History & Culture

Kashmir, CAA, Jamia, JNU: How families deal with ideological differences

Individuals are openly voicing their opinions within families   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Aman Pandey, 22, jokes that he now lies about going for protests instead of to parties. There’s no other way, he says, because at home, he’s been accused of being a desh drohi, a Naxal, and told he’ll be brainwashed into becoming a human bomb, by his father and his friends.

“It makes me feel disappointed,” he says. “I feel sceptical about society then.” He adds in the next breath though that he is hopeful of change, despite the fact that most of his family has right wing beliefs. Pandey couldn’t tell his family that he was in Jamia Millia Islamia when the police walked in. “I don’t know if the fear was real, but I felt they might not allow me to go back to college.”

We shall overcome

Across the country, lines are being drawn within families — microcosms of society — as individuals openly voice their opinions. Whether at the dinner table, on social visits, or over the phone, they talk of what they feel about the Citizenship Amendement Act (CAA) protests, Kashmir, and consequently, about life in India itself.

“The protests have brought it home to all of us. It’s not a one-off thing that you hear about once and switch off the TV. It’s forcing us to talk about it,” says Rupinder Kaur, 42, whose family supports the BJP, while she doesn’t.

Today, when families do feel the need to speak about it, they discover how deep ideological differences run. Earlier, they had a general idea of the way the family voted, but now it has become personal, even in non-minority households.

Prof. Sujatha Sriram, Dean at the School of Human Ecology, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, talks of Hindu families that may not actively support the current government’s actions, but have an ‘It’s not something that’s going to affect us. Why are you people getting upset?’ attitude. “But the youth is saying, ‘We have friends — this is going to affect them.’ When you’re talking about a college environment there is going to be a lot of shared emotion that plays out,” she says.

The problem, says Sriram, is that we have a separate dialogue when we talk to friends and family. In the case of young adults, parents often don’t know where their children are, and from the younger person’s point of view, it’s best not to tell them, lest they’re forbidden to go — they’re adults but are still dependent financially on families. A student in Sriram’s class emailed her saying she’d be at a protest and because she couldn’t tell her parents, she was letting her professor know. “How else do schisms in families develop?” asks Sriram.

Rashi, 21, for instance, says that in the week following the attacks on students at Jamia Millia Islamia, she was not allowed to go out of the house. “I felt so guilty about not being able to participate. There was no other option, but to take the battle to social media,” she says, knowing her parents were not active on Twitter or Facebook. “It’s tough trying to make my parents understand that religion se pehle insaaniyat hoti hai, aapne hee sikhaya tha na (it’s humanity over religion, you taught us yourself),” she says.

A problem arises when people get taken to jail. From the parents’ point of view, it is a betrayal: not only is a son or daughter going against their beliefs, but they’re also jeopardising their own future. “Parents are afraid of what’s going to happen to them when sons grow up feeling they need to speak against the establishment,” says Sriram.

Silence! The court is in session

In the face of an argument, a younger person will be told they’re being disrespectful, that the wisdom of the elders must be respected, and that older people have known and seen history.

“The moment you feel you are hitting a point where the discussion is becoming uncomfortable for the older person, you change the topic, or it could lead to raised voices and unpleasantness,” says Rupinder. She’s currently doing a course on self-reflection using Gandhi’s teachings and his ways, as a mirror. “It makes you think, ‘What would Gandhi have done if he were alive today?’” She doesn’t talk about it to her family though.

Virender Puri, 80, who supports the CAA, says there is no fight in his family. This despite his son holding views opposite to his. “We try to convince them; they try to convince us,” he says, adding that “He (his son) is slowly, slowly agreeing. Now he stops talking and stops replying,” he says, tellingly.

Silence is what many people who find they’re out-shouted resort to, with the other party imagining their muteness is a sign of agreement. Invariably though, the loudest, most commandeering voices are of the older male members of families.

This silence, almost enforced by the male members, is patriarchy extending its arm to political decisions as well. “My mother’s side has always been a Congress family,” says Vibhawari Verma, 24. But when she was married, she gradually shifted allegiance to her husband’s beliefs (he is an RSS man and spends time working with the BJP). Her mother knew that “he’s the one going to take care of the entire family,” she says. Verma herself interned with the Aam Aadmi Party for a year and a half before she began a masters in public policy. A discussion with her father is difficult: “The point of contention is at the start of the conversation. There’s always a fight.” The last time, she ended up going and sitting in her room. It’s not just politics though. Verma says the pattern of not listening extends to other areas of life too.

Let them not say

While Verma comes from a political family, ‘decent’ middle-class households in India don’t usually engage with politics, much like other taboo topics that are not openly discussed: money and property splits, for instance. It’s not something that children are encouraged to talk about, either at home or in school. And yet, at 18, they can vote, without really having had healthy discussions about it, even with peers.

Verma says it’s important to talk about politics early in life. She herself went to a fairly ‘protected’ college on South Campus, but made the effort to visit North campus and understand the election system and the politics at play there.

The quelling of an individual’s beliefs and their place in the family though, indicates something deeper. The fissures today “don’t widen the gap; it’s another element in the gap,” says Rupinder, who feels it may impact relationships of young adults with their parents, but not of older individuals, used to the pattern of only engaging in ‘comfortable’ topics.

In homes where discussions have always been open though, a difference of opinion is respected. In 26-year-old Reet Kapur’s case, her father supports the current government, but she says they talk about this daily and she questions him on some of his beliefs. “Dad may say something like, ‘problematic elements’ and I’ll ask him ‘Isn’t that stereotyping?’ He has come to respect my opinion as an adult,” she says.

It’s similar for Shakti Khanna, 41, who says there’s a “huge difference of opinion” at home. Her father was a Congress supporter “until Mr. Modi arrived and their generation became disillusioned with the Congress. He has now slowly become a bhakt,” she says. They have discussions daily, even heated arguments, but because the culture at home was never to obey blindly, it hasn’t had an impact on their relationship. Her parents are with her, helping care for her newborn.

With this high level of political awareness, on New Year’s Eve, S. M. Tripathi, 21, a student at Jamia, broke up with his girlfriend of three and a half years, someone he’d considered marriage with. She’d remained neutral on the happenings last month, even as the violence raged around and Tripathi was himself injured.

“I’m very interested in politics, opinions — I talk to everyone on the bus or metro. I think diversity is essential, and someone need not have the same opinion as me, but she needs to trust what I’m doing,” he says. “I think I should have a life partner who has the same ideology,” he concludes.

With inputs from Bhumika Saraswati

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Printable version | Oct 1, 2020 7:17:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/kashmir-caa-jamia-jnu-how-families-deal-with-ideological-differences/article30495172.ece

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