Which India Are We Celebrating Anyway?
“Into this heaven of glory, let my country awake,” wrote Tagore, imagining a free, open and liberated land, which may perhaps be considered mythical in India today. India’s most famous poet and humanist, though he may in current times be branded , anti-national might have been writing a plea to future politicians.
The nation turns 70 and there is much to celebrate we are told. We have been an emerging superpower for some time now. We have leaders with 56-inch chests. There is little time to dwell on Tagore and his words in this new celebrating India. Or perhaps, there is no better time.
As India turns 70, we must reflect not just how far we have come but how easily we have lost our path. Post Partition, the seeds of communalism have borne fruit like never before. At the heart of this is not a superpower but an unquiet nation, deeply at odds with itself, often misguided, and unable to live up to the hopes and expectations of itself or its teeming millions.
As India turns 70, we must reflect not just how far we have come but how easily we have lost our path.
If we turn inwards, we will find a strange fractured state, divided now more than ever on the lines of religion, caste, class and gender. We find a country deeply at odds with its own Constitution, its institutions petty, corrupt and diminished. Human rights are regularly eroded in the name of progress, and of majoritarianism . We are furious and intolerant. We will silence anyone who will criticise us in the name of nationalism. The nation remains supreme and infallible; above criticism and question or rebuke.
But what is India, if we are unable to argue and ascertain those qualities that identify us? What is this virulent nationalism, or this ultraviolent love for this nation—one that does not allow for freedom of thought and discussion? What is being Indian if it’s not looking beyond as Tagore argued “being broken into narrow fragments” of caste class or religion?
If we are truly Indian’s first, we must ask and ascertain who we are becoming and if this is the nation we want to make? If we look closely, we will see that there are two Indias now. One that lives behind segregated walls and visits luxurious malls and another that dies cleaning its sewers. One that dines in luxury and another that waits to serve and be rebuked. One that works in international companies and is determined and conspiring to take away the right and land of those that live on it. One that buys expensive healthcare and another that waits in government hospitals watching their children choke without oxygen, carrying their dead mutely in their arms. These silent spectators, these waiting lives, these sewer cleaners are also India but with little cause to celebrate.
Most Indians in this glittering republic even today do not have access to enough food, basic healthcare or decent living environments. We could celebrate that perhaps?
Our freedom means nothing if there is no freedom from poverty, hatred or hunger. It is meaningless if we cannot criticise or argue without fear. It is fake if it does not allow us to love who we wish and how we wish. This India doesn’t allow for any of this.
Instead being Indian is now turning into a celebration of deep and palpable inequity, persecution and hatred. The famers’ deaths in Vidarbha don’t matter. Where is that anyway? The Gorakhpur tragedy doesn’t matter. Who knows where Gorakhpur is? The harassment of women and girls doesn’t usually matter. The persecution of Dalits, sexual minorities, adivasis, informal workers doesn’t matter that much. Nothing matters because we have Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors and Gucci. We are also more developed than Pakistan, a largely failed state— that’s our metric. And that’s the test of our patriotism—hate Pakistan blindly.
If India is a superpower it is so only in our imagination. We have the largest number of poor people in the world. Most Indians in this glittering republic even today do not have access to enough food, basic healthcare or decent living environments. We could celebrate that perhaps?
[India is a] country we seem ready to kill for but yet do little to save from destruction.
Yet the nationalist Indian will retort—why don’t we celebrate how much progress we have made? By all means do—just ask for who it is. We turn away in apathy easily but deep inside this nation is a growing revolt, a new culture of hate. We used to celebrate our differences with ease, but now we use them to incite hate.
Post this 70th Independence Day let’s try introspection. Let’s ask ourselves what we just celebrated and why? The dead children, the cow lynchings, the malnourished millions? Also, which Indian did we include and which one did we leave behind? Perhaps this introspection might reveal to us a great deal about what we have become and what has happened to Tagore’s land. A country we seem ready to kill for but yet do little to save from destruction.