“I am a proud Indian and that will never change." I was taken aback by the certainty underlined in Priyanka Chopra’s statement after she was attacked for offending the sentiments of India’s endangered majority in an episode of her low-rated television show Quantico earlier this month.
Amongst the film fraternity, it’s usually Akshay Kumar, producer and actor in his own brand of jingoistic cinema, who trends #ProudToBeIndian before a film release. In the post-truth world, it seems only fitting that Kumar, Bollywood’s most feted Proud Indian, is not actually an Indian citizen. He’s Canadian.
You see a lot of it in the world of sports. National pride is a strong motivator for athletes so it’s not surprising that Sachin Tendulkar, Manoj Tiwary, Sushil Kumar, Saina Nehwal, Mohammad Kaif, Manoj Kumar, Vinesh Phogat—and many more of our most famous athletes—use the Proud Indian tag in their Twitter bios.
Conversely, a national survey recently found that 53% of Brazilians are indifferent to the World Cup, the lowest level of interest since polling firm Datafolha began surveying citizens on the eve of the tournament in 1994. Analysts point out that Brazil is still clawing its way out of a recession that began in 2014. Add a rise in violence and ugly politics to the mix and it seems logical that if you’re feeling blue about your country, you’re unlikely to feel much excitement about your national football team, they say.
Maybe it was Chopra’s army background that prompted her to emphasize her Proud Indian status? Her parents Madhu and Ashok were physicians in the Indian Army and many military men use the phrase. If you are going to dedicate your life to defending your country, national pride is a prerequisite. Aside: Even Americans who say they feel zero national pride about their country going to war with Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, usually maintain that they support their troops.
Ambreen Zaidi is a Proud Indian Faujan according to her Twitter bio. A proud army wife, in other words. “Sadly at present, I really don’t know if I am a proud Indian...not in the current state for sure. The India we grew up in had so much love, now wherever you look you see plain and simple hatred for each other and that scares me, especially for my kids. For us with a Muslim tag, things are too crazy to even make sense," she tells me when I prod her about why she describes herself as a Proud Indian.
Zaidi sums up a worry of many citizens. What happens when the Proud Indian tag comes to stand for one, majority community? When you have to be Proud Hindu to be Proud Indian? “I do not celebrate Eid, I am a Hindu and I am proud of it (main Eid nahi manata hun, main Hindu hun...mujhe garva ki anubhuti hoti hai)," Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath said in the state assembly earlier this year, according to a report in The Indian Express. The list of elected representatives who have pitted the country’s two biggest communities against each other in their speeches and public statements this past year is too long to detail here.
What happens when bigotry is no longer our dirty little secret? A passport official reportedly thinks it’s okay to reject an application of a couple because they are from different faiths; an Airtel customer demands on social media that she will only communicate with a Hindu customer service representative; an Ola cab driver refuses to drop his customer to a Muslim locality; a killer allegedly confesses, chillingly, that he killed a journalist because he was told she was anti-Hindu; and Indians across the country watch quietly through their cellphone camera lens as a crowd kills a man for “kidnapping" a child or “smuggling" a cow.
In an age when there are attempts to redefine what it means to be Indian, it’s time to think twice before tagging yourself a Proud Indian. Do you really want to be a cheerleader in New India?
YouTube videos by assorted Proud Indians list why they associate this emotion with their country: ancient civilization, largest democracy, largest number of post offices and, err, largest number of biomass gasifier systems in the world, according to one video.
Another video quotes Mark Twain: “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grand mother of tradition."
All this is fine if you’re writing a Facebook post or a travelogue but not if you look within and try to answer what it really means to live in modern-day India.
I can think of half-a-dozen emotions that more accurately describe the experience of being Indian today. Guilt, for our privileges that most Indians don’t have access to; disgust that nearly 18 million of the world’s 45.8 million modern-day slaves live in our country; despair that three in four Indian women don’t work; anger that we can’t even guarantee an abuse-free childhood to one in every two little Indians; shame that we haven’t yet managed to do away with the practice of manual scavenging; disappointment with all the friends and family who have displayed their bigoted selves in these past few years; empathy for everyone who has faced hate; and admiration for those who have stood up to hate. Above all, in this arena of emotions, fear and hope wrestle to determine what comes next while pride watches silently.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable. She tweets at @priyaramani