As we are completing 70 years of our independence, I have begun to feel some self-congratulatory butterflies in my stomach. We have covered a long and tumultuous journey, yet stayed on the same bus, never abandoning it. Most of us weren’t even sure if it was the bus or the road which was causing the temporary yet sometimes intensified hiccups, but the driver was almost always blamed, and perhaps rightly so.
I am a native Assamese, born and brought up in Guwahati. To put it into context, I was brought up in a state which was engulfed in a very terrible insurgency for a very long time. It still has its residues today. But it was highly intensified particularly since the late ‘80s till the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. The banned outfit ULFA was virtually at war against the ‘Indian State’. In certain situations, we the citizens were forced to choose between Assam and India. I was educated in a reasonably reputed English-medium school under the CBSE board. Thus, I was accustomed, though very vaguely then, about the ‘idea of India’ and her treasured ideals of liberty, freedom, justice and democracy.
Every Independence Day coincided with a ‘bandh call’ from the militants. So it was not just a bank holiday in Assam, but a protest of demanding for a separate Nation. Not to mention, any citizen protesting against the bandh would be thrashed by the militants. Till not so long ago, bomb-blasts were the norm in Assam. Despite this atmosphere prevailing in the state, my generation has evolved out of it. We are patriotic Indians and simultaneously, culturally Assamese. We didn’t buy into the fake manufactured hatred against the Indian state. Of course, we do have our grievances, but then a citizen without grievances is no citizen.
When I moved out of Assam for the first time, I was shocked by the level of stereotypes being cast upon ‘Assamese’ people in some regional Hindi newspapers. They propagated that all Assamese people are ULFA supporters and provide logistical support to the militants. They created a narrative, deliberately or otherwise, and sadly so, that we Assamese are anti-India. So much so, that in the popular Hindi film “Dil Se”, the Assamese Officer in the Indian Army Hazarika was shown to be a co-conspirator with the militants carrying out blasts. As an Assamese and a patriotic Indian, my blood boiled. But the feeling of rage soon transformed into despair and rejection as the damage was done and the stereotype pervaded the air with suspicion against us. I was marginalized. It could well have led to ‘Assamese fanaticism’ and ‘anti-Indianism’.
Today, happily, things have changed for the better as far as my Assamese identity goes. The engagement of ourselves with the larger Indian populace and vice-versa have created this unthinkable bonhomie. But, most importantly, it has acquainted me with the darker side of reality. It made me feel the rage behind exclusion by others. It made me feel the deep self-rejection of marginalization. It has made clear, how easy it is to create a narrative against an entire community. It also showed me how political engagements and appreciation of one’s existence could create an atmosphere of peace and prosperity.
Today, I hate and refuse in blindly being a part of a narrative without analysing all sides of the story. I want to differentiate between the tribals and Naxalites, between Kashmiri people and separatists, between a practising Muslim and jihadists and between a devout Hindu and a chauvinist. I want the Indian state to be rational, or else the rage of exclusivism from the mainstream can create fissures which might evoke separatist sentiments.
For instance, Army Major Gogoi (coincidentally, an Assamese) tying up a Kashmiri citizen as a human shield is deplorable to the core and shall be condemned vigorously. But, we are fed up with a narrative that all Kashmiris are separatists and anti-Indian. To be clear, the man came to vote in an Indian election whose turnover was a mere 7%. He was doing a nationalistic duty, and that is how the ‘Indian State’ deals with him. Why will a Kashmiri youth trust the Indian administration?
Recently, the Vice Chancellor (VC) of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) made an atrocious statement of installing a tank to instil nationalism in the minds of the students. Being from an engineering background himself, the VC little realizes that a humanities student has to crack a very tough entrance exam to find admission in the research-based university. Unlike machines, we humans have the capacity to think and not perform on the basis of input-output algorithms. A tank cannot be a symbol of nationalism, but a construct of fear-psychosis. A tank is the symbol of war, not peace. A tank is the symbol of hatred, not love. A tank is an unfortunate symbol of the last resort at the backdrop of all failures of dialogue. Does the VC want to create an atmosphere in JNU of fear, hatred, no dialogue and suppression? Might as well be posted as the ‘Chancellor’ of “Kala Pani Prison”.
The governments of UP and MP have come out with administrative dictums of unfurling the tricolor and video-recording the event at all the madrasas. This cannot be more unfortunate. It is similar to the “bandh call” of the militants I mentioned in the beginning. Nobody has got the right to demand someone else’s nationalism, much less that of an entire community. Not that it is desirable, but why was a similar dictum not being issued to the RSS and its linked organizations?
We, the common citizens want to reject all forms of narratives fed upon us. We demand to listen to all sides of the story. We want to listen to all the ‘unheard’ voices and then decide for ourselves. We want to listen to the Kashmiri youth, the Dalit of the hinterland, the Adivasi of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, to Hardik, Kanhaiya, Umar and Shehla, to the women of the urban workplace and the rural hinterland, to a Sangh Pracharak in Kerela and Kashmir, to the Pandits of Kashmir and all other unheard of voices. They have an equal space in the idea of India. Why are the prime time news “war mongers” so scared of giving them space? If the latter has its conviction right, the former should be given equal say, and let the viewers decide for themselves. If they lie, they will be exposed, but at least we the people will not be kept in the dark.
Today, we live in times when Yoga gurus and sadhus sell all kinds of pharma and consumer products using the theme of nationalism. Those times aren’t far away when by using a foreign toothpaste, one will be deemed anti-national. This is where we have reached after 70 years of independence. Let’s not get fooled and drowned in this ocean of vested interests and manufactured nationalism. Let us reclaim what is rightfully ours, constitutional freedom and not the unfreedom of nationalism. We, the common people well understand post-truth and reject to be driven by it. We are all patriots who love their nations but do not hate other’s nations.