We, the People of India

My dad’s dad was a patriot with the firm belief that each year the Republic Day Parade got bigger and better. Consequently, every grandchild of his had to watch every moment of the parade every year, from start to finish. We needed to be showered and seated in front of the telly long before even the in-person attendees would begin making their way to the venue. And when the national anthem would come on, he would glare at us so that each cell in our bodies would be standing to attention. This explains why I associate national pride with gigantic floats and school children engaging in synchronized P.E. drill.

As I grew older, and dutifully fell asleep during civics lessons, I came to appreciate the sterling job the country’s founders have done in drafting the constitution of the world’s largest democracy. It was only years later though, that I experienced the power of sovereignty in the hands of people. Our all women’s college hostel had a rather stern bunch of regulations, put in place to keep us safe from the clutches of Delhi Romeos and to ensure that we stuck to the straight and narrow. I watched, in fascinated horror, as our hostel board, that I had helped elect, inspired us to lobby for change. In my narrow world view, one did not challenge authority let alone the said powerful figures stooping to dialogue with the weak. I caught a glimmer of how it was fine to speak up, that good governance did not equal absolute tyranny, that one could effect change.

My country’s constitution promises me many rights – justice, equality, liberty. The right to equality automatically means that, as a woman, I enjoy the same privileges as my brother, my husband, as any other man.  It, by definition, guarantees against the following: the gut-wrenching fear of walking down a dimly lit street when a car with its headlights low draws up next to you, the challenges of dealing with a marriage registrar when you want to retain your maiden name, the embarrassment of buying contraception, the accusations of prioritizing a career over being a mother, the blessing that may you bear a hundred sons, the shame that comes with explaining how you were molested, being told yet another sexist joke about a wife and domestic chores, receiving death threats because you wrote against marital rape. We can wear black arm bands, and stage silent protests to change laws that are unfair. But how unfair it is that we need to do the same to enforce our rights? How unfair it is that we are labelled for trying? Called names, spat on, trolled? The enemies with faces our far easier to fight, than the nameless perpetrators, the makers of alternate constitutions.

As I write this, the country is witnessing violence over a release of a movie. Public property is being burnt and mass protests being held. A few days ago, little children cowered while the glass windows of their school bus shattered all around them.  Valentine’s day is approaching and people are already seeing red. In local elections, the fight now is between Gods of opposing faiths (who would rather, I am sure, snooze in peace on heavenly clouds). By the time I finish writing the piece – a dozen more incidents of rage and intolerance would have occurred, a few more people would have taken offense against other people taking offense, and our cows would have become even holier.

We wait, with bated breath, for a messiah to rescue us, for an enlightened powerful government to release us from our shackles, to protect our holy cows, to tell us which cows are holy. A friend pointed me, a few years ago, to another section of the constitution – one that is less spoken about. While we demand our fundamental rights, the poor duties are relegated to the fine print that we click ‘I accept’ on without reading. I would like to believe that days like today, are a chance to renew our vows to the country – to promote brotherhood that transcends boundaries, to abjure violence against all, to protect our natural environment, to educate our children, to strive towards excellence.

With my grandpa gone, while I seldom watch the entire Republic Day Parade, I do make it a point to catch the highlights. No amount of good governance can replace self-governance.


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