What do we mean when we say we love India? For many of us, it doesn’t mean loving Indians. What we love is the country of our imagination. Its actual contents we often despise.
When we love India, what we love is its anthropomorphic idea: the lines on that illusory map, which no other country recognizes.
The other way we love India is as inheritors of its historical greatness, real and fictitious. The idea, I should say the myth, of being a magnificent civilization that is superior. The achievement, above all, of having survived for thousands of years. We Indians of today, of course, have not contributed to this at all, so our pride is misplaced—but it exists in sufficient strength in most of us to qualify as love. So we love all these ideas of India. But do we love Indians? I say no and this is not difficult to demonstrate.
Observe the pure nastiness towards Kashmiris as they display their trauma and their anguish. Why have they made an idol of a youth of 22 who chose violence? Could it be that they have long thought of their lot as an existence under military occupation? In this atmosphere when uniformity under Hindutva is being forced down all our throats, can we consider their position with empathy? Not a chance.
What we want is Kashmir. The Kashmiris we do not need. That is what I mean when I say that our attachment is to the idea of the land and not its occupants. And this is especially true when it comes to those of different faith and different culture. The variance that is natural in a place the size of the subcontinent makes us anxious and uneasy. Our instinct is to pacify the differences this variance produces. And we don’t have a problem if this pacification is continually done through force.
Most of us sleep easily with the knowledge that millions of Indians are legally discriminated against in Kashmir and the North-East. These places are ruled under an absurd mix of democratic and martial law. We are satisfied that the stern laws we have imposed on them are necessary because the condition in those parts is emergent. No matter that this emergency has been inflicted on them for decades.
Contrast that with the breast-beating from so many of us—above all the Prime Minister—over the Emergency (the violation of our rights necessitating a capital letter) of 1975-77. That was a little tap on the wrist compared to the wringer we are putting the Kashmiris through.
But should they express their impotence through violence, like the Arabs of Gaza and the West Bank, our instinct is not sympathy but anger. It is no longer possible to glance at the reader comments below such reports because they are tinged with pure nastiness. And of course the illiteracy of what seems to me to be 99% of Indians writing in English (why cannot Indians who express themselves strongly do so with elegance? It is an abiding mystery).
A real patriot would have been anguished by the gunfire against his fellow citizens. By the cries of their complaints. Instead, our response is to demand of them a perfection—“what about the Pandits you chased away?”—that we never hold ourselves to.
What I am saying is that this dislike of Indians is not limited to Kashmiris or Muslims generally or those of other minority faiths. The Hindu nationalist’s love for Hindus also comes in highly qualified fashion. Will he love a musahar’s culture? Will he share her meal of rat? No. Will we accept tribal gods as equal to our own? No. Their ways are wrong and must be corrected. That is the attitude taken by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as it imposes a Puranic sameness through its focus on cow and temple.
A strong champion of her people is not admired for her achievements—I am referring to Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati—but sniggered at for her appearance. This is a continuation of the same sentiment of disliking Indians. We need not go into the treatment of those from the North-East because the same condition obtains. We love India, not Indians.
No minority is really accepted as being Indian because it isn’t properly Hindu. Christian institutions are more often in the news for either being attacked or accused of perfidy. Their centuries of service to this den of ignorance is elided over, if referred to at all.
On the question of the Adivasi’s survival on his terms, the reality has long shown what a truly awful people Indians are. The total callousness of the urban individual and his approval of the land grab there in the name of development is unsurprising to those who can observe the events without emotion. Those who have exorcised themselves of the crude and primitive Indian love for India but not Indians.
Aakar Patel is the executive director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are personal. He tweets at aakar_amnesty.
Also Read: Aakar’s previous Lounge columns