With the 69th Independence Day drawing near, I am all excited. This is the time to feel a sense of joy and pride about celebrating our hard-earned freedom. This is also a time for us to celebrate being an ‘Indian’.
But sadly, while the nation celebrates the concept of India, somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten the concept of being an ‘Indian’. There is a difference. While India is our geo-political identity, being ‘Indian’ is what defines us in thought, belief and action. So why is it that in our daily discourse, it is either about India or it is about us as Punjabis, Tamilians, Bengalis or Marathis? Where is the Indian in our thought and action and where is the pride in being an Indian? No, one is not referring to the pride we feel when the Indian flag is raised after winning a medal or a match – that is celebrating India and its glory. One is speaking about moments in our daily life when the concept of being an Indian is completely lost in the rut of trying to survive yet another day.
When I look around in search of the concept of being an Indian, I see a lot of pride and identity in being from one’s region. Everywhere I go, people always speak about how much Bihar is developing or which IT company has just opened an office in Bangalore or how much development Gujarat has witnessed in recent times. Somehow, I don’t hear anything about being an Indian or Indian pride when we speak of regional achievement. I was always told that being an Indian was above all but is that really true?
So I try another tack. I was always told that India is a deeply religious nation and that the practice of religion has been central to our lives since time immemorial. That gives me a lot of comfort for now I know that I will find my true Indian in the fold and warmth of religion. So I set off in search for the concept of ‘Indian’ in religion.
My first stop was a beautiful church tucked away in one part of India. I spoke to a lot of people there and all informed me with great pride and passion how wonderful it was being Christian and how much their community was contributing to the nation. Names of popular personalities were rattled with great pride. So I delved a little deeper hoping to hear about someone speaking about the pride in being an Indian. Soon I discovered that this was a Roman Catholic Church. And learnt that there were other followers of Christianity and all had their own churches, such as Protestants, Methodists, Lutheran, Baptists, Adventists, etc. As I began to try to know more, I discovered I was moving into sensitive territory as there was a bit of tension building. I was merely in search of an Indian, so I moved on.
This time I travelled to a popular destination where a lot of Muslims lived. On reaching there, I spoke to a wide cross section of people hoping to discover the concept of Indian, but there was no mention. On pushing further, I was reluctantly told about other sects within the followers of Islam. There were Sunnis, Shias, Dawoodi Muslims, Sufis, Ahmediyyas, and several others. I was informed that there was rivalry and tension amongst various groups of followers, but again, no mention of being an Indian.
Hinduism is India’s most widely followed religion. This time around, I went to one of the most famous cities located besides the holiest river – the Ganges. As I spoke to various followers of Hinduism, I learnt that there was a caste system amongst the followers and that there was rivalry and tension amongst various castes, sub castes and sub-sub castes. I was lost. Apparently, caste played an important part in one’s identity and caste kinship mattered more than anything else. No one ever spoke to me about being an Indian.
Disappointed in all my travels, I decided to go over to a local library in the capital and pour over all newspapers and journals that would reflect the past times and perhaps give me a sense of what it is being an Indian.
Unfortunately, when I went through most newspapers published over the years, all I could find were events and incidents at local, city, state and national level that only amplified how divided India was and how much hatred there existed with the ‘other’ community, be it based on caste, region or religion. Everyone seemed to speak only about themselves and their community as a separate identity, completely divorced from the concept of being an Indian.
The same is true for current times. The divisions seem to be even deeper and society even more polarized. So where has my ‘Indian’ gone? Where is the pride and joy in being an Indian, something that has been our identity through centuries under whatever name that one might prefer to call it, but the concept was to have remained ingrained in all of us. India won its independence in 1947, but that is too short a time for us to forget what made us Indian in the first place.
India’s strength has not been just its size or even its people; it’s the concept of being an Indian that gives us our identity, helps maintain our core philosophy, and yet allowed us to remain completely open to accepting and absorbing all new ideas and cultures that came along with time. But we still remained ‘Indians’ and that has been our strength, not our weakness.
And yet, in the last 69 years of our existence as an independent nation, we seem to have pushed into background the very core values that make us who we are. Caste, region and religion have become our defining parameters. Flying the flag on Independence Day does not make us Indian; it is imbibing our core values of openness, tolerance, acceptance, forgiveness, and the ability to co-exist with everyone else despite one’s caste, region or religion.
So this year, as we raise the Tri-colour, can we spare a thought to re-discover the Indian in us? It is there and has been so for centuries and merely needs to be brought out, and with pride.
You might want to ask, who am I? Well, like you, I too lost the Indian in me but now I want to reach out to the real Indian within myself. Would you like to do the same?