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A gentle Independence Day reminder

By Mitali Saran
August 15, 2015 15:25 IST
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This is just a brief reminder, dear fellow citizens, that none of us needs permission or sanction to be Indian, in whatever way we choose, as long as it doesn’t break the law

Dear fellow Indian citizens… okay first off, the definition of “Indian citizen” is taking a bit of a beating. Between the words and silences of the government, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the rest of the Sangh, you’ll discern the belief that this country belongs to specific kinds of Indian citizen - old, rich, Hindu patriarchs, and their spiritual guides and accountants. One of the great virtues of Hinduism, they will tell you, is its benign tolerance of other people. Don’t forget, these Indians will say, we allow the rest of you Indians to be here. How great are we?

So just a quick correction: The citizens of India include people who are female, male, third gender; old, young; disabled, able-bodied, healthy, sick; straight, LGBTQ, asexual; urban, rural, non-resident; tribal, caste, non-caste; believers in any religion, agnostic, atheist; educated, uneducated, self-educated; rich, poor; employed, self-employed, unemployed; paid and unpaid workers; any shade of the political spectrum; civilians, military, government, bureaucracy; married, divorced, in a relationship, dating, single; parent, single parent, childless, orphan, adopted; like-minded and not like-minded; progressive, status quo-ist, traditional.

If I’ve left anybody out, it’s an oversight. You’re in! Even if you don’t speak Hindi. Even if you cheer the Pakistani cricket team. Even if you have killed other Indians. Even if you don’t stand for the national anthem at movies. Even if you eat cows.

This is just a brief reminder, dear fellow citizens, that none of us needs permission or sanction to be Indian, in whatever way we choose, as long as it doesn’t break the law. None of us needs permission to avail of our constitutionally guaranteed rights. Some basics include the rights to life, to freedom of movement and expression, to food, to work, to vote, to education, to marry or not, to practice a religion or not, to protest, and the right to a fair trial.

We have all kinds of other rights too, however. We have the right to be treated with respect, to live with dignity, to question and criticise, to be disagreed with without physical violence, to live without fear of harassment or harm.

We have the right to the protection of the law against the lawless. We have the right to privacy. We have the right to think for ourselves, even when it offends, and live by our own lights. We have the right to expect these rights.

The storm of opinion generated by the May 2014 election has forked into two cacophonous swirls, amplified beyond reason by media and social media. Shades of opinion that do not belong to either camp are constantly under pressure to pick a side. We have not so much relinquished nuance, as beaten it to death and thrown it off a cliff. We’re glossing over our own diversity -- a diversity that our Constitution and penal codes seek to preserve and protect. We are forgetting to think for ourselves, and be secure in the knowledge that this does not impugn our citizenship, or our stake in the conversation. We are forgetting that we have nothing to prove.

You’ll have noticed that the Modi government has not really delivered much; that it is prone to dithering; that its fantasies about economic power and international prestige have turned out to be just that -- fantasies. You’ll have noticed that the leader who was all fiery roar in 2014, now only emits the odd mew on Twitter. But there is one thing that he and his government are working visibly hard at, and that is their creepy attempt upon our private moral and spiritual lives.

Independence Day is a good day to celebrate citizens’ independence in our country, as much as our country’s independence in the world. Every government can use a reminder, and so can citizens.

I do not accept to be illegally and unjustly chaperoned, supervised, or intimidated, like a child, into compliance with anyone else’s morality. I do not accept that religious or patriotic sentiment is an absolute good to which I must always defer. I do not accept conventional wisdom that goes against my ethical grain. I do not unquestioningly accept terms like “national interest” and “national security”.

I will say, eat, wear, read, watch, and think what I like, and banning it only makes you look autocratic and foolish. I do not accept any restriction of my personal liberties under the false pretext of “protection”. I do not accept shame for my way of life. I do not believe that national image, or pride, is more important than transparency and fact and history. I reject the notion that there is a more “authentic” way to be Indian, or that dissent is anti-national (which is anyway no worse than being patriarchal, casteist, or corrupt).

I subscribe to the belief that politics, morality and spirituality are all better guided by love and freedom, than by fear and control.

Happy 69th Independence Day.

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