For the most part of my life I have been away from my country. Born in 1993 in scenic Thrissur, Kerala, I was taken to Dubai at the age of two to be part of large and subsequently atomic family. Most of the important events in my life, my first day of school, my first pair of shiny shoes, the birth of my dear sibling, etc. all happened in Dubai. For all intents and purposes, for all its perceivable faults, Dubai is home for me. It’s hard to explain then why I never really felt like I belonged to that city, or the city to me. I’ve never, for a single second, felt like anything other than an Indian. I’ve never felt like I’ve belonged to any other country. This blog post today is probably my way of making sense of that.
India is a nation like no other. In many ways we should not work. With more than a billion people, speaking more than a hundred languages, practicing numerous religions and differing socio-economic backgrounds to boot, there’s no conceivable way in which we should work. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments in time when we don’t work, the Gujrat riots is a pretty good example. For the most part however, the nation does seem to function without any hindrances. What forged our national identity then? For the Germans you can imagine it was probably that they all spoke German, as it probably is for most other nations.
I think what forged our national identity is a common enemy. The enemy that came into our land hundreds of years ago and systematically oppressed us for their own gain. The United States, I believe, forged an identity based on the same plight with the same oppressor. There are fundamental differences to the means in which we fought and achieved freedom from the common oppressor, however. How we achieved it fundamentally changed the destinies of our nations as well.
I’ve heard commentators in the US call their culture an inherently violent one because of the nature in which they achieved their independence. Does that mean India is an inherently non-violent one? I have always thought our inability to react strongly in the foreign sphere was largely due to the fact that we espoused ideals of non-violence and peaceful protests creating this country, so taking a militaristic stand would be hypocritical. This is not to say we haven’t fought wars, of course we have and with mixed results. We have to admit though that foreign policy wise India has been something of a pushover, it recently even backed down from taking a hard line against Israel for its treatment of Palestine and no one batted an eye. I digress.
My theory on how we forged our national identity, and I think many would agree, is the fight for Independence. Independence, in creating a nation, also created something for us to cherish – the Indian. The importance of this day lies in the fact that we’re not only celebrating the British leaving, but also the birth of the culmination of effort that went into creating this shared idea of being Indian. Oppression doesn’t just take the physical form, it is largely in fact mental. Fellow Indians, if you do anything today, let it not just be singing the national anthem or looking on proudly as the Tricolour flies; pledge that you’ll identify with not your state or language or religion or anything that is that arbitrary. Identify instead with the idea that hundreds, thousands, even millions gave their lives to achieve. Identify with being Indian first and foremost.