It was an uneventful night. I came home to find a large tricolour flag hoisted in my living room, and all I could think was, “What is this monstrosity doing in my hall?” I asked my flatmate what this was and whose is it. Just like that he responded, “It’s the flag and it’s ours.” A stern objection later, the flag moved to his own room.
For many , the tricolour is the ultimate symbol of nationalism and unity, and my textbooks in school said that I should respect it a great deal. I am not entirely sure what caused my reaction to a piece of satin cloth that meant so much to so many people around me. Maybe it’s the fact that every single day, we the queers of India (how I wish our Preamble began so), are pushed to the sidelines of our public discourse. We are somehow made to feel, by virtue of our existence, that we do not fit in with the rest. Right from school – a microcosm of society in general – most of us are prepared for these exclusionary politics.
The feeling of disenfranchisement runs deep when we realise that our tally of ‘rights’ doesn’t match to what it should be. And when it is discussed, all we can hear is the occasional ‘NO TO SECTION 377’ scream. Yeah, yeah, Section 377 must go, once and for all. Meanwhile, many of us need to lead lives in fear while having to wonder why.
But we must respect the State. That we absolutely must. We must respect the State that creates criminals out of people who don’t align with its choice of who you should be with.
The State is indeed a political establishment of a cultural entity. It is often said that nations are ‘imagined communities’. But does our imagination really capture India’s diversity as it should? Because from my experience, it tends to hierarchize and prefer the flag-lovers over the queers (the queer flag-lovers are too fragmented a sample). For the most part, we end up becoming an after-thought, let alone fitting anywhere in that imagination.
Independence marks our freedom; freedom from oppression, repression, fascism, discrimination and so on. But can the queers call themselves free when we aren’t even allowed to love? Why is that some of us, during sex, have to not only worry about using protection but also prepare for bail, just in case things go the other way?
Living in a culture of fear sure does wonders for my patriotic fervour. When I see nothing but explicit text messages on the dating apps that I use, I am not disgusted anymore. I have realised that the state, and what we stand for, has reduced us to misfits and criminals. It has taken our ability to express love to whomsoever we choose, criminalised it, while popping some ‘sanskaar’ in there, to further demonise our existence as citizens who don’t deserve equal rights. Not that holding hands while watching a movie has gone out of vogue, but fear rules all. Fear has become that overpowering ingredient that ruins the dish of love.
‘Love happens’ – that’s not just a bad movie starring Jennifer Aniston, it’s how we have romanticised the idea of people falling in love. It just spontaneously occurs when you are with the ‘right’ person, where social context and subject positions don’t matter one bit. Similarly, ‘loving’ this country, its values and symbols, has a lot to do with this spontaneous overflow of emotions that is supposed to lack any context. It’s just supposed to happen. Put aside your differences and just love it already. Or else!
Unfortunately, our differences make or break whether we can love in this country. If you are a Brahmin cisgender man there is possibly little to complain about. A saree-clad cisgender woman has it good too, maybe to an extent. But a Dalit Muslim’s affection for his counterpart at work and a transwoman who is abandoned by everybody that she has come to know, they have no right to love. It just doesn’t ‘happen’ to them that easy and if it does, they are given two options: live on the margins, or follow the State’s policy on who to love (or not love at all).
It wouldn’t matter if you don’t feel like you are treated like an equal, or if you are hunted by the state for not conforming, or if you are harassed by the state machinery, or if you face workplace discrimination where the state is supposed to help you. Fuck it. Just stand during the anthem, spout some Bengali that you don’t necessarily understand, look at the flag and feel great about how (un)equal you are in this nation and eat that damned tricolour biryani on special offer by Zomato.
How I wish that the State would just let love happen. If only the nation had the approach to loving people regardless of who they love, then my identity as a ‘free Indian’ would not have been so conflicted. Why can’t our love for the nation and what it has done for us translate into us loving who we want to? Is that so much to ask? After all, we created the nation.
Don’t be mistaken. I will do the whole charade if you want me to. I will sing the anthem proudly (after Googling what it means) and if I must, I’ll bring my flatmate’s flag back into the living room for a day. I will dance with the devil for as long as it takes.
Just let us love.
Happy Independence Day.