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Why am I an Indian?

I did not have any choice: I was born one. If the good Lord had consulted me on the subject I might have chosen a country more affluent, less crowded, less censorious in matters of food and drink, unconcerned with personal equations and free of religious bigotry.

Am I proud of being an Indian?

I can’t really answer this one. I can scarcely take credit for the achievements of my forefathers. And I have little to be proud of what we are doing today. On balance, I would say, ‘No, I am not proud of being an Indian.’

‘Why don’t you get out and settle in some other country?’

Once again, I have very little choice. All the countries I might like to live in have restricted quotas for emigrants. Most of them are white and have a prejudice against coloured people. In any case I feel more relaxed and at home in India.

I dislike many things in my country, mostly the government. I know the government is not the same things as the country, but it never stops trying to appear in that garb. This is where I belong and this is where I intend to live and die. Of course I like going abroad. Living is easier, the wine and food are better, the women more forthcoming – it’s more fun. However, I soon get tired of all those things and want to get back to my dung-heap and be among my loud-mouthed, sweaty, smelly countrymen.

I am like my kinsmen in Africa and England and elsewhere. My head tells me it’s better to live abroad, my belly tells me it is more fulfilling to be in ‘phoren’, but my heart tells me ‘get back to India’.

Each time I return home, and drive through the stench of bare-bottomed defecators that line the road from Santa Cruz airport to the city, I ask myself:

‘Breathes there the man with soul so dead

Who never to himself hath said

This is my own, my native land?

I can scarcely breathe, but I yell, ‘Yeah, this is my native land. I don’t like it, but I love it.’

‘Are you an Indian first and a Punjabi or Sikh second? Or is it the other way around?’

I don’t like the way these questions are framed and if I am denied my Punjabiness or my community tradition, I would refuse to call myself Indian. I am Indian, Punjabi and Sikh. And even so I have a patriotic kinship with one who says ‘I am Indian, Hindu and Haryanvi’or ‘I am Indian, Moplah Muslim and Malayali’. I want to retain my religious and linguistic identity without making them exclusive in any way.

I am unconvinced that our guaranteed diversity is our strength as a nation. As soon as you try to obliterate regional language in favour of one ‘national’ language or religion, in the name of one Indian credo, you will destroy the unity of the country. Twice was our Indianness challenged — in 1962 by the Chinese; in 1965 by the Pakistanis. Then, despite our many differences of language, religion and faith, we rose as one to defend our country. In the ultimate analysis, it is the consciousness of frontiers that makes a nation. We have proved that we are one nation.

What then is this talk about Indianising people who are already Indian? And has anyone any right to arrogate to himself the right to decide who is and who is not a good Indian?’

They are both from same village, aged about 50. They are both poor. They supported each other through thick and thin. They celebrate each other’s festivals together too.

They have been voting in the elections as Indians since time immemorial for various governments and have seen various ups and downs.

One fine day, the government they voted for says the country is not performing well on unemployment, protection against women, the economy, etc, and says it is all due to foreigners coming from abroad and depleting our resources.

The government identifies 1.9 million people who don’t have proper documents. They start putting them, a mixture of both Hindus (0.7 million) and Muslims (1.2 million) in detention centres. Both Ashok and Akbar agree that it’s weird but okay. It doesn’t affect them as they don’t live in a border state.

The government then says actually now we will extend this to the entire country, and there is no need to worry as long as you are a Hindu. They then pass a legislation for this.

Both Ashok and Akbar think about their future and have this conversation.

Akbar – ‘We both don’t have birth certificates and have forgotten about the records of our parents. PAN and Aadhar card won’t work according to the home minister as proof.
I am afraid that as we both don’t have documents we will be put in detention centres.’

Ashok – ‘Yeah that’s true but I will come out as I am a Hindu and can claim refugee status due to this new legislation.’

Akbar – ‘ I will be locked up in a detention centre because I cannot prove my citizenship.’

Ashok – ‘Surely you can go to the High Court and the Supreme Court though?’

Akbar – ‘You think I will have the money or resources to do that from the comforts of a detention centre?’

Ashok – ‘ Yeah that’s messy, we know how well detention centres have worked in the past in some other developed countries like Germany, USA and Australia for human rights. This in a country like India with our infamous legal system, I cannot imagine what you will have to go through.’

Akbar – ‘What do you think we should do?’

Akhok – ‘We cannot let this happen. Let’s go and protest!’

Akbar – ‘I am not sure if it’s a good idea, particularly under this government?’

Ashok – ‘Don’t worry, the right to protest is a legal right and we are still a democracy.’

Akbar – ‘Sure, if you say so.’

Ashok and Akbar with his grandson aged 8 who he was babysitting for the day then joined the peaceful protests against the government.

Both Akbar and his grandson are shot dead in the protests because they could be identified by ‘their clothes’

Ashok is heart-broken and kills himself as he persuaded his friend to protest.

Sorry, there are no happy endings to stories set in a fascist state.

क्या करें कि ये नफरत ख़तम हो जाए

क्या करें कि ये दर्द कम हो जाए

इंसान को इंसान के खून का प्यासा होने से बेहतर हैं की इंसान ही तमाम हो जाए

वो मसूमो पर ज़ुल्म करते हैं

घरों को तबाह करते है

माओं को बेऔलाद करते हैं

बचपन को अनाथ करते हैं

कैसे वोह ये कर पाते हैं?

इतना जहर कहां से लाते हैं?

वोह शिव कहां हैं, आज जब ज़हर पीना हैं

वोह राम कहां हैं, जब रावण का वध करना हैं

तुम मुझे शिव बना दो, सिर्फ एक दिन के लिए

या फिर एक विशाल गोद ही दे दो

या मैं जहर पी जाऊं

या मासूमों को अपने गोद में छुपा लूं

क्या करें कि ये नफरत खतम हो जाए?

क्या करे कि ये दर्द कम हो जाए?

English Translation

What can we do to end this hatred?

What can we do to lessen this pain?

When humans thirst for another human’s blood,

Ending humanity seems like a better option

They commit injustices on the innocent

And destroy homes

Mothers are made childless

Childhoods are orphaned

How do they do this?

Where do they get so much poison from?

Where is that Lord Shiva now, when this poison needs to be swallowed?

Where is that Lord Ram now, when Raavan needs to be killed?*

Make me Lord Shiva, just for one day

Or just give me a big embrace.

So I can drink up all this poison

Or protect all the innocent

What can we do to end to this hatred?

 What can we do to lessen this pain?

*The juxtapositioning of Lord Ram and Ravana here conveys the author’s pain at the way the simple utterance of “Ram, Ram” to greet another or convey thanks and count one’s blessings has morphed into the Hindutva’s war-cry – “Jai Sri Ram” – in which Raavan then becomes the enemy to be vanquished by life-long oppression.

Congratulations, the UK! I am proud of you. Here is the difference between how the ISKON Hindu temple gathering is reported in the UK versus how the Tablighi shrine gathering is being reported in India.

So here is the first story: The ISKON UK Hindu temple organises a religious gathering on 12th March, with over a thousand worshippers, in Central London, several die due to COVID and several are infected.

How does the UK media treat UK’s minority?:

It does not scapegoat its minority. It does not claim that the Hindus are conspiring against the UK; it does not call it CoronaTerrorism; it does not arrest thousands; it does not run the story continuously for weeks distracting attention away from any proper policy analysis or information in the UK; it does not spread fake news and doctored videos of Hindus spitting on doctors or harassing the nurses; it does not call people gathered as ‘hiding’ in the temple. The news stories are not dedicated to generating mass hysteria against its minority. You can’t even find the story on Google anymore.

I am really proud of it, and that’s how it should be. However, the irony should not be lost. Otherwise, we wilfully ignore racism. Some do because they benefit from it. I won’t because I am at risk everywhere for being a minority.

So, the same, small and very wealthy lobby of the Hindu donors, who are invested in image laundering in the UK and the USA, to protect the community from xenophobia, do the exact opposite in India.

So, here is story number two: In India, the Tablighi shrine organises a religious gathering on 13-15 March, a full week before the lockdown. They made a huge mistake, just as ISKON did at the same time in the UK. The BJP-Sanghi supremacist media has gone on an overdrive to scapegoat Muslims, calling it CoronaJihad, arresting thousands and producing thousands of fake videos to demonise its socio-economically largely marginalised and lower caste minority. Suddenly the news of the 3,000 Tablighi Muslims hindering the COVID war in India is global. It is in newsfeeds everywhere.

It also diverts attention away from the fact that 40,000 Hindu worshippers were gathered in Tirupati temple even on 19 March; over 100,000 labourers have been stranded in many metropolitan cities in an overcrowded situation, and millions of people live in dense slums. Since the lockdown, several prominent leaders, belonging to the powerful party have organised weddings, and political ceremonies, inviting thousands.

The first case in India was reported in January. Still, we had hundreds of thousands gathered in the huge stadium to celebrate Trump (luckily, he did not get lynched for eating cows all his life) in India, where hundreds of foreigners were present. This was just over two weeks before the Tablighi shrine event. We signed a three-billion dollar arms deal just as the COVID pandemic was unfolding globally, rather invest in the life-saving health services, PPE or economic packages for the labourers who lost their daily wages. We also did nothing for three days as over 2,000 goons ran amock in Delhi destroying the lives, homes, and livelihoods of socio-economically deprived Muslims at the end of February. This is all in the midst of COVID, at the end of February.

However, none of these is reported as “superspreader”, that tag is dedicated to just that one shrine where 3,000 people were gathered. Selective testing, ideological coverage, and foreign-funded hateful reporting, even at this time, when we should be seeing each other as human beings and working together to protect each other, as the guests of this planet. So, sorry if I am not the one buying into the theatrics. My real respect for our health and public services lies here: against the politics of hatred, exclusion and violence promoted by the 1%  who are funding pain and suffering to the whole of humanity and Mother Earth, and scapegoating ordinary people.

We ran a campaign to build pressure on the Indian and Delhi government to control the law and order situation, and encouraged our members to write letters to their MPs and other politicians. As a part of the campaign we also made representations in the UK Parliament and to the Indian High Commission in London expressing our concerns and requesting action. Members in their private capacity also raised funds to contribute to the victims of the Delhi Pogrom around Covid-19.