“Proud to be a Bengali”... This status message has been catching my eyes from a number of my friends here for some while now in our beloved social networking sites. Living in Calcutta and having many Bengali friends does add to that cause. However my point isn’t that. The messages of these kinds are quite varied in nature and cater to all kinds of religion and castes in our country as people nowadays from every part are quite proud to be a ‘Marathi Manoos’ or having ‘Punjabi Khoon in them’ or of being a ‘saccha Musalmaan’; and it continues. How very nice.. In a country as diverse as ours, with multiple religions et al it is but to be expected to have something on these lines. However, when I see how religion takes over one’s mind, dictates their identity , warps you of your normal senses, that is the time I start wondering .. Wondering whether we deserve to call ourselves Indians!! Or is it just a phrase we use when I-day comes up and India wins some matches in cricket?? We shout over the rooftops on these days on how ‘proud’ to be Indians we are and then go back to being a Marwari or a Bihari and Marathi for the rest of the time.
My point is quite simple. We should stop being hypocrites. Except the way it is and get on with it. I for my part, have never found religion to be of any fascination all my life. Never in my life has the thought seeped into my mind that ‘Am proud to be a Sindhi’. (People might say that there’s nothing too proud to be a Sindhi in anycase, but that’s a different matter altogether). My question is with identity. That I am an Indian first , then a Kolkatan , then my family’s son and then if you want to plaster some other tags you might; but the sequence should not be the other way round. My religion or my caste as I mentioned never really interested me, I am neither proud of it, nor am I ashamed of it., it’s just another label I have . But when I see people proudly parading about as their religious selves it bothers me.
Let me ask a few questions here. I was watching a TV debate show a few days back where a person from the audience addressed film-maker Prakash Jha and said that he is very proud of him and watches all his films as he too is from his homeland Bihar. So, if Prakash Jha was a Pradeep Chaterjee , he wouldn’t have been proud of him then? Would Bengalis have equal pride of our national anthem had it been written by a ‘Rahul Singh’? I know these questions would infuriate many but I ask these from what I observe, and implore you to try and search these questions from the deepest corners of your soul before going up in arms. Cricket they say unites the country, right? So when Sourav Ganguly was dropped from the national cricket team people here went completely berserk with protests. How nice. But why wasn’t the same amount of outcry visible when Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman were dropped from the side. They are legends in their own right aren’t they.. And people here are arguably the ‘sportiest’ of all in our country, so where did their sporty nature vanish when this happened??
The truth is, most of us today are obsessed with our religious selves and feel patriotic only in bits and patches and on certain occasions. It is nice to enjoy the flavour of your rich cultures and traditions. But why exactly proclaim that mine is better than yours?? Don’t we do that regularly and feel that inside us?? We even fight over which ‘God’ is the best don’t we?? What have you contributed towards your religion except being proud of it..?? Subash Chandra Bose fought as an Indian. People aren’t proud of Bhagat Singh because he was a Punjabi. We don’t adore Mahendra Singh Dhoni because he is from Jharkhand. They are all Indians first..Where is the ‘Indian’ in us?? Where?? Why does it choose to come out only on sporting achievements and national holidays? Why can’t it live in us as all the time..??
And talking about India… Independence day is here.. Rest assured our respective Inbox and Facebook walls would be flooded with ‘tags’ by friends depicting out Tricolored Flag and other quotations mainly centering around ‘proud to be Indian’ and the likes . How very touching.. I ask another question then?? What exactly are you proud of...?? Who exactly are you proud of?? There is difference between respect and pride. I respect my country because it is my motherland, it is my identity. But pride?? What for??
I will give you an example.. Suppose I find out that my father is a criminal and my brother is a terrorist. I know that they do unfair and unacceptable things, which embarrasses me and shames me to death. Would I still be proud of them that they are my family?? I would still love them yes, for they are after all my own blood, but I will not be proud of them... I most definitely will not be shouting across rooftops saying, “So what?? criminals are there in many families, I am proud of my family, I am proud of my family. Oh I love you all..”
I know the general argument we give on being asked this question is the same old stuff. “These things happen in all countries; look at this one, look at that one, we are such a diverse country, and we are this and we are that.” My only point is, even if all of that were true. Isn’t that a rather idiotic way of judging yourself. For instance, would you say that why should I improve myself in my profession, just because my colleagues aren’t good enough? Would it be acceptable if tomorrow Mahendra Singh Dhoni said look at Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, they are so poor in cricket, why should I improve myself?? Just because someone else is having problems similar to ours doesn’t make ours right or acceptable. Just accept the way things are rather than fooling yourself with forced emotions.
I don’t believe that my ‘Hindustaan’ is ‘Saare jahaan se Accha’ , but yes I do believe that we have immense potential. But, all of us are very well aware with this point and I don't need to give any additional sermons on that..The only thing is Bhagat Singh and his clan wont really be impressed by today’s state of affairs where the Klamadis, Kasavs and Rajas rule the roost. Where women get raped at the drop of the hat, where children go hungry for days at large, where people like the Thackerays will keep brandishing the 'dividing' sword , where we keep fighting amongst ourselves all the time and yet keep claiming that ‘We are proud to be Indians’.
Yes I do sound as a pessimist. But I would prefer to base my judgments on reason rather than on pure emotion. I will always love my country and will do my small bit in making it better. Like a very dear friend of mine says that all of us can’t fight on the border, but we can make small contributions to our country in our own ways. I too will try and do my bit, in the way I know best. That, I believe is the least we can offer.
Be an Indian first, enjoy your culture and tradition. But don’t forget it is ‘we’ the people who make this country. If we all keep thinking ‘ye sab kehne ki battein hain’ and that nothing will change , then yes, nothing will change. For change to come in, we don't need to do something special, just try and feel united. Like a Hindi proverb says , ‘Boond Boond se ghada bharta hai’..’We’ are the boond. We don’t need to be revolutionary fighters or army men, just normal and aware citizens, who know what is right for their country and just go about their jobs honestly. That makes a major difference in itself.
These do sound as lectures, I know. But I say what I feel is right. I don’t have any bias against any particular caste or religion as some lines might suggest. I will not apologize for it. You can disapprove of it and delete it from your memory. I write this as an Indian, and I hope you read it as my fellow Indians.