By Sparsh Upadhyay:
Our ‘Bharat Mata’ is one such mother who always seeks the blood of her sons so that she could be protected. Take the case of army personnel. They fight and get killed to save their motherland. There is nothing wrong if a mother needs her sons (and daughters) when she is in danger but is it justified that the same mother demands that her children glorify her by chanting slogans such as ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’? Why would a mother want her children to call her great? Is this mother so weak that she needs to be constantly reminded that she is great? And who is this Bharat Mata? Where does she come from?
I believe that to give a face to a voice or to imagine a collective voice as Bharat Mata is not wrong. One may very well have faith in Bharat Mata as the human form of the country. But, could this faith or, for that matter, any faith be imposed in any way, or could chanting a particular slogan be the test of my patriotism?
I, for a moment, want to delve into the history of this concept of Bharat Mata. Abanindranath Tagore was the first person to have glorified Mother India. His imagination of this Bharat Mata (which was initially ‘Banga Mata’) tells us something very peculiar and important for us to understand, especially in today’s context.
The image that Tagore painted didn’t make this Mother India look like a war figure but a social figure. She doesn’t possess any weapons as we find with Maa Kali or Maa Durga, but has things in her hands that are needed for a decent civic life. Ananya Vajpeyi in her book ‘Righteous Republic‘ made it quite clear that Tagore’s Bharat Mata was neither a political figure nor a Rashtra in herself but a social figure and he, through this painting, wanted to convey what a good civic life for the people of India should be.
In my opinion, she was made with a vision that people could relate to her voluntarily due to the aura she carries in the painting and that she would inspire others to be simplistic in their living – civic and ideal as citizens (though the concept of citizenship came much later) of India. Remember, this Bharat Mata didn’t have any map in the background; no doubt this lady was made just to depict what we must become in near the future as people of the country that is Bharat.
Amongst the various versions of the Mother India, which came out in the form of paintings, I choose the one which was painted in 1940’s.
This has Bharat Mata like the Hobbesian Leviathan and is shown holding the flag, quite similar to Gandhian flag and the Swaraj flag which became very famous during the time when this painting was made. This clearly depicts that the idea of Bharat Mata doesn’t just change but she transforms herself from time to time in accordance with the political atmosphere of the country. And more recently, the Bharat Mata has taken up the weapons in her hands (she still needs protection, though), like Maa Durga and, thus, has fully changed herself into the perfect Indian Leviathan – larger than the nation (however, not democratically elected) and the single most important figure.
Apart from paintings, Bharat Mata also features in the song ‘Vande Mataram’ written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. It was a tribute to Goddess Durga and got famous as it was hugely popularised during the Indian National Movement and was sung widely. However, Rabindranath Tagore had a sceptical view of the song and his letter containing objections to BM (Bande Mataram) being adopted as National Song became widely popular. He wrote to Subhas Chandra Bose, “The core of BM is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it… no Mussulman can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’… The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But, Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate…” It thus becomes quite clear that imposing faith upon the people is not a clever decision and to do that might break the harmony which the nation aims at achieving.
A lot has been said about Indian Constitution’s Article 25, which protects ‘Freedom of Conscience’. But, in practice does it really complete the task? I clearly remember the famous scene in the movie ‘Gadar’, where Sunny Deol after being asked by Amrish Puri to chant ‘Hindustan Murdabad’ exclaims with anger, “Aapka Pakistan Zindabad hai isse hume koi aitraaz nahin lekin humara Hindustan Zindabad tha Zindabad hai aur Zindabad rahega (we do not object to ‘Long Live Pakistan’, but India was, is and will be great).” And remember, he doesn’t start all the violence; it is the people (the fundamentalist believers) who start the massacre as their faith was ‘hurt’. It is easily deducible that Amrish Puri is the intolerant person who cannot bear to hear the chants praising ‘Hindustan’ and it is our hero who gives space for other faiths to exist while at the same time maintaining the dignity of his faith as well.
While we are allowed to cherish our faiths, we cannot impose them on someone else. The branding of ‘Others’ is the job of nobody; we are no one to decide who must believe what. Even the democratic and constitutional institutions haven’t been given the task of branding someone anti-patriotic. Who then are we to take on the responsibility for something that clearly is a futile exercise?
The ‘Rebound Effect’ theory, which appears in the Book One of ‘Republic’ written by Plato explains a simple idea (the interviewer in the book has problems with it too), whereby the rulers must behave justly and in a resilient manner while ruling so that in turn the citizens don’t dethrone them. At first look, it may seem as if running a government is a game of ‘give and take’, but a close examination tells us that a democratic form of government, in fact, runs on the ‘give and take’ rule. You are put in a position of power because you are seen as having the potential to rule, and when you don’t deliver (rule democratically and justly), the people have the power to remove you from power. The underlining problem is that regimes haven’t yet learned this simple rule of the game.
The reason why the governments, too, must learn the lesson in the on-going debate over chanting of slogans is because, I believe that, the Governments must not have any ideology which is too stringent to be changed and which has affiliation with fundamentalism of any kind. The whole system of governance would collapse in terms of principles. The hype that has been created around chanting ‘Bharat Mata’, expelling the AIMIM MLA in Maharashtra Assembly for refusing to do so, and the government’s silence does raise the question as to which way we are headed.
The question that the people, including the ones who rule, should ask themselves is what victory are we celebrating by chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. Is the task over to mould this nation in accordance with the Preamble of our Constitution? All of us will celebrate the victory of India collectively when there are no boundaries between religions, sects and regions and when there is no fight over language, caste and other pitiful reasons.
My Bharat Mata, ‘Pitra Bhumi’, ‘Maati’, or any other name I choose to use for it, will always be close to my heart, even if I refuse to chant these names time and again. And I expect my government to clear the waves that force me to speak something when I don’t want to. Also, the true test of tolerance is when we welcome the truth that hurts us. The job is simple. Lend your ears to others’ voice and, in turn, your voice shall be heard with the same enthusiasm.
Featured image source: Flickr.