In school, as a 7-year-old, I was taught that the Indian flag represents different qualities of our country. Green was for growth and fertility of the land, white was for peace and truth, and saffron represented the strength and courage of the country. For a country as diverse in its past, present and hopeful future as India, this combination seemed more than appropriate. However, now at the age of 23, I just don’t see those colours in the same way I used to.
Now each colour stands in isolation, with green and saffron in their own ego battle, and white hoping to act as the middle ground for both to come together.
Decades ago, with certain Islamic extremist terror activities, we saw the rise of Islamophobia. Most things that related to or represented the idea of Islam were attacked or looked at with fear. One such thing was the colour green, used across various Islamic nations as a national colour and seen in mosques. I could never empathise with what it felt like to see something you hold so dear to you, something that forms a major part of your identity being demonised on a daily basis and becoming a colour that causes fear and distrust. How does it feel to associate with a colour as a symbol of something beautiful while others associate it with hatred? In 2018, I can finally say that I am able to fully empathise.
We now live in the saffron state of mind. The colour saffron, once associated with strength, is slowly becoming associated with fear, extremism and hatred. The recent cases of lynching, riots and inter-religion attacks have painted a new picture of extremism, with saffron all over it. Our national media is not missing the opportunity to create a sole identity for saffron. BJP and RSS are many times referred to as ‘saffron parties’ with ‘saffron politics’. Right-wing Hindu groups wage their own ‘saffron war’. Now, whenever I look at the colour, I feel distrust building inside me.
Recently, while passing through a flyover that I’ve travelled on multiple times for the past decade, I saw saffron flags hanging on both sides of the road – on trees, streetlights and some shops. My instant reaction was not to think of the Indian flag or the quality of strength I learnt to associate it with as a 7-year-old. My first reaction was to imagine a right-wing Hindu group putting up these flags as a way to spread their Hindvuta politics and to create fear and insecurity in other religious groups. Because that is all I see now, on news, on social media and it becomes difficult to escape this thinking.
Don’t we all now feel the same confusion and helplessness that many Muslims felt around the world? The religion we follow (if any), forms a major part of our ego and being. Imagine having to always be careful about how and where you display it, anticipating the next stare you will receive, the new comment you will see on social media denouncing your religion and existence, and people around the world hoping for you to suffer. Maybe saffron hasn’t reached that stage yet. However, it has started its journey.
Like all our fellow human beings who are Muslims, one day we will be yelling out to the world defending the colour we once were proud to be associated with. We will say things like “we’re not Hindus like them. They aren’t even real Hindus… Hinduism doesn’t teach us to kill..”
We will be looking at our news channels in fear, hoping that the new lynching or mob attack wasn’t done by some new Hindu group flaunting saffron bandanas on their foreheads. We will have to justify to many individuals that our saffron-clad gurus aren’t like the other saffron-clad beings we see on TV that give a bad name to humanity. And while we’re doing all this, we will be hit with deja-vu. For once upon a time, we were on the receiving end of those pleas and justifications. For once, we believed that our religion was immune to the influence of hatred and bigotry. For we assumed that people can’t be manipulated to the extent of misinterpreting and misrepresenting their religion and its true teachings.
Amidst all the chaos, I can hear our tricolour crying. Green and Saffron trying to escape the false identity forced upon them, both sick and tired of being used for propaganda everywhere. White sits in the middle in fear, holding on to its identity of peace, worried about a future where its given a new identity too by someone. And each of them wonders, every time the national anthem plays in the cinema and we all stand up, what do we see? Do we see our tricolour for what it truly stands – for unity, peace, strength and togetherness? Or do we see it with a saffron state of mind?