All the hopes I had for India as a secular nation have crumbled…in bits and pieces through the year…and finally crashed into a heap. As 2020 looms ahead, should I be hopeful yet again? But we are resilient…optimistic and strong-willed…so we shall rise again in the year ahead to overcome all challenges thrown at us. We must be mindful not to let reality spoil the magic of creating such a plan.

Yesterday, while reading through some of the vile updates people post on social media, it struck me... Politics and Religion are two of the most influential factors on human existence and our future. Mankind is a social animal, yet as we learn more about the universe and the planet we live on, more and more issues arise that cause us to polarize, things that isolate us from the flock and we are forced to look harder and harder for any common ground to bond us so we can form our own social group. I often feel we are walking on eggshells of people's sensitivities for fear of their wrath and social rejection.

However, those groups are becoming fragmented due to the enormous amount of propaganda that is being strewn at us by lobbyists from one extreme viewpoint or another. A strong passion for any cause these days is violently reacted to as extremism by others, as our survival instinct whispers to us to not stand out prominently or the fact that you will get ostracized for your views.

Politicians don't do what is right, they do what is popular and what doesn't offend, whatever it takes to get re-elected into their positions of power and privilege. There are exceptions, of course, but I believe I can safely say they are in the minority. However with the populous becoming so divisively split over so many different crucial issues, less and less problems get addressed while more and more unnecessary laws get passed. The single greatest epidemic in the world is apathy, and I believe it's a plague deliberately being spread by those in power.

I recall a quote by Mark Twain: “Am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.” Although Mark Twain articulated the idea much better, the real quote I am referring to is, “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company.” That general rule – to not talk about religion or politics – is simply to avoid conflict. It’s always awkward at a dinner when all of sudden a crazed friend starts yelling randomly because there is a disagreement about the ruling party.

I don’t know about you, but when I was younger, my parents always taught me to not discuss three things with other people: money, religion and politics. But now, such discussions are frequent even though certain subjects should be refrained from leaving people’s mouths, even if they are the most compelling topics of conversation.

But the problem is that the voice of the people is not being heard and when that happens, dissent escalates and with good reason. The people’s confidence in the government has reached startlingly low levels. On ground, citizens say that they perceive those voted in power are being influenced by fanatical interests but are largely out of touch with the people. They believe this contributes to polarization and gridlock and, most importantly, undermines elected officials responsibility to do what is best for the nation as a whole. There are substantial gaps between what the government does and what the public thinks it should do. This low level of public trust is a problem for the government suggesting that there is truly a crisis of democracy.

Indians today believe that the people should have a greater voice in government - they strongly believe that elected officials should listen to and be responsive to the people they represent considerably more. We live in a world full of varied ideologies but you cannot dehumanise people because they have different ideals than yours. Whether someone is far right, far left, libertarian or totalitarian it is their personal choice but you cannot outright reject opinions if they don't comply with your beliefs in a democratic nation.

India is a democracy and citizens have a constitutionally guaranteed right to a freedom of speech and expression which they can enforce via the Indian court system. Freedom of Speech is one of the key fundamental rights outlined in Part III of the Constitution. With the increase of suppression of dissent, there has also been a large suppression not only of speech but also independent thought. By propagating new rules and notions of nationalism and claiming that anything contrary to those rules is adhering to anti-nationalism, the government has been actively involved in a concentrated attempt to destroy criticism altogether.

Propagating the idea of a country which doesn’t allow its citizens to protest and criticise the actions of their government is to take on the philosophy of dictators, thereby making redundant the very democracy that our ancestors fought to establish. As long as a particular opinion doesn’t directly hamper national security, curbing it is unjust. What the government needs to realise is that quashing the freedom of speech does not destroy the underlying sentiment what it does do, however, is further alienate that section of society.

The backbone of democracy is the right to dissent and therefore it cannot be either repressed or manipulated by any government. We live in a melting pot of ethnicities, beliefs and religions – these need to be respected.