• Udit Malik

'Apolitical' is Political

What is politics? While voting or not voting for a party is definitely a political act, what is more important is how we participate and engage with everyday occurrences and understanding the political consequences of our daily choices. But in this day and age, what does it mean to be ‘apolitical’? 

You’ve definitely heard it. Two people are debating the merits of different political parties when a third chimes in.  “You know — I don’t really keep up with the news. It’s just so negative and way too stressful. And politics? I just avoid it. And I’m happier because of it.” 

Being apolitical is a point of pride for some in our era when people argue that polarization has never been more pronounced (or not). Apolitical people sometimes argue that they’re maintaining the peace by not broaching that thorny topic of politics, or they imply that their position makes them wiser or morally superior to the rest of us mere mortals.

But being apolitical is a political choice, just like all the choices we make. Your silence communicates that you don’t care enough to take a stance and that you’d prefer to keep things the way they are: You see nothing wrong or unjust about our world. 

Every time you say, “Hey, let’s stop talking about politics, this is boring!” even jokingly or lightheartedly, you affirm your belief that our world requires no change, and you shelter yourself from having to confront its realities and injustices. 

But now, with the election season officially upon us, consider it your invitation to drop your “apolitical” label. 

The first step? Reading or listening to credible news

Reading the news is critical because it helps you to have informed conversations using reliable information. Citing your sources and asking those you’re talking with to do the same guarantees that you’re having responsible conversations that are more likely to lead to meaningful insights. 

Some people have sworn off the news, arguing that it damages their health. While there is evidence that today’s news can elevate stress levels, explore other avenues to more thoughtfully consume news. For example, set boundaries around what times you’ll read and don’t infinitely scroll through your social media feeds. Instead, subscribe to some newsletters or browse the actual sites of news organizations to see the whole array of that day’s events. 

What Is Apolitical?

Apolitical means ‘having no interest or involvement in political affairs’, or ‘having an aversion to politics or political affairs’. So, if you’re neutral towards government action, you’d be classified as apolitical. But, we live in a democracy where our civic and social rights are ensured by an elected government, so how does “having no political bias” work? It doesn’t.

Being Apolitical Means Having Class Privilege

Disengaging from politics and its consequences is a luxury that isn’t afforded to everyone. Those who choose to look away have the privilege to do so. They have largely benefited from class structures in place in society and more often than not, it’s ‘apathy’ rather that political neutrality. It is important to remember that not everyone has the luxury to be disengaged. Add to that, being apolitical signifies an implicit endorsement of the current economic, political, and social structure of India, along with its oppressive caste system, patriarchy, and economic inequalities. 

Politics Is Everywhere

Politics affects our daily lives and the buck does not stop with casting your vote every five years. It’s so much more. If you’ve got easy access to fair trade coffee, that’s political. Governments dictate how food is grown, stored, distributed, and accessed. So, with every sip, you’re taking a stand on state policies. 

Public transport, construction of roads, railways and airports are all government initiatives, so potholes and traffic are all political. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable while traveling, the people responsible are your elected officials. From the kind of education you receive, to who you marry, and even what newspaper you read, every little decision adds up to one big political choice.

Being Political Is Not Easy

Taking a stand for your politics can lead to being isolated, or being attacked, online and offline. But the good news is—every time you speak up against someone, you’re raising your voice for another who may not have the freedom to raise theirs. And it starts small, from taking a stand against fake news being shared on family groups to sustainable fashion choices. 

Being political is about educating oneself, showing up for a cause one believes in, amplifying an important petition or calling out a problematic relative. There’s no list of rules to follow. But when we choose to look away, we’re directly adding to the oppression of marginalized communities—often women and children. Being political starts from asking simple questions and making simple choices. 

Quietly, unannounced and as-yet-unseen, a whole generation of young Indians has just understood the urgency of fighting for democratic and secular values. Those preaching and practising hatred, violence, and division don’t realize it, but they’ve just galvanized their own ideological opponents. They always do. Every time they set a fire or land a blow, those of us who believe quietly and passively in secularism and democracy become less able to stay quiet or passive about it. With every life lost, we become a little less able, a little less inclined to remain apolitical.

Wake up, Indians!

Jai Hind!

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