I was born and brought up in Delhi by relatively open minded parents. Religion and politics had never really been a bone of contention or even a talking point in our house. Everyone was encouraged to vote for the Congress or the BJP, worship or follow atheism, but there was no compulsion to do anything. My mother did try to get me and my brother to be religious, set down rules like no non-vegetarian food/alcohol on Tuesdays or Navratras, but my father was an atheist. He would go out and indulge himself without telling her, and my brother and I followed suit. My mother would get angry whenever she used to find out, but laugh it off eventually as our childish behaviour.
Then, something changed, not in my house, but in the general environment around me. I attribute it to BJP coming to power, but there could be other reasons as well.
A while back, I got married into a house where a few people were fiercely pro-BJP. It was also a house where religion was fiercely followed. Don’t get me wrong, I love them as much or even more than my own family, but suddenly, I was surrounded by people with strong beliefs in things that I had never found myself even thinking about.
Though people might attribute this change to my marriage, this change was because of the general environment around me. Mr Modi got elected as the Prime Minister of our country five months after my wedding, and I, for the first time, found myself embroiled in intense, heated discussions about politics, morality, right and wrong.
Suddenly, all the discussions around me became about politics, and as a result of that – religion. Everyone everywhere had an opinion and rightly so, but I found that the people around me with pro-BJP views could not tolerate anything said against their beloved Mr Modi. Suddenly, if I had a strong opinion against BJP or Modi’s policies or actions, there would be personal attacks against me, my beliefs and my opinions.
For me, all my life, religion and politics had been two separate entities. Suddenly, religion and politics had merged into one huge powerball, overshadowing every discussion, every decision and every situation in the country. The discussions ranged from sensible logic-based ones to ridiculous thoughts like, should you kill someone who eats beef? Yes, educated people were defending lynching, putting their logic behind them and stating that it’s a sin to eat beef because – ‘Cow humari maata hai’ and I was shocked.
I had never thought of myself as non-patriotic till now, nationalism was not a word in my dictionary. I, in fact, would always defend my country in front of friends who would bash India, I would get up in the morning to watch the Republic Day parade. Inspired by Rang De Basanti, I would convince people not to shift abroad, but try to make India a better place. But when BJP came to power, when Hinduism became a must-have title, I found myself distancing from this new concept of patriotism.
Suddenly everyone was wearing patriotism like a badge of honour, taking offence at the tiniest possible things, defending their country and their religion left, right and centre. Why? What is it that we have achieved as Indians that you lot are so proud of? Many got offended when they thought that the Snapchat CEO called us a poor country. Have you taken a look around? We are a poor country! What else would he call us?
For me, patriotism was always about loving your country, not proving that you love your country. It was always about respecting your country, but not killing someone who disrespects it. Patriotism was about doing something for the betterment of your country, not putting down everyone who doesn’t do the same.
I remember a debate that I had with someone about killing in the name of your country or religion. The person’s stance was that if someone abuses your mother or throws stones at your house, will you stand by and watch or will you do something? Honestly, I don’t get it. I do not believe my country and my family are equal. I was born in India, but I don’t love it as much as I love my mother or my family. How can geographic territories be the same as human beings and relationships?
The simple point, that people and morality matter more to me than my country is what got me branded as an anti-nationalist. Is that so wrong? I don’t think so. If it is, then I’m proud to be an anti nationalist! And honestly, I think our ancestors would be proud of me too. The sad fact is that for a majority of the people in our country, religious beliefs, eating habits and geographical boundaries have become more important than actual lives.
My only point here is, does it matter where you’re born? Does it matter if you love your country or not, as long as you’re a good human being? Are geographical boundaries really more important than human lives?