It has been more than 70 years since you broke the chains of imperialism and started a journey towards swaraj. Hundreds of fellow brothers and sisters happily gave away their lives for their idea of ‘nation’. But more than anything, what inspired them in their struggle was a precious emotion which is seldom seen in today's public life – empathy.
One could easily feel this emotion while going through speeches of our leaders speaking in the constitutional assembly debates. Many of the elements of our Constitution are reflective of the empathy and compassion shared by its makers.
The sheer ability of our leaders to feel the pain, sorrow and aspirations of "millions of dumb indians" (as Bapu would call them), was really admirable.
Of these, Gandhiji became the most prominent one not only because of his idea of satyagraha, but mainly because he was able to mobilise millions behind that one idea.
His ability to connect effortlessly with even the last person in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people (when there was no TV/social media), majorly came from the empathy he always felt for a human being.
His empathy for human suffering was beyond his love for his country or any idea of nationalism. He was a humanist before a nationalist. Bapu saw his god in each and every human being (whether Indian or not), and had immense faith in human spirit and compassion.
In recent times, empathy has been the greatest casualty. The current signs of apathy in public life is however not so new.
Remember the days of Emergency. Basic human rights were suspended, dissent was crushed, policies like the sterilisation drive led to hundreds of deaths. But the so-called ‘middle class’ showed little empathy back then!
For them, India was developing. Trains were running on time, babus were working more efficiently, economy was growing faster than before. In short, all was well until they were well.
Time to time, this apathy has raised its head. However, past few years have shown an unprecedented rise in apathy. Reactions to Irom Sharmila's fast and her recent announcement of leading a normal life, are one of the biggest examples of public apathy in 21st century India.
Also, recent incidents like the havoc unleashed by a man-made disaster, which we are calling demonetisation, and the apathy of our biggest leaders towards the sufferings of crores of honest Indian citizens, have made us more insensitive as a nation than ever.
Another such example was the incident of mass molestation in one of the biggest ‘metros’ of India. The apathy of bystanders (even the police, who were supposed to be defenders of nation's law and its citizens), has also raised a red flag for our public consciousness.
There has been a rise in the narrative that tells us that a nation is all about its economic and military prowess, and which gives little importance to an individual citizen.
However, even when the night is darkest, there are always some stars shining. Where we have the dark apathy slowly penetrating our public life, we have also witnessed warmth of empathetic light shinning at times like the 2012 Nirbhaya protests, and the student uprisings after incidents like the death of HCU Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula and State clampdowns on some of the best academic institutions in the country.
At the birth anniversary of our Republic this year, India needs to embrace this light of empathy in public life, and as Bapu's famous advise goes, one should always think about the most poorest and underprivileged person one has seen, while analysing crucial national issues and policies. After all, empathy and compassion are the most human virtues which separates us from other species. And as one of the most brilliant minds of all times said:
"The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it” - Albert Einstein
(Do you ever feel like talking to India? Yes? Perfect. How about you write to her and tell her if you’re a good Indian or a bad one? You could be bitchy, angry, happy, emotional or humorous . But if your answer is No – never mind, there is always a beginning. So let’s start here.
Don’t be shy; say it all. Mail us your letter at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll ensure India gets your message.)