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Why Donald Trump would feel at home in India

By Savera R Someshwar
Last updated on: August 02, 2016 23:36 IST
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Because we mirror his beliefs, says Savera R Someshwar.

Donald Trump

I watched a mother last night.

A mother who, 12 years after her son lost his life in the line of duty, in a war that was not of her making, lives and breathes the pain of her loss every second.

It's a raw, gaping, throbbing, searing wound, one that a man -- a man who refused to understand her because her race, her colour, her gender and her religion were beyond the narrow confines of his compartmentalised mind -- lacerated for a few brownie points in a political contest.

She has two more sons, one elder, and one younger than the late Captain Humayun Saqib Muazzam Khan (September 9, 1976 to June 8, 2004), who was just 27 years old when he died in Iraq. His brave effort to save his men -- he walked towards a taxi racing towards the gates of the compound where American soldiers were billeted, waving his men to safety behind him; the vehicle turned out to be a suicide mission and the ensuing explosion took Captain Khan's life -- earned him a Purple Star and a Bronze Heart and left behind a grieving family.

Until I watched that interview, where she battles her emotions to recount the last time she spoke to her son -- on Mother's Day in 2004 -- I didn't know that more than a decade had passed since her loss.

She begged him, she says, to 'not go out of the camp,' to 'stay safe,' to be her 'son' and not a 'hero.'

Earlier too, she had pleaded with him to 'come back as a son.' Instead, she says, struggling with the tears that soak her voice, 'he came back as hero.'

Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump didn't understand that. He saw Ghazala Khan as a cowed down Muslim woman, wearing a 'head scarf,' standing quietly beside her husband, probably 'not allowed to speak.'

There could not be, in his sadly restricted mind, the potential other scenario: That of a mother, who still broke down when she saw her dead son's photograph but stood bravely, holding on with all her strength to her composure, in front of his photograph because she had something to say.

It was a convenient brush with which to paint her; besides, how could we expect Trump to know better? After all, his life -- and more lately his bid for the Presidency -- is testimony to how he views human beings other than himself, especially if they are women. Women, clearly, are only worth his 'precious, fleeting attention' if they are 'mindless, young and beautiful piece of ass.'

Besides, according to Trump, there is only 'man' in the world who has opinions worth listening to -- and that 'man' is Donald Trump.

How many strong female voices have you heard associated with the 'man' whose idea of sacrifice is 'employing thousands and thousands of people,' helping 'build the Vietnam Memorial' in Manhattan and 'raising money for the Vets (those who have retired from the American armed forces)'?

So we criticised Trump, for his misogyny, his racism, his bigotry, his religious discrimination. And what, I wondered, gives us the right to do so, when we do the same things all the time?

"Mamma," I remember my recently minted teenager asking me around three years ago, "are Muslims bad?" He had heard elders he knew and loved talking about Muslims, about the clothes they wore, about the size of their families and about many other things that his young mind should not been exposed to in a manner that was derogatory.

And, for the first time in his young life, I had to remind him of his friend -- a Muslim friend -- and ask him what he thought the answer was. "Oh," he said, "I didn't know he was Muslim." And then, dismissively, "People say such silly things."

A person's religion has not mattered to my son since then, and I hope it stays that way (except that he sometimes wished he was a Sikh, like one of his closest friends, so that he could step out of the confines of school rules and wear a kada).

But, at 13, he is seeing and realising the differences.

Between meat-eaters and non-meat eaters.

Between 'regular' vegetarians like me -- my son loves his seafood and chicken -- and those who follow a more restricted vegetarian diet, as per the tenets of their religion.

Between the well-off and the not so well-off.

Between people who can speak English well and those who can't.

Between children who follow accepted social behavioural norms and those who can't.

Between one religion and another.

Between the male and female gender.

At one point, my worries about the external influences he was exposed to were much simpler -- they were limited to movies, television programmes, advertisements and music.

So yes, we battled over Golmaal. I hate the series, he thinks they are funny.

Shin Chan was banned, but we compromised on Doraemon and Oggy And The Cockroaches (Ugh!).

Axe ads, we both agreed, were 'yuck!' but he thought the deodorant was 'okay.'

Thankfully, he has outgrown Yo Yo Honey Singh and has a much wider range in music that he now educates me about (though I've not had as much luck in interesting him in old Hindi films songs).

He is not really affected by the beef ban because, as he tells me confidently, regularly that he "does not like the way beef tastes." This, as I keep reminding him, is a rather interesting statement coming from a kid who has never eaten beef in life.

He hasn't heard about the gau rakshaks (the self-styled protectors of cows in India) and it doesn't matter to him because they don't impact his life as of now.

But what if all non-vegetarian food is banned? "They can't do that," he tells me confidently. "This is India. We are a democracy." Yet, I tell him, beef has been banned.

What if he is not allowed to stay in the same building complex as his friends because he is a non-vegetarian and they are vegetarians? He'd be devastated, I know. One of the biggest worries on his mind right now is that the building complex we live in might go into redevelopment in which case "what will happen to our group? I don't want to leave my friends."

Tomorrow, though, he might struggle to find an apartment because he is single, or he wants to live-in, or he belongs to a certain religion or, like I said earlier, because he is non-vegetarian.

Sometimes, he wants to know what kind of a Hindu he is. "Just a Hindu," I tell him. He's not satisfied. "But exactly which? There are so many kinds," he pushes. He's been asked that question, in school or elsewhere. I tell him it is not important.

And I don't want it to be. I want him to follow the religion he wants, if he wants to follow one. I want him to worship the God he likes, if he wants to worship one.

I want him to celebrate the festivals he wants -- at the moment, it is Holi, Janmashtami, Ganesh Charturthi (my sister brings Lord Ganesha home), Diwali and Christmas (complete with a tree and a wreath on the door). Easter, which used to be a favourite because of the chocolate egg hunt and egg painting sessions, is slipping out of his radar. Tomorrow, he might add others to the list.

We talk about gender discrimination sometimes. I tell him how difficult it is for girls in many parts of India -- how women and girls have to eat after the men and the boys, how girls don't get sent to school -- but it is a concept he finds difficult to grasp since he hasn't really seen it around him.

He has heard that girls are expected to learn to cook, not boys. He has heard that girls are expected to help around the house, not boys. And though, he'll try his best to wriggle out of chores, this kind of discrimination does not make sense to him.

When I tell him there are people who want to stop girls from using cell phones, he is shocked. His cell phone is his most treasured possession and he thinks that kind of ban is "mean."

And all this is happening in India, the India my son is growing up in. Where we discriminate on the basis race, sex, gender, eating habits, dressing habits, even the state we are born in...

Look at the horror vested on the people from the north-east. Imagine having, every day, to feel unsafe in your own country because you 'look different'!

Let us expand that a bit... imagine worrying whether you might someday lose your job or your home because of the state, or the religion you were born in.

Imagine feeling unsafe, even if this fear is a figment of your imagination, because you live in an area dominated by a certain religious majority.

Imagine being looked up and down, and being gossiped about, and having your character assassinated, because you dared to step out in a skirt or shorts or a crop top while the people around you dressed more conservatively.

And let us not even go into the problems women face every day -- abuse, eve teasing, sexual assault -- and being told the fault was theirs, and theirs alone.

Imagine not buying or frying fish because you live in a building dominated by vegetarians. Or storing meat in your refrigerator because it might get mistaken for beef.

Don't we discriminate, in some way or the other, every of our lives? Do we even think twice before, and after, we have done it?

So why are we critical of Trump? How is what he is saying so different from what we are doing in India? Isn't our world, our India, being 'broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls'?

Aren't our leaders, just like Trump, segmenting India into tinier and tinier bits by fanning, and deepening, artificially created differences for their own selfish benefit? And why are we, like fools, being swept away by their rhetoric?

Is this the India my son will have to grapple with when he grows up? I hope not. I pray not.

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Savera R Someshwar /