A few months ago, in Kerala, a group of young men refused to stand up for the national anthem when it was played before starting a movie. They were beaten up and arrested. He was alleged to have posted anti-national slogans against the country. Media judgement, lifetime in shame, court proceedings, jail without bail. Now the same has been repeated, in Bombay. An Indian companion of a foreigner who did not rise for the anthem was beaten up. Nice. Mera Bharath Mahan!
Dont get me wrong. I love my country. Why do I love it? It provides me with security, society and belonging. As a human being I need them. I also need to feel pride and I long to have roots. A collective conscience drives our laws. Without them I would have been miserable.
Though I trace my roots, maybe about two thousand years, as a community, I do belong to a minority community. I speak a minority language. In fact, my language has a separate origin, and belongs to a group of Dravidian tongues, whose origins have been lost in the mists of time. The predominant language in my country has a different Indo-European root that is common to most European languages. But my culture is totally indigenous. Culturally I am thoroughly Keralite, and Indian. But I wonder, would that be enough? I am scared.
Why this sudden nationalistic burst? Why the sudden intolerance? Why is everybody so silent, so afraid to dissent?
Yes. The people have spoken. They have spoken for a change in systemic corruption, and a perceived rotting status quo. They want jobs, progress and education. They are keen to have aspirations.
But they haven’t spoken for narrow minded nationalism. They haven’t spoken for vegetarianism, re-writing of history and regimentation of social life as per norms dictated by any organisation.
We have not given mandate for beatings, lynchings and mass murder. We are not yet ready to slaughter and to be led for the slaughter. We haven’t voted for a system that is holier than the people. So holy that nobody can question it. So holy that we dare not. So holy that we should not. So holy that we can be controlled by the fear of it.
We I hope, as a people, have not given the right to impose on ourselves the burden of being always right, being always moral and being always punishing those who transgress. I hope that we have not given up the responsibility to see all humans as equal, irrespective of caste, creed or language, at least in principle.
I hope we continue to have the greatness that made us possible to invent zero, tolerate the great hordes that came with alien ideas, have one of the earliest civilizations in the world, and assimilate all later ideas into one colourful whole and send a spaceship to Mars. I hope that we discontinue the mindset that disinherited and enslaved millions for generations in the name of caste, that subjugated women to burn themselves for their dead husbands, and fossilized learning and skills in some hands till they withered away and died.