Back in school, every time the national anthem was sung or the Indian pledge was read out, all of us stood in rapt attention. There was a unison roar of patriotism invoked in a day of national importance and the associated festivities. The parade rehearsals, remembrance of the freedom fighters and history lessons played a tool to remind us that we get our identity from our nation. Those were the days, when we didn’t have to prove our alliance to the flag. Patriotism ran in everyone’s veins and could be called upon even by art and media.
Most importantly, there was no need for an exuberant display of patriotism.
Even in our previous generations, dissent wasn’t deemed anti-national. It was recognized that an individual could have an opinion different from the state yet the nation’s best interests rest with him. All of a sudden now, nationality encompasses our rich history and the boundaries of the whole country but doesn’t account for the people. It isn’t wrong that our young blood still yearns to return India to its former glory, but the direction of the patriotic fervour is directed at installing a fear of the saffron throughout the nation, instead of working on the welfare and upliftment of the citizens.
Our country is plagued by violence, poverty, malnutrition, stalled economy, communal disharmony, internal terrorism, slowly rising extremist forces, gender based violence and corruption. Yet, what matters to us is whether a person stands up during the national anthem or not.
We are required to follow the diktats of the government and the self-appointed preservers of the culture alike. We are required to adhere to it, even if our collective conscience doesn’t adhere to it.
And with a treacherous play of politics and vote bank popularity, religion has intermingled with patriotism. The country is now divided into two halves- bhakts and sickulars, the euphemism for leftist and rightist. The irony however is that our nationalistic interests are limited to the social media fights. People are hell bent on naming others anti-nationals if they don’t agree with government policies, speak against the crime committed by army under AFSPA, the problems of immigrants or speak for the minority. When we comment that Trump’s America is all about the white male population and is on borderline fascism, we forget that when our nationalistic interests aren’t inclusive of the entire population, we might be walking down the same road.
What is patriotism if it justifies bullying, trolling and violent outbursts? Maybe, it is time we realize, that whatever definition of nationalism is making us jump to extremism is flawed.
Because for most of the country, the forced patriotism is killing the patriotism that once came without being called for. A safer route might be to walk down to the time, when we stood for the national anthem because it was the right thing to do. Not because we fear for our safety if we fail to do so.