Google doodle featuring India's national animal, the Royal Bengal Tiger and national flower, the lotus; The Guardian speculating the split between ‘two Hinduisms’; Facebook with its tricolour of many faces – from symbols that mean to us our heritage, to symbols that mean to us our celebrities; blogs wondering what’s beyond the ritual of flag-hoisting at the Red Fort; memes on the special day; wondering what’s with the nation – this time around, India’s Republic Day celebrations were a tad different…it’s not been about flaunting glory of a nation born again and again over centuries but also about addressing the fault lines within that make it introspect, “What’s wrong?!”
Shreekant Sambrani writes in Rediff.com that this year’s January 26th sombre celebration is the reflection of the general disaffection of the masses over what happened in 2012. “Yet it would be incorrect to interpret the anguish of the last year merely as cries for greater economic probity or safety of women, or any other vulnerable group. It is also not merely about various degrees of insensitivity on display by numerous persons or groups. The collective angst would still remain even if some magic began to bring the perpetrators of economic and social wrongdoings to book and to make the environment safer for all women and minorities. Nor would our discomfort diminish significantly if we all learnt to think before we talk. For want of a better term, I call the malaise that pervades across India anti-politics. That might sound strange, because politics dominated the last year like it seldom has in the recent past.”
But then there’s more to it. Indeed. What’s wrong? Why do we still call ourselves a developing country even after 66 years of freedom? Why do we continue losing people who go abroad to excel their career and future? Why does inflation and economic hurdles put our growth in a stranglehold – and I am not just talking just economics here. Why development is not an idea much encouraged? Why does corruption run deepest in our nation’s veins? Who is our right leader?
Such questions have perhaps never stared in our face like they did since 2012.
Perhaps we should take heart in the fact that the Republic Day celebrations, by and large, passed off peacefully, even as separatists held a general strike in Jammu and Kashmir. What is of particularly significant is that even in the Valley the strike did not provoke any violence, considering that border clashes between Indian and Pakistani soldiers left five dead on both sides just a month earlier in Poonch sector.
But there’s more than just violence that we are enmeshed in – a reason good enough for appeals in the social media to boycott the celebrations. It was as if we were introspecting: What is there to celebrate? Such a blatant question, you might say. But consider the year gone by flowing into the New Year, and realise the gravity of the poser:
• Sixty-six years of being a republic and we have 80 per cent of our population unaware of their rights and laws of the land. This in itself is worrying, considering that India is a young nation and the Republic Day has to go beyond than just being a holiday for everyone.
• Scams continue in spite of one and all demanding, protesting against it, black money rests in foreign banks and corruption has become an intrinsic part of our lives.
• Lack of clear leadership and the democratic process of the country manipulated by the neta class – parties formed and leaders coming to the front continue to confuse people as to who is the right one for them and who is not.
• Two girls were arrested last year simply for airing their views on social media, and those who ordered their arrest were supposed to be educated people – government officials.
• A girl was gang-raped in a bus in Delhi; brutalised, bruised, battered and unclothed, she reached a hospital on her own as no passer-by was willing to help her. Later, the massed turn out in huge numbers, braving the capital cold, administration’s high-handedness and apathy till they relent. The rapes still continue but the mass protest against the gang rape has made the media reactive enough to ensure proper visibility of such shocking reports rather than pushing them to inside pages. As far as the solution is concerned, we are still far from one. Worse, the prime minister is literally ‘coerced’ – by a national debate – to issue a public statement against the social malaise.
• The country’s prime minister, who has once lauded for his pivotal role in liberalising the Indian economy, was dubbed as an “underachiever” by a top US magazine. Time said he appears “unwilling to stick his neck out” on reforms that will put the country back on growth path.
• On the other hand, soldiers of a neighbour that literally thrives in hate-mongering against India decapitate Indian soldiers and flee – all the Indian government does is mouth a lot of diplomacy and is largely inactive on the issue.
• Shame of all shames, the International Olympic Committee’s suspended the Indian Olympic Association for alleged breaches of the Olympic Code and corrupt election processes. This ban can have serious consequences for India’s already beleaguered international reputation for corruption and prevent athletes from competing for India in future games.
Oddly enough, Shreya Sen-Handley of ‘The Guardian’, attributes the nation’s restlessness to “a country driven down the middle, but the fault lines are not Hindu-Muslim, class or gender based; the breach is between two Hinduisms”.
She says that, “for the educated urban Indian, Hinduism is a cultural rather than religious identity… embracing “all that’s enjoyable about the Hindu way of life: the festivals, the food, the colourful mythology, sophisticated classical music and dance”, it is practised as “the most laidback and accommodating of religions”.
On the other hand, Sen-Handley says, there is the “other” Hinduism thriving in the small towns and villages of India, a harsh, religion that oppresses women and the “lower castes”. That the small towns and cities are on “on a collision course with the laissez-faire middle-class Hindus of the cities” and that the “resurgent Hindu fundamentalist parties and publicity-hungry self-styled holy men manipulate these zealots for their own ends”.
Why Hinduism only? Is this not a narrow outlook? The stark differences between ‘the urban’ and ‘the rural’ cut across the religions, regions and socio-economic structures in India.
Do we know a national leader we all believe and trust in after so many years? No. Do we have a common language? No. Have we given way to nationalism from parochialism in all these years? No. Is it not true that despite being called India or Hindustan, the nation continues to be fragmented and divided on language, caste and religion? Yes. Have we not collectively lost our sense of humour and take offence at anything and everything? Yes. Don't the ‘netas’ continue to divide in the name of secularism and abuse the word for votes? Yes. Have we achieved education for all? No.
We are a nation of fractured notions and sentiments. Perhaps, the most important thing that this Republic Day we realised was that we need to stand up and address the loopholes and the breaches in nation building. We, as the varied sentiments aired in the media tell us, we don’t want to be threatened anymore; we want to recognise the capable and the meritorious among us. We know we live in difficult times and as they say, “Atlas is shrugging. Something has got to give.”
Perhaps, what this Republic Day did was prime us to take on the bad and ugly in the nation for the good.