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On Being An Indian

On Being An Indian

I have spent considerable time pondering over the question of what it takes to be an Indian. The question has gained pertinence for all Indians today as your identity and loyalty are being challenged and questioned time and again and you can easily be implicated for lacking in nationalism and patriotism.  It is not enough that you are born in India. A time has come when your ‘Indinaness’ must be tested in the crucible of criteria evolved by a fanatic fringe who claim to be genuine Indians. They have appropriated the title of being true Indians for themselves and suspect the credentials of others. Your looks, your clothes, your food habits and religion have become important defining points as whether your identity is that of a ‘true’, ‘genuine’, ‘patriotic’, ‘nationalistic’ Indian or not.  All adjectives laden with weird, esoteric nuances!

The self-appointed watchdogs and monitors of the nationalistic spirit and patriotic tempo of bona fide citizens are not only increasing in number across the country, they are also becoming more belligerent, aggressive and intolerant. They breathe a new air of fire and fury; they feel more emboldened under political patrons who they know will shield them; even the police, they are sure, will look the other way. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological godfather the Rashtriya Swayamsevak  Sangh (RSS) and the numerous outfits that have sprang from the same ideology of Savarkar and Golvalkar are impatient to convert India into a Hindu rashtra. They continue to propagate lies that Hinduism is in danger, that secularism is nothing but a sham and call it ‘pseudo-secularism’. It has been accusing Congress and other secular political parties of ‘minority appeasement’.  They spread the lie through brain washing and hate propaganda that Hinduism is in danger and that Hindus would soon be outnumbered and reduced to a minority by the Muslims and Christians.

If India would become a better nation by merely mouthing slogans hailing Mother India or shouting patriotic slogans, I am sure many more Indians would join their bandwagon.  But the intention of those who are queering the pitch of communal frenzy is not to unite but to divide, not to build a more peaceful India but to polarise.  Their sinister aim is to shred the carefully woven fabric of India’s cultural, religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity into pieces.  Pluralism is poison to those who want to carve out a Hindu rashtra based on one religion, one language and one culture.  But little do the advocates of such ideology know that they are a fringe group, that they do not enjoy the support of the majority of Hindu brothers and sisters, let alone the rest.

The sad part is that the fundamentalist fringe is increasingly usurping the right to speak on behalf of the Hindu majority, the whole community or nation. The advocates of false nationalism and patriotism of the Sangh Parivar kind seem to have developed their own yardsticks to measure one’s fidelity to the country of one’s birth.  But who gave them the legitimacy, the mandate to do so? Who commissioned them to do what they do?

India’s greatness is inherently intertwined with pluralism, diversity, and respect for each other. It is not acquiescing and bowing before those who brandish lathis or swords, wearing colourful bandanas or trying to intimidate gullible people. Indian-ness cannot be throttled down one’s mouth; it cannot be swallowed like a panacea; it cannot be worn on one’s shirt sleeves.  I am afraid the wrong variety of standards is being developed and the wrong kind of criterion is evolved to test one’s patriotism.  The test of patriotism is not as easy as a multiple choice question you can do on an OMR sheet and score an A plus. Those who shout the loudest and most boisterous slogans or those who claim nationalism as an offshoot of some sectarian ideology are making their own brand of nationalism which is counterfeit.  They ought to know that by playing the communal card they are quite unwittingly feeding a monster which will not only destroy this nation but will eventually swallow them up too.

Examples and instances of false display of power coupled with arrogance were on display soon after the BJP’s victory in Tripura recently. A statue of Lenin was pulled down in public view with the connivance of the police. It was most unfortunate that even the Governor of the State, the one sworn in to uphold the Constitution of India and one duty-bound to ensure the rule of law, justified the act rather than condemn it. As the new BJP chief Minister was not yet sworn in, the Governor should have exercised the power at his command to curb the kind of vandalism and display of brute force we witnessed.  Little do the BJP realise that it is a distasteful way of celebrating a political victory and it will not go down well with the right thinking people. 

Coming back to the point of one’s patriotism:  there are a variety of genuine ways one can check and verify one’s credentials of being a true Indian. Even simple, illiterate, rural masses know how to distinguish between a sheep and a wolf in sheep skin.  Voters have acted decisively and with wisdom whenever individuals or organisations have tried to shred to pieces the basic fabric of our nation. The pity is that they have to wait too long to get an opportunity to voice their dissent and disapproval.

What is the way to counter the kind of rabid fanaticism that we are witnessing today?   Humble submissiveness and acquiescence are not enough. Silence in the face of provocation is not sufficient either.  The fringe groups that use religion as a tool for sectarian and vested interest must be countered with all the powers and energy at our disposal. It is an ideological war against the very idea of India and hence the masses should be made to understand the long term consequences it will have on us as a nation; as women and men who wish to live as sisters and brothers in peace and harmony; as people who do not wish to see the country torn apart by what Tagore called ‘the narrow domestic walls’. 

It is unfortunate that when lumpen elements take law into their hands and brandish weapons, threaten and  beat up innocence people,  pull down statues and attack places of workshop, intimidate people for their clothes or food habits, or the company they keep, those who are responsible for law and order like the police look the other way. They are often beholden to those who wield political power, or are too scared to act for fear of punitive action. In some cases they have been themselves bought up or brainwashed. It is for the citizens to watch the watchdogs of law and order, citizen’s safety and security.

India’s respected judiciary has often intervened when other arms of the government have failed the citizens.   People still hold the judiciary in high esteem. In spite of efforts to interfere with the freedom of the judiciary, this hallowed institution must hold its head high. It must not belie the trust and faith the millions of Indians have reposed in it.

The greatest safeguard to our democracy has been the Constitution, the ideals of luminaries like Mahatma Gandhi, Ambedkar. But there is a systematic attempt to undermine the Constitution of India, vilify and tarnish the great names of Gandhi and Ambedkar. One must be alert to understand efforts to polarise patriotic leaders like Pandit Nehru pitting him against Sardar Patel. These great men who fought valiantly for a free and democratic India must be turning in their graves when they see the communal cauldron that is boiling in the present day India. 

The young minds of our children are being poisoned with communally coloured text books. After the accession of the Modi-led BJP to power there has been a surge in efforts to rewrite history and masquerade mythology as facts. The prestigious Science Congresses have been reduced to chest thumbing triumphalism about ancient Vedic mythology and claims about invention of aeroplanes, practice of surgery and invitro fertilization in the past.  Joining in on the bandwagon, the PM told an audience of doctors in Mumbai that the Hindu god Ganesh's head was evidence of ancient plastic surgery, adding that the Kauravas from the Mahabharata born outside his mother's womb were all test-tube babies. In 2014, during the 103rd Indian Science Congress in Mysore one of the presenters made the claim that there were planes in the Vedic age that could make trans-continental flights. The 2009 Nobel laureate Venkat Ramakrishnan dismissed the Congress as a ‘circus’ and vowed never to attend one again. Noted biologist P M Bhargava, founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, expressed his frustration at the deterioration of the Science Congress and called it ‘an absolute waste of money’.

Two states run by the ruling BJP - Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat - recruited controversial Hindu nationalist Dinanath Batra to advise on writing textbooks. Thousands of schools in Gujarat were provided textbooks by Batra that claimed cars were invented in ancient India and told children to draw an enlarged nation to include countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. History lessons in schools have also not been spared.  Y Sudershan Rao who was appointed as the head of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) has been trying to push the superiority of Hindu values and mythology at the cost of academic rigour; critics have voiced their protest as this goes against the grain of secularism. Instead of building a rigorous scientific temper and reason in the minds of the young they are being fed with divisive and polarising tales of fiction as fact.

Under the section on Fundamental Duties, article 51A (h) of our Constitution enjoins every citizen of India ‘to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of enquiry and reform’. That of course does not preclude inculcating genuine patriotic values, rigorous and accurate knowledge of ancient India’s legitimate achievements and contribution to mathematics, astronomy, architecture and other sciences.

If we are serious about inculcating pride in our nation’s past and present, let us work concertedly to improve the safety of women, eradicate poverty and ignorance, and improve the lot of the farmers and rural masses.  Let us be sincere in carrying forward the vision of Prime Minister Modi for a cleaner India through taking the Swacch Bharat campaign seriously.  Let the political party and the people join hands to translate into action the slogans we heard at election time such as ‘Ache din’ and ‘Sab ka sath sabka vikas’.  Let the government and civil society honour those who contribute most to improve the lot of the poor, marginalized and those who work to remove hatred and build a harmonious society. On the same vein those who loot, those who slash black money abroad, those who take law into their own hands or whip up communal frenzy be firmly dealt with. Let those who indulge in such undesirable acts be considered a blemish on our nation. Let the government and citizens judge the tree by its fruits.

(Published on 16th April 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 16)