I was proud to be an Indian. Yes, the past tense is on purpose. I was proud to be an Indian until curiosity got the better of me and urged me to find out what I was truly proud of. Being proud of something without knowing the reason is sheer arrogance. No? Apply the same to pride associated with anything other than patriotism, you’ll understand what I mean. Of my many misgivings, arrogance is not one and I wanted to know what happened outside the covers of the text book history prescribed to us. Especially in the light of the still existing hierarchical caste system, chauvinistic culture, ever prevailing corruption and recent crimes, my urge almost became a nagging. History wasn’t my favorite subject during my schooldays. Ironically, today, it has become my favorite read.
India was ruled by Mughals, long before the East India Company came in 1577. After hundreds of years of dominance from others, it’s great to know that we rebelled for the first time. But the immediate motivation for the revolution is what appalls me. Was the Company’s adoption of Enfield rifle on behalf of the Indian sepoys, which was rumored to have been greased with cow or pig fat a good enough reason to hack the British with swords or burn them alive? Was outlawing suttee an intrusion to Indian tradition so much to murder a seven year old English girl, her skull sliced in two by a single stroke of blade and a pregnant twenty three year old Charlotte Chambers, the fetus ripped out of her womb and umped contemptuously on her breast? We have been told stories of British atrocities to the natives before independence. Was that atrocity an action or reaction? Fight people, fight for the right cause and fight fair. Our ancestors’ had fought crude and cruel. Is that why our first “struggle for Independence” failed?
Then came the heroic non-violent fights led by our freedom fighters. How valiant is it if the motive has sprung from the personal egos and fanatics of London educated Indian barristers than for the cause of the mass? How heroic is it if the political whims of a few has led to the partition of our country into two eternally enemy nations? Did the British leave India because they were chased away or because they didn’t want to deal with a civil war between the Hindus and Muslims when they were crippled themselves with economic depression after the Second World War? The happy handover of power from the British Raj to the Indian prime minister and the emotionally overwhelming farewell that our Indians bid to the Lord and Lady Mountbatten seemed more like a father handing over responsibility to his son with a pat on the back and certainly not a chase that we were taught about.
Alright, let’s forget the British imperialism. They were officially out after Aug 15, 1947. Did we celebrate after that? Yeah, right, we celebrated with bloodshed in millions. No, not the British! We celebrated killing our very own Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs through religious riots. Indian National Congress which was formed with the then educated leaders to upraise the rights of the Indians during the British rule became the first Indian political party. Who brought religion into it which led to Jinnah moving out, forming his Muslim league and eventually claim for Pakistan? People who were living in peace and harmony with each other were suddenly agitated by the political ambition of smart leaders. Hard to imagine? Rollback a little to the Mumbai riots in December 1992 to get a feel. What happened in 1947, soon after Independence was only hundred times worse! No fanfare or frolic, just bloody fight. Reason? Partition of Punjab and Bengal between India and Pakistan and possession of princely states of which Kashmir is still in dispute. Why did non-violence and ahimsa become a foreign policy after Independence?
I was much more shocked reading ‘Indian Summer’ by Alex Von Tunzelmann than you are reading this post. The horrendous details makes our history not fascinating but nauseating. I don’t know how much of this is true and how much fabricated. If portions of our history weren’t hidden or masked in the early years following Independence, if facts were laid out boldly in the open, if the book ‘Why I assassinated Mahatma Gandhi’ by Nathuram Vinayak Godse wasn’t banned in India but available outside for 28,000 pounds, maybe I would be less inclined to believe Tunzelmann entirely. But then, how open-minded are we today, in the present to critic the past?
I watched the movie ‘Hey Ram’ for the first time as a 14 year old teenager in 1999 and I hardly understood it. When watched it again last weekend, 15 years later, I was amazed at the genius of Kamal Hassan for trying to expose the horrors ever so subtly. Trust me, I am calling it subtle because the reality was so much worse. Knowing things the way they happened has erased all the pride and makes me feel ashamed for having been proud all along. On the other hand, with all our failings, we have embraced education, fighting superstitions and hurtful traditions, questioning culture and progressing economically. Fighting at snail-pace but progressing stead-fast. Maybe, I am happy for India for its progress today than for the past but to really make-up for the past and raise our collars in triumph, we have a long way to go. With a little more self-discipline and little less prejudice, you and I together can someday restore our pride again.