chief of the Naval Staff, ‘Looking Back, and ahead‘ and concluding: In the ultimate analysis , human security is the best guarantee for National Security. (If it’s a choice between reading on and clicking through to a link – click through to this one now. The Admirable Admiral makes a far more important point, and says it far better than anything I have to say.)
Meanwhile, in my other home country, an equally polarised debate is occupying news space: are we better in the EU or out? What will it mean for us as citizens? And travelling unchecked, unnoticed almost, on my new British passport, I’m reminded again what this debate would have meant as recently as last year – when I would have worried about the implications of this decision on my personal life.
I’m reminded, also, of the many times a Schengen visa (or lack thereof) stopped me, kept me from important life events. The meetings I had to leave to my colleagues. The business opportunities I had to pass up on. The weddings I missed, and the much-loved-from-a-distance children of dear friends that I simply wasn’t able to cuddle when I wanted. I am so glad, today, that I was able to plan this work trip at relatively short notice. But unless we vote to stay in, my red passport may be no guarantee that I shall be able to do so at will in the future.
And then there’s the harsh, but inevitable reminder of yet another privilege I can’t forget: As I chugged across the Channel, cocooned in the comfort of the train, I’m reminded again of the critical difference between a refugee and a migrant. And as I roll up my trusty rain-proof jacket and stow it comfortably above my well-upholstered chair, I’m reminded of the flimsy lifejackets that some refugees (the ‘lucky’ ones) trust the lives of their children to.
In a few hours’ time, I’ll be settling in to a comfortable, conscience-soothing bed at the Conscious Hotel – with sustainability standards, and a commitment to most of the big ethical standards, it works to earn that name. But as I turn in to that comfortable bed, I won’t forget to be grateful for my continuing safety, even as families in Calais face further disruption to their already-troubled lives. Closing their camp, their one refuge, can only mean further displacement, condemn them to continued fleeing for their lives. Can the displaced afford to dream of comfort, security and dignity? How long can the human spirit endure in basic ‘survival’ mode?
Displacement and survival bring my thoughts full circle, back to India. Where tribal rights activist Soni Sori was viciously attacked yesterday, as a signal perhaps, to all those who have the audacity to speak up against police brutality, forced displacement of tribals, and the flagrant violation of community forest rights to make way for mining operations.
I like polarised debates, if only because they force people off the fence. Sometimes you can’t afford to be neutral, can’t afford to sit out the fight. So I will continue to play my small part in this history… speaking up where I can, writing some pieces when I can’t, and urging my friends – many with the same privileges I enjoy – to remember those less fortunate than them, invest the time to explore your truth, and pick which side of these Histories you’re going to side with.
Silence is no longer an option.