Shops across the country are laden with flags and other festive paraphernalia as India prepares to celebrate its Independence Day on August 15. Image: AP
15th August 2017: India’s 70th Independence Day. A day for remembering the freedom fighters and the martyrs. A day when patriotism runs high and promises are made to die for the country.
Yet, as cynics would say, Independence Day is now just one more day of celebration instead of being a day of reflection. People wear clothes in the colours of the flag, retail stores announce sales, restaurants have special menus and most of us enjoy a mid-week holiday. Entertainment channels run programs about India’s freedom struggle. Radio channels air patriotic songs and schools and colleges organize functions. But beyond the superficial expression of patriotism, are we really as patriotic as we profess to be? Do we really care for our nation?
I was forced to address this question when I heard my child prepare for his school’s Independence Day celebrations. He was rehearsing a song - a popular ‘desh bhakti’ song with the lyrics - ”Chodo kal ki batein, kal ki baat purani, naye dor mein likhenge, mil kar nayi kahani…hum Hindustani…hum Hindustani”. A few lines later is the couplet “Ram ki is dharti ko, Gautam ki bhoomi ko, sapno se bhi pyaara Hindustan banaye…”
These are lyrics of the song from the 1960 Hindi movie 'Hum Hindustani' – a movie about the clash of Indian feudalism and modern youth. This movie was well received by the cinema going audience and was appreciated for its focus on topical issues. I am sure that this song also was accepted in the same manner in which it was written by Prem Dhawan and sung by Mukesh – a song that urged the people of a new born country to break away from the shackles of the past, grab the present and create a vibrant nation.
Contrast that to today – if such a song were to be released, it would come with a disclaimer, ‘the makers of this song do not intend to hurt any community’s sentiments. The makers stand committed to the secular nature of this country et al”. Media activists would denounce the lyricist and spend realms of newsprint explaining why using a word like “Hindustan/ Hindustani” is wrong. Prime time discussions would be held on whether the name of our country is India or Bharat or Hindustan. Self-appointed experts would quote the fact that the Constitution does not refer to the country as Hindustan. Hence the term Hindustan is a misnomer and reflective only of the majority religion, not of the pluralistic nature of the country.
In all probability, the movie would be banned from screening. Threats to life would be made and a few theatres would be burnt down. Fringe political groups would gain easy visibility by opposing the movie, public sentiment would be whipped up and the law and order machinery would collapse. The makers would apologise to the nation for ‘unknowingly hurting sentiments’, a few politicians would broker peace and finally the movie would be released with the song deleted or the ‘offending words – Hindustan/ Hindustani’ – beeped out.
In such a scenario, one could be excused for thinking that India is a highly developed country with a high quality of life, a good life expectancy and peace within and outside its borders and so, there is no other topic of relevance for the people to discuss.
But the reality is unfortunately different. India has high rate of maternal and infant mortality, a long continuing insurgency, illegal immigration, unemployment….there are multiple, serious issues that our nation faces. It is absurd that the politicians, media and public gets into a frenzy over something that is a ‘non-issue’. By distracting attention away from tangible problems, we are doing our country a dis-service and hence my worry on whether we really are patriotic today?
The names- India, Bharat and Hindustan have been used inter-changeably for many decades. India is derived from Indus, which originated from the word ‘Hindu’. ‘Hindu’ itself is a derivative of the word ‘Sindhu’ meaning a stream. The name Bharat is derived from the ancient Puranas, which refer to the area as Bharatvarsa – the country of Bharat, one of the most powerful and intelligent kings to rule over the land. Hindustan is derived from the Iranian language equivalent of ‘Sindh’ and the Persian ‘stan” (meaning land). The land which was originally called Hindustan lay east of the river Indus – comprising modern day Pakistan and northwest India. In fact, even the Mughal rulers called their Indian dominion ‘Hindustan’. Hindustan was in use synonymously with India during the British Raj and the dialect spoken in the northern parts of the country (a mix of Hindi and Urdu) was called Hindustani.
Thus, there was no disconnect between India, Bharat or Hindustan. The people who belonged to this country were called Indians, Bharatiya, Hindustani – it was just a matter of nomenclature and ease of usage.
However decades of pseudo-secularism and a dedicated effort to run down our own past has led to distortion of the name “Hindustan”. Attempts have been made with regular frequency to project India – a country with one of the best track records of acceptance - as a religious bigoted nation. There is national outrage – not over the rape of a 5 year old child or the death of soldiers fighting a proxy war or the all pervasive corruption – but there is outrage over ‘perceived intolerance’ when the country is referred to as Hindustan. Being called a Hindustani is seen as an affront to the personal freedom, a threat to the secular fabric of the country and a cry for denouncing all other religions.
So, isn’t it ironic– when my child will be proudly singing ‘Hum Hindustani’ on stage, I, a mature citizen of the country, will be wondering whether my son’s school is encouraging him to be a fanatic (as per the intelligentsia, only fanatics use the word Hindustani)? Or have I been misled into feeling apologetic that I am a Hindu and must atone for the fact by focusing on trivial matters instead of larger issues?
Like other years, this Independence Day and its associated celebrations will end. But will we use this opportunity to finally grow up, become mature citizens who worry about larger issues facing our country? Or will we continue to squabble over non-issues thus wasting precious collective time, resources and energies for pseudo-intellectual debates over semantics? If we chose the latter, then I am afraid, we have regressed from where we were in the 1960s. In such a case, celebrating Independence Day has no meaning as we haven’t even understood what patriotism is all about.
Aditi Kumaria Hingu is a marketing graduate from IIM Calcutta, currently she works in the corporate sector. She comes from an army background.
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What is poisonous about Hindutva, Aakar Patel?
From cash lovers to Modi-baiters: Reactions to demonetisation
Is India doomed? Actors, failed politicians let down our soldiers
The Table for One: Eternal wait for soldiers who never returned
Let's blame Narendra Modi for all of India's ills!