(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
If you’ve ever watched a movie in a theatre in Maharashtra – India’s premium supplier of sub-inspectors and autocratic assholes – then you would know that every theatre is required to play the national anthem before every show of every movie. Last week, at a nondescript theatre in a nondescript part of Mumbai, a brave patriot ladyee was busy standing in solemn attention, honouring Tagore’s most popular poem the way our forefathers intended when from the corner of her eye she saw that a young, fancy lookin’ fella hadn’t bothered to stand up for the anthem. Incensed at this unforgivable blasphemy, she naturally did what the constitution says is the duty of every citizen: she slapped him. Now, some people might react differently, like giving the young man disapproving looks, or by rolling their eyes whilst tut-tut-ing the state of the youth or maybe even ignoring him because as long as they’re not harming you then what other people do is none of your business. But those people are amateurs. Real patriots choose violence!
Turns out, the disrespectful young man wasn’t even an Indian citizen. He was an Australian citizen of Indian origin. And that is the excuse he gave our brave patriotic ladyee. Thankfully, she was having none of it. She was sure he was Indian! He looked vaguely brown, had a fake accent and after being physically assaulted by some weird woman for no logical reason whatsoever, did not take the next available flight to a saner country.
The incident came to light (and was front page news for a Mumbai tabloid) because the lady in question is married to a mildly famous actor who was in that thing that one time. On twitter, while there were a few people mocking her for her idiocy, there were also a lot of them defending her. We don’t condone her actions, but we agree with the sentiment.
Recently, a BJP MP demanded that the next NDA government take back Amartya Sen’s Bharat Ratna because while answering a question asked in an interview, Sen said in his opinion, you-know-who is not an appropriate candidate for Prime Minister. The BJP was shocked – shocked! – that someone didn’t think that their dear leader wasn’t the greatest thing since the knife that was used to invent sliced bread.
Meanwhile, a restaurant in Mumbai had to close down temporarily after “allegedly” being threatened by youth congress ‘workers.’ No, they weren't protesting the restaurant's pledge to serve only “pure-vegetarian” food (because the sad, lonely, and boring group of people called ‘vegetarians’ also have a right to gather with their own kind), rather they were protesting the restaurant's practice of serving a satirical dig at the UPA along with the bill and no mouth freshener. (Maybe this is how vegetarian restaurants work? I wouldn’t know! In fact, I am pretty sure asking someone to eat at a restaurant which only serves vegetarian fare is a violation of the Geneva Convention against torture.) The youth congress workers went back to bullying some other helpless law abiding citizen only after the owner of the restaurant “voluntarily” apologized. The Congress was shocked – shocked! – that a person badly affected by their idiotic policies would express dissatisfaction with how they were running the government.
Maybe it’s because I interrupted my busy schedule of learning how to sleep with my eyes open to pay attention in civics class, all this doesn’t seem right? Maybe forcing people to show superficial respect for things that you hold in high esteem for some reason is a little, I don’t know, twisted? Or physically harming someone for not paying obeisance to a man-made symbol of reverence appears to be a little umm, excessive?
Our collective compulsion to make everyone agree with us and see things our way all the time is an indication of a much deeper malaise. We’re never short of things to be chauvinistic about: patriotism, religion, sports teams, phone companies. Anything to prove that I’m better than you! Those who have the courage of their convictions don’t need random strangers to validate them. The point of living in a free country is that if you don’t want to stand up while they’re playing the national anthem, then you don’t have to. Other people don’t get to decide for you.
It boggles the mind that most of our debates come around to trying to make people understand that not everyone shares their worldview and that’s okay. We adopted a democratic system of governance so that random douchebags couldn’t impose their will on us. Leaving people alone to do their own thing is one of the major features of democracy.
Now please excuse me as I go back to writing a series of strongly worded letters to the government asking them to ban the evil practice of vegetarianism.