A professor teaching Marathi in a prestigious university in Aligarh, India, to the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando. The commonality: they lost their lives as a result of ignorance, inhumanity.
Professor Siras was a well respected teacher of the Marathi language at Aligarh Muslim University. He was the head of the Department of Languages and very well respected for his quiet, scholarly manner and pursuits. He wrote brilliant Marathi poetry as a pastime, and listened to the renowned vocal artist Lata Mangeshkar’s songs in his private time. Until a fateful day — what emerged as a conspiracy against him — when a couple of men barged into his home and caught him on camera being intimate with a male rickshaw puller. This was followed by four of his colleagues who walked in on this conveniently meeting for dinner at a next door house. He was suspended from his University and slowly, his life turned upside down. His power was cut off, he was forced out of his home, he lost his position at the University and he was publicly shamed by the release of the video in local newspapers and on TV. He took recourse in the courts and managed a victory at the end of a grueling and humiliating process, filled with slander. He was reinstated at his University, but the alleged shame he brought to the community and his University could not have been overturned by a mere order of the court. The next day he was found dead in his apartment. The police determined suicide by poisoning as the cause of death. This was 2010.
Fast forward and many similar inhumane acts later, 49 people are gunned down at a bar/night club in Orlando. The media debates the cause of the crime: hate crime, religious violence, extremism, terrorism even. But not to discredit any of these theories really, I didn’t feel I was convinced by any of them. The debates went about endlessly: Was the shooter gay? Was he radicalized? Did his ex-wife know? Was this the handiwork of ISIS? …and the list goes on.
I listened to all of this (as I did to the discourse surrounding Siras and his death) and after a while I just turned off the radio. The fundamental, simple thing behind this is intolerance that stems from basic human ignorance. I can’t say this enough, for all the hatred we are surrounded by is rooted in this conditioned world that we live in. Fake ideas of morality, order of nature, the rights and the wrongs, dogmas, for me, both Aligarh and Orlando are rooted in these notions. While unlike Orlando, Aligarh happened without the world’s attention to it, humanity lost.
Obviously Aligarh and Orlando speak to a particular kind of ignorance and intolerance. However, I argue that all forms of intolerance can be clubbed into this one big whole of stupidity. This is surely a value judgement, and while some intolerances may ‘seem’ less harmful than others, I put them in the same big basket of stupidity and I declare that I have no tolerance for it. What I am advocating is a universal, immediate, boycott of any tradition, rule, principle, book, or ideology that has or continues to support intolerance. Anything that makes it an us vs. them discussion, has to be shunned. The only thing that matters (and even this pales when put into context of the larger Universe, but let’s indulge a little), really matters, is that we are all human and share a humanity. Outside of this, no rules, no traditions, no customs or ideas, however comforting they may be, carry much merit. If basic, fundamental humanity is lost, is disappearing, what are we going to do with these other tools?
If a tradition, religion or belief system tells you to discriminate against those who don’t follow your practice, boycott it. If your sense of nationalism, language or even personal identification is enslaved by archaic exclusionary ‘values’, throw them in a well. If a practice or tradition puts you in a position of privilege, disown it. I can’t express enough shock of how a sensibility can allow us humans to give up our humanity? I wish shunning religion was the answer. I wish it was as easy as living in a world through an atheist’s prism. But from misogyny to homophobia, political fundamentalism to traditional extremism, we have done everything we can across our history to ensure that we divide, hate, kill… but have never questioned ourselves, and to what end?
As I sat reflecting on the incident in Orlando, the vigils that followed, the outpouring of grief that came after, I looked back at a movie that was made after Siras was found dead in Aligarh (of the same name and directed by filmmaker Hansal Mehta), and wondered what had/hadn’t changed for things to be the way they are? I think it’s easy to label a person a terrorist, lunatic, fundamentalist, because it makes them the ‘other’ and exonerates all of us for the bigotry, racism, the prejudice we all carry. All of us, without exception. And until we confront that, boycott everything we know or have learnt that feeds this, we will continue to hear of similar stories from a different part of the world every day. The distance between Orlando and Aligarh is only geographical, the ideology is fundamentally the same.