Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Why do we criticize our nations?

Most people in the world grow up with prejudices and preset notions ingrained into them by the schools, parents and the media. This is no different for people of India. For example, an Indian talking to Pakistani is confronted with ‘gross distortion’ of history- it baffles him that what they learn is completely ‘untrue’. That’s because we are taught history in different ways.

Most Indians grow up knowing the map of India to be such (which includes the beautiful head shape of Jammu and Kashmir). We do not question its authenticity. Therefore, when someone depicts the reality (which shows PoK, Northern regions and Aksai Chin outside India), we become very angry and resort to protest.

Most Indians do not know their constitution either- hence an unnecessary debate arises when some groups resist mandatory singing of a ‘patriotic’ song. The state, the media and the system participate in irresponsible mass education and after awhile it becomes unchallenged – even blatant lies pass on as absolute truths.

In countries like India where people lean more towards authoritarian setup compared to libertarian, questioning authority is tantamount to being traitorous or unpatriotic, and therefore all kinds of critical introspection is condemned as sacrilegious. This unquestioning faith and loyalty in the system is extreme in matters of nation (all army actions are absolved) and its enemies (targeting certain alien religions within), but is completely renounced when it comes to matter of adhering to law and order (here it becomes very subjective).

For example, the incidents and events of Kashmir, a matter of patriotic importance, are portrayed to Indian masses in a deliberate and intended light. Most Indians grow up knowing 'Indianized' history; they know only the atrocities committed by Muslims against Hindu Pandits; they are aware of mass killings carried out by terrorists, who happen to be ‘foreign mercenaries enjoying Pakistan support’, but are unaware of all other popular movements in that region. Most Indians do not get the same exposure to the role of Indian politics in Kashmir, role of Indian Army, and the nature of local and indigenous freedom movements. Even if they hear it, they dismiss it as mass propaganda of Pakistan, Islamists, or of vested interests that want to see India fail.

Such continued prejudices, misinformation campaigns and selected hearing result in a mass hypnosis and soon the actual facts and data are out of the door to be replaced with ideology. We soon have a breed of young fanatic Indians who believe they can lay down their life to defend Kashmir. Against whom?

Every nation that has to hide its mistakes has to create a bogeyman, someone who can take blame for all the incidents and events that seem to question the legitimacy of the nation’s mistakes and misadventures. Pakistan has always been our bogeyman and now the new entrant is Islamic fundamentalism.

You can explain away almost every incident and event that takes place in Kashmir by blaming these two culprits. A terrorist action against Army barracks: it was done by Pakistani infiltrators. A mass protest against Indian rule: it was instigated and funded by Pakistan. A suicide killer blew up a bridge: the innocent Kashmiri youth are brainwashed by Islamic groups in Pakistan. Kashmiris do not turn up to vote for local elections: they were threatened by Pakistani and Islamic terrorists. So on so forth. This argument is used again and again, so much so that nobody questions it anymore, because the lie has been repeated so many times it has now become truth.

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it”- Adolf Hitler

Questioning our government’s stance and oneself is only the first step towards rational thought. Most of us, the critics, want you to ask questions. You don’t have to believe what we say. But you may want to listen to what we say because it presents the other side of the story. You may already know THE truth but what we present is the OTHER truth. In our attempt to present the other side of the story, we may not repeat certain true stories that you have already heard.

Most of us who criticize Indian rule in Kashmir, American aggression, Israel occupation, are not Islamists nor do we believe in radical Islam as practiced in certain nations or as promoted by some terrorist outfits. Even if we were given a choice we would not go live in those theocratic nations. That’s why you find Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore living in US although they are its biggest critics.

Most of us who criticize our nations are ensconced in democratic and free institutions in which we take pride. The reason why we take pride in our nations is because it allows and accepts that criticism, our voice and expression, however bizarre it may sound. We believe this criticism is necessary to provide the necessary checks and balances to otherwise a strong and autocratic government that feeds on fascistic, nationalistic or religious jingoistic majorities.

We believe these nations are great because of this very reason- that it allows people to speak their opinion and criticize their nations- each of its actions and symbols. Many people who do not like my writings berate me and tell me to shut up. They say, “How can you criticize your own nation and talk against it? How can you be not proud of the very nation that gave you shelter, food, etc? Aren’t you grateful to the nation which has given you this freedom? You must be an Islamist or a communist!”

We run into a paradox when we encounter such people- these first-generation immigrants and those redneck Americans who have never understood the greatness of their own nation; these urban educated Indians who have not understood the greatness of their own nation. Why do they want me to stop criticizing my nation that I take pride in, when the very reason I take pride in it is because it allows that criticism?

Most overzealous people in an obsessive effort to combat their enemy become just like their enemy, but on the other side of the coin. The Hindus who fight Islam want to portray Hinduism as monotheistic and rigid just like Islam but on the opposite side (which according to them is a good side). The Indians who fight Pakistan want to curb all voices of dissidence within its nations just the way Pakistan does. The Americans who fight terrorism want their citizens to be grateful of their nations to become just like their enemies they fight- dogmatic and authoritarian, curbing people’s freedom on the name of Patriotic Act. The biggest success of terrorists of 9/11 and the biggest defeat of US is the loss of that American freedom. The Indian side of the story has TADA, POTA, Section 144, Emergency, banning of books, movies, and art shows.

We, the miniscule few critics of India, consider ourselves different kind of champions of India and its institutions. For us, the greatness is not found in ancient texts or Akhand Bharat. We don’t see glory in the remote past nor expansion of our boundaries. Even if a Danish jail cell provides much better living conditions and amenities, we would not recommend it to someone living in slums of Delhi since he is free. We are not proud of our nation when it rules certain people at the point of a gun with a belief that it is actually giving it better facilities and freedom while those people reject all our gestures.

We believe the greatness of this nation is its institutions, though half-built, but still working- which promote modern and universal values. We believe the greatness comes when minorities, backward classes, the poor and downtrodden of this country get the same opportunities, enjoy access to basic amenities (like education, food, water, shelter) and avail the same values which we take pride in. We believe in looking inward to build institutions that give fair trial, equal opportunity, and guarantee for fundamental rights. However, we do not believe in forcing those values down the throats of others- because then it becomes an ideology.

Though India has quickly embraced tools of modernity (like cell phones, cars, internet, etc) it has not completely embraced the values of modernity- equality, tolerance, liberty, and modern science. In an effort to combat its enemies, it is fast eroding all its half-built institutions, to become exactly like its enemies- intolerant of diversity, shunning of modern science, curbing of people’s freedom and aspirations. India, which has been the champion of independence and freedom movements elsewhere has now become the same aggressor it abhorred. It is slowly becoming exactly like its enemy. And we critics do not want that to happen.


  1. Sujai

    Knowing that there are people like you in India has made me proud of India again. I almost had given up hope on the youth of India to think critically. I thought everybody had been consumed by the blind patriotism.

    Great job again, Sujai. Make me a proud Indian.

  2. Anonymous:
    Thanks for the nice words.

  3. Very well written and kinda sums up the whole thing.

    I guess the hottest place in hell is not reserved for you. :)

    BTW, how come an atheist talks about hell?

  4. Polite Indian:
    Good question.
    Most of us (the atheists) seem to use references to God in our expressions.

    Here, Hell is mostly figurative for me. It is only to tell myself- stand up, speak up, and don't hide in the politically correct middle ground when so much is at stake.


  5. I knew the answer. Just had the urge to ask :)

  6. Good Interpretation..

    Evry country/religion exploits the unawareness/fear of humans for their sole existence..like
    fear of the enemy..
    fear of life after death..
    fear of sin..
    fear of being attacked..
    India is no exception..
    Nor any country in world..

    What happens in Kashmir and North east are highly undemocratic suppression..beleiving these is making ourselves blind..

  7. I picked this nice quote from a commenter at Indiapad.
    James A. Baldwin once said, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

  8. Questioning our government’s stance and oneself is only the first step towards rational thought.

    Exactly!! I hope you continue to question your own stances too - the pendulum swings on either side, but eventually comes to rest in the middle. ;)

    Please, concise posts next time.


  9. Amit:
    You are not helping yourself asking for concise posts. I wrote them over a period of one year and you are reading them all in one day.

    Sorry, I don't have a manual called 'MBA in 3 days' or 'My blog for Dummies'.

  10. Ad hominem attacks do not suit you, my friend. ;)



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