Why Orwell’s 1984 is Hauntingly Reminiscent of Contemporary India
(This article was first published on 8 June 2016. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark George Orwell’s death anniversary.)
Today, I will tell you a horrifying tale of a country that you call yours.
Before proceeding, I wish to tie you down, to make sure that the ensuing horror does not impede you from reading further. To make sure that when you cry, scream or shout, you do not stop, or interrupt anybody else from reading it.
The story I wish to narrate is reminiscent of George Orwell’s massively popular book, 1984.
There is, however, a catch.
This story is more horrifying, more relevant and much more relatable.
The novel begins on an April morning, in a dystopic Britain, which has turned into ‘Airstrip One’. London remains where it was before and people remain the same. Except, to think independently is a crime in the new state.
The Orwellian world of Airstrip One is inhabited by people who have been indoctrinated, under a ‘false consciousness’ of patriotism, into believing that critical thought is seditious, and sexual instincts, blasphemous. Children in this state are required to be conceived for fighting state-sponsored wars.
The book outlines political realities that don’t seem far-fetched anymore.
To anybody who dissents, there is a ‘Thought Police’, a regimented force, armed with well-trained spies, watching every action of its citizens through tele-screens. The concept of unregulated surveillance, conveniently, gets legitimised under ‘nationalism.’
In such a situation, as the book says, “Your worst enemy [...] was your own nervous system.” A momentary reflection of guilt on your face, and the ‘Thought Police’ wont’ spare you.
What would follow is a journey towards total annihilation. You, your identity, your past records, would be wiped off from the face of the state. And then, everything will be normalised again, like nothing changed.
This is my cue to tell you the story of our land.
It has a democratically appointed leader, who is deemed as the saviour, in a Big-Brother-ian sense.
He is the one who vowed to save the face of India, our own version of an Orwellian messiah.
You are all, also, high on an overdose of patriotism.
What is terrifying is the absence of a structured ‘Thought Police’, a force that you can see in front of you.
Instead, we live in a world where the entire citizenry has turned into an omnipresent ‘Thought Police.’ Our children are brought up with a constant, almost permanent, fear that everything around us is in a state of impending doom and danger. From religion and culture, to economy and territory, everything. And the prerogative of saving these lie with the children.
The biggest threat in this state are the liberals. The ones who publicly assert that the construction of these ‘dangers’ is propaganda.
If you, dear reader, find yourself relating to this, know that you are not alone. You are surrounded by voluntary agents of the ‘Thought Police’, who are always ready to paint you as a deshdrohi, to label you a sickular, to brand you a traitor.
You cannot make an honest film, for it can destroy the false image of a state. You can not make a film, intended to be watched by an adult audience, for there is someone to decide what an adult should and should not watch.
And, before a government-sanctioned body objects to each thought, you are always, already surrounded by thousands of virtual and real people who will pull out your past, present and future to make you stop from voicing your opinion.
Critical thinking is a sin. Inciting others to think, a bigger sin.
There is always a lingering feeling that you are being watched. Being watched by eyes that are blind. You are being watched with keen eyes, through a large magnifying lens. Any obscure signal of deviation, and these eyes will deem your action treacherous.
What will follow is a war of sorts. On the internet, on the streets. From public transport to your house, these eyes will hunt you down and brand you a traitor.
This war can turn fatal too, for you live in a country where it’s sinful to think, and to dissent.