‘Accountability is a must in democracy’
First time voter, Binish Humayun says she will opt for the party that lays stress on education, women’s issues.
Google is Binish Humayun’s 3am friend. The last time Humayun, an undergraduate at Delhi University, wanted to figure out how to respond to rude behaviour, she searched it online. “Google told me that I should not judge the person. Maybe he or she had a bad day. I should try to put myself in their shoes,” she recalled.
“That made so much sense.”
Google can’t respond to every thought going through her head, however. So she sometimes writes poems. Her first poem was sparked off by a gaali (swear word). Five months ago, she wrote a second one. “It captured my uncertainties and how unsure I was about myself, and things around me,” she said. Her latest is about mental health:
Despite watching so many people, she is unable to be at ease
What is it that she is searching for? Tranquillity, silence or peace?
“I am still in that phase. At the same time, I feel wiser now from the time when I wrote that poem. This is how we all evolve, no?” said the 19-year-old English (Hons) student.
Humayun will cast her first vote in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Voting is a sort of ritual in her family. She does not remember her parents ever skipping the exercise. She looks at elections as one of the few occasions when a commoner feels powerful.
But Humayun does not follow politics closely. When she does, she struggles to get the fine print. “Everyone is shouting and countering each other. If Congress highlights the Rafale deal, the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] mentions Bofors. The media presents both sides of the story — it is difficult to make sense of it and form an opinion,” she said.
One day at a time
Like most 19-year-olds, Humayun finds her preferences and priorities changing every day. “RK Narayan’s Swami and Friends was part of my school syllabus. I was very fond of it. In college, I got introduced to Shakespeare. I also read Tennessee William’s play Glass Menagerie. After that, I found Narayan’s work relatively juvenile. He writes well but I am past that age, you know,” she shrugged.
College (Mata Sundri College for Women) to her is as much about studies as about friends and fun. She and her friends hang out in central Delhi’s “Press Area”, which got its name from its rows of newspaper offices. They often discuss childhood, movies, classes and the idea of independence. “One should fulfil responsibilities towards family. But this should not be done at the cost of your own aspirations, choices and social circle,” she said.
Humayun wants to pursue a Master’s in English not to build a career around it but for the love of the language. “I am going with the flow. Logical progression would be higher studies. But I have not thought about that,” she said. Sometimes her days are spent watching Hindi film songs on a loop, sometimes doing nothing at all.
Her mother, a homemaker, spends hours discussing films, books and life at their home in central Delhi. Her father, who trades in handicraft at Turkman Gate, a Walled City neighbourhood, is more into current affairs. It is he who tells her what’s going on in the world, other than some news apps on her mobile phone. “Papa knows the details of Indian politics and history like the back of his hand. He reads all the newspapers. When a controversy remains in the news for a few days or weeks, he gives me a primer on it. I wish media reporting was as clear as his explanations,” she said. She has three younger brothers, all of them in school. She often shares her experiences with them, expecting that they will learn from them.
“I have an impressionable mind. I tend to believe everyone. I wonder as a citizen about what is better for me and why,” she said. Among the politicians who have caught her attention, she finds Congress leader Shashi Tharoor best. “He is nuanced, reads a lot, speaks his mind and always have facts to back his argument. That is rare for an Indian politician in this day and age,” she said.
Humayun has come to terms with some people’s curiosity about her life as a young Muslim woman.“Occasionally, people do ask me if I am allowed to wear jeans or socialise. Earlier, I used to find it odd, even annoying. Now I tell them, yes, my parents have given me the freedom to choose my attire,” she says. Stereotypes about her religion do not offend her anymore.
Humayun said that perhaps the need to explain her culture comes out of a sense of responsibility she feels as a Muslim. “The onus lies on us. I believe people have wrong notions or misconceptions about each other’s religion largely because of a lack of dialogue. We get worked up very easily. We do not try to understand why a person thinks that way,” she said.
Unlike most people of her age, Humayun isn’t living a parallel life on social media. She says that she has never looked for validation from Facebook friends. “I find the idea of likes and shares overwhelming. It has no impact on my choices. I wonder why people share details such as what they are eating. Why am I supposed to know that?” she quipped.
Humayun is aware of her privileges as a Delhi resident. She likes the big city’s momentum. “I have not sat down to think that ‘Oh My God, the city is changing.’ I am part and parcel of the overall transformation. For example, now we can apply for college admissions online. Imagine the queues in the university until a few years ago.”
What about thousands of people who migrate to Delhi on a daily basis, adding to its already crumbling infrastructure? “It is easy to blame migrants for rising congestion and surge in crime rate. “We don’t ask ourselves what are we doing to resolve civic issues. Also, I think migrants are not always part of the problem. They also contribute to the making of a city. It will be difficult to manage without them.”
Not in a rush
Unlike her city, Humayun is not in a rush. “Traffic and congestion is part of daily life in every city. Why do we Delhiites get annoyed on roads? Why do we see have so many road rage cases? This is because we are used to getting everything in an instant. We need to be patient,” she said.
But Humayun does have problems with the world. The top among them is gender disparity. “There are different standards for men and women. When something goes wrong in society — in a family or in a larger group — the easiest option is to blame the woman. Part of the problem is that women are not united. We don’t stand together,” she pointed out. The other day she came across an article which hinted at a solution. “The piece made the argument that the two genders should be seen as different entities. Right now, we say that if man is A, woman is less than A. This is a faulty comparison. Let them grow at their own pace,” she says.
When she votes this year, Humayun says, she will prefer a party that gives priority to education and women’s issues. “Education is key. Look around us. We see so many dropouts. Then there are people who have done schooling but are hesitant to apply for college admissions because they don’t find themselves at par with students from middle and upper-middle class families. Various governments appear to be doing so much on this front. Somewhere, something is not working - right?”
Humayun wants to make an informed choice. “I can’t remain indifferent to developments in my country. Democracy is all about accountability.”
Humayun says she will refuse if she gets an offer to join politics. She thinks politicians should focus on resolving issues instead of “making fun of each other during press meets and even in Parliament”.
And what does she think about the issues of instant triple talaq, and temple and cow politics? “There is nothing wrong in discussing these issues because they are of concern for certain sections of society. Parties raise other issue too, but those do not get the same media hype. For example, Yogi Adityanath talks of policies to save cow. Media immediately picks it up. But are we sure he has not spoken about any other scheme since he came to power?” she asked.