India at 70: A blot?

School children wearing caps with writings against a new citizenship law attend Republic Day celebrations in Ahmedabad

In the words of polymath and Nobel prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Patriotism cannot be our final shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live’. 

Dawning into the 70th Republic day of India, the loyal citizen I am awoke early to attend festivities being held here in Cape Town. Put on my ethnic garb, chanted my recitals and remembered how for years countless non-resident Indians such as myself wait to hoist a flag in honour of our heritage and nationality abroad. It is with collective pride we celebrate this occasion where the birth of our constitution is helmed- historically as a seminal standpoint to practice our independent and diverse rule. But far from what I see in my country today resembles the one our older generations had envisioned when the nation had attained autonomy from British occupation. Sadly entering into a new decade, this new assumed ray of hope or unity is falling apart before our eyes while we wail in exasperation to hold on to every little piece of freedom we can keep for our personal use.

Recently from the turmoil on Indian soil have catapulted numerous debates on whether the sovereignty of our nation rests on division rather than the vague curatives of secularism, diversity and freedom that have been the heartbeat of this constitution. From controversial citizenship bill altercations to attacks on young students, it is a standstill for young Indians who are suspended in a timeframe, unfamiliar of the consequences of violence and fascism. Although all these tenets are our constitutional pillars, can we ever live up to these aspirations in a time where breathing a different sect of air can get you jailed and your own opinion meant for you to be marginalized? No. This is not the India I know. Neither is this the India we feel safe in anymore.

In an increasingly fractionalized society where caste, gender, economic status and creed mobilizes agency and capital, the youth of India stand undivided to serve for a better future. And that is undoubtedly one of the biggest characteristics of our constitution, the spirit to soldier on in autonomy and legality. One that upholds the non-intrusive ethos of our 70 year old constitution. The world’s largest democracy should never have to face the difficult adversities brought upon by inevitable differences because that is what our nation is. 

We nurture diversity to celebrate our unity, not to homogenize religious extremism to overstate patriotism. And nationalism is more than physical brawn- it is sentimental attachment to this idea of embracing your nation with its flaws, hopes, strengths and the future. It is flaunting our similarities while caressing our dissimilarities to foster a culture of tolerance, the one attribute Indians have come far long to leave behind now. And now we foresee an unfortunate succumb to savage violence while safeguarding our own freedom. And needless to say, our nation is not hidden to the horrors of the past which have previously threatened our democrative standing.

If you’ve seen your neighbors forced to relocate, your school change its subject curriculums or even your family talk of how it is becoming fearful, then you are already part of the struggle. We cannot let supremacy be the currency of contemporary India. Neither can we afford extremism to be the language in which we communicate to understand our social positions.

So if you are celebrating Republic Day or have a faint incitement to join in with the parades, speeches or national flag sharing across social media, speak up. If you are keen on promoting democracy on an occasion where the national constitution is the central force of our spirited motherland, then light a candle. Or wave a signal, write a poem or march with others who share your feeling of being angry and disappointed at how your country is facing a disturbing demise. We are witnessing a death of arguably the world’s most iconic democracy and I urge more and more young Indians to raise up to the conscience you know you harbor. This Republic Day I was reminded that no matter how far I am from my country, I am so much of part of the struggles of those who want to be in the shining India, one that resides in every Indian who strive to make a nation based on diversity, unity and prosperity.

This is your India and you have a right in it, wherever you are in the world right now. Dear fellow Indians, this should not be the end but a roaring beginning to the decade of change, the true need for our India. Because one of the most important ‘Make in India’ products right now should be peace. Happy Republic Day! Jai Hind!

Sumona Bose is a MPhil candidate in Justice and Transformation at the University of Cape Town. She has an undergraduate studies in Political Studies.