SONGS OF FREE­DOM

TRUE PA­TRI­O­TISM SHOULD SUB­VERT ALL FORMS OF OP­PRES­SION AND IT MUST BE BOUND TO HU­MAN­ITY RATHER THAN THE NA­TION-STATE

India Today - - 72 YEARS OF INDEPENDEN­CE - BY T.M. KR­ISHNA

IAM AT­TEMPT­ING TO pen this piece on a day when a lot that I be­lieved in, as a cit­i­zen of In­dia, has been taken away. I thought the Con­sti­tu­tion is the one thing that gives us cul­ture, records our past and, at every turn, reimag­ines our present. But on Au­gust 5, this tra­di­tion of re­spect­ing mul­ti­ple cul­tures, ideas, voices em­bod­ied in the spirit of our Con­sti­tu­tion was torn to bits. Dr B.R. Ambed­kar had se­cured for us hu­man­ity, fair­ness and ethics of liv­ing. But I fear we are wit­ness­ing the first step in a se­ries that will undo the dreams of In­dia en­shrined in that sa­cred book, all those years ago. Our past has been far from clean and many have re­peat­edly raised their voice at car­di­nal mo­ments. But what we are wit­ness­ing now is a dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent kind of pol­i­tics—a blar­ing siren that has killed any sem­blance of mu­sic. Cul­ture was for­feited and pa­tri­o­tism twisted and mu­ti­lated. The 5th of Au­gust 2019 will be re­mem­bered as the day when we, as a coun­try, tram­pled upon the Kash­miris’ right to re­de­fine their re­la­tion­ship with the rest of In­dia. We went back on our word and in the dark­ness of the night un­leashed our ma­chin­ery to mute an en­tire re­gion. If this is In­dian cul­ture, then I re­ject it once and for all. If I am con­sid­ered pa­tri­otic only if I ap­plaud this move, then maybe I am not pa­tri­otic. But to many this was a pa­tri­otic act, a brave de­ci­sion that unites the coun­try, un­does a wrong and will make us stand to­gether as one. But what is pa­tri­o­tism?

Over the past five-plus years, there has been a need to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between pa­tri­o­tism and jin­go­ism. But with all the rub­bish that is thrown our way every day, do we re­ally know or even have the mind-space to se­ri­ously in­ves­ti­gate this feel­ing?

A few years ago, as I was wait­ing in the green room get­ting ready for my con­cert, the or­gan­iser in­formed me that since the au­di­to­rium was owned by the state gov­ern­ment, they in­sisted on play­ing the na­tional an­them be­fore the con­cert be­gan even though this was not a gov­ern­ment func­tion. I re­fused to leave the green room or get on stage un­til the an­them ended. Was I un­pa­tri­otic not to par­tic­i­pate in the cel­e­bra­tion of the an­them? What is the an­them it­self? Gopalkrish­na Gandhi, the for­mer gover­nor of West Ben­gal, has of­ten spo­ken of the word manas in our an­them. This was Gu­rudev Rabindrana­th Tagore’s word of hope. The word that sym­bol­ised the in­nate in­no­cence within ev­ery­one of us. Not the in­no­cence of na­tiv­ity, but the self that is un­tainted by greed. The glim­mer in a dew­drop that falls on a leaf. He cel­e­brated this pos­si­bil­ity in every In­dian and hoped for a land where we held dew­drops in our palms in won­der. But when this work of art, the na­tional an­them, is thrust upon us as a song of al­le­giance, that beau­ti­ful song turns into the trum­pet­ing of an au­thor­i­tar­ian regime. I would also ar­gue that, in forc­ing its ren­di­tion be­fore a cel­e­bra­tion of a mu­si­cal tra­di­tion,

the sym­bol aes­thet­i­cally dis­torted cul­ture, art, melody, rhythm and the pro­fun­dity of the aes­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence.

If we were to lis­ten to every song that was sung, each poem that was re­cited, all the prose that was pub­lished, the tunes that were hummed or slo­gans that were chanted dur­ing the free­dom strug­gle, we would know how they spoke of jus­tice, equal­ity, fair­ness, democ­racy, rights and free­dom. We sought the eman­ci­pa­tion of the body and the mind. The Bri­tish were the ob­vi­ous op­pres­sors, but the words were not lim­ited to point­ing to their evil­ness. The cry for free­dom was as much about the peo­ple within, an ap­peal for self-re­flec­tion, a move­ment for us to arise from so­cial slum­ber.

When Subra­ma­nia Bharati asks, When will our thirst for free­dom be quenched? When will our love for thral­dom cease?, he is speak­ing of the con­di­tions un­der Bri­tish rule, but he is also speak­ing be­yond his time, rais­ing ques­tions about the hu­man con­di­tion. He is speak­ing for the last per­son stand­ing and de­mand­ing change from the priv­i­leged. Whether it was Bharati or Dwi­jen­dralal Roy, they spoke of peo­ple, to peo­ple and for peo­ple. We fought the Bri­tish tooth and nail not be­cause they were out­siders but be­cause of in­jus­tice. Pa­tri­o­tism in its essence is not obe­di­ence or faith­ful­ness; it is the cel­e­bra­tion of ques­tion­ing and free will. When D.K. Pat­tam­mal sang with pa­tri­otic fer­vour, she hoped to nudge In­di­ans to ex­press them­selves fear­lessly, to stand up for oth­ers. Pro­tected within those words and melodies were the rights of every in­di­vid­ual. Pa­tri­otic songs were not com­posed to cap­ture power, they were

WHEN PEO­PLE ARE TO­DAY CALLED ANTIHINDU AND ANTIINDIAN, THE ACCUSER IS COL­LAPS­ING SOCIORELIG­IOUS IDEN­TITY AND FAITH­FUL­NESS TO THE NATIONSTAT­E, NAR­ROW­ING OUR IN­DIAN-NESS TO SPE­CIFIC COLOURS, SYM­BOLS AND RIT­U­ALS

sung to em­power our­selves, to strengthen hu­man rights and chal­lenge any power struc­ture that di­min­ishes us as peo­ple. Pa­tri­o­tism is sub­ver­sive; the sub­verter of the feu­dal, the un­car­ing, the power-hun­gry and the dic­ta­to­rial. It does not serve the state and hence must, at all times, up­hold the high­est hu­man qual­i­ties. Only when the coun­try lis­tens and learns from the pa­triot does it re­main alive.

Pa­tri­o­tism was not a ma­jori­tar­ian im­po­si­tion; it was a car­ing song for all, es­pe­cially for those whose songs are not heard. The na­tion-state had and has very lit­tle to do with this pa­tri­o­tism. When an en­tire peo­ple came to­gether and stood to­gether for self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, they knew that the cause was hu­man, not In­dian. But like all ide­alisms, this too soon van­ished into the shad­ows of com­mu­nity and re­li­gion. Pa­tri­o­tism be­comes jin­go­is­tic the mo­ment it loses its self­less na­ture, when it cham­pi­ons own­er­ship, oth­er­ing and crim­i­nalises those who are vul­ner­a­ble.

What about that line we call our border, that which de­ter­mines our sovereignt­y? Isn’t pa­tri­o­tism vouch­ing for that po­lit­i­cal line, pro­tect­ing its con­vo­luted shape across moun­tains, rivers, seas and forests? In 2010, just af­ter the civil war had ended in Sri Lanka, I per­formed in Colombo in the mem­ory of Nee­lan Tiruchel­vam, the Tamil lawyer, politi­cian and aca­demic who was as­sas­si­nated by the LTTE. He was a pa­triot who fought un­til the very end for di­a­logue and process, and lis­tened to every voice. For that con­cert, I ren­dered a song writ­ten by a Tamil poet about whom very lit­tle is known— Tara Bharati. He asks in his song:

Has any coun­try stolen a river be­cause it flowed across the border?

Has any­one ar­rested the wind be­cause it crossed the fence? Have the border walls ever stopped the rain clouds from com­ing down the hills af­ter rain­ing on the towns above? Do we ac­cuse a tree on the border of en­croach­ment and cut its roots be­cause it drew wa­ter from the neigh­bour­ing coun­try?

At the end, he asks peo­ple to awaken to the spirit of shar­ing. Pa­tri­o­tism sprouts from this free­dom, the shar­ing of hu­man val­ues. A bond that ex­pands into a larger po­lit­i­cal con­struc­tion that we call coun­try but can never be stopped by bar­ri­ers or steeples. The lines that we draw on a map are just mark­ers of this com­ing to­gether amongst one set of peo­ple. It does not mark the po­si­tion of the outsider. Pa­tri­o­tism, there­fore, can­not be re­duced to a realestate busi­ness of ac­quir­ing or safe­guard­ing land and nei­ther is it about in­ter­na­tional con­trac­tual agree­ments. Pa­tri­o­tism can­not and should not be bound by the idea of the na­tion. The na­tion needs pa­tri­ots and not the other way round. Pa­tri­ots must have the courage to name their own coun­try as the per­pe­tra­tor if that is the truth. Pa­tri­o­tism takes only the side of the just, not a na­tion-state.

Mythol­ogy and his­tory, too, con­trib­ute to the col­lapse of pa­tri­o­tism. No demo­cratic coun­try came into be­ing from vacuum, and this means it car­ries within so­cial, re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal prac­tices the splen­dours and the grotesque­ness of the pre-demo­cratic times. Bun­dled deep in­side those bed­time sto­ries and lul­la­bies are iden­tity mark­ers that soon turn into tools of dis­crim­i­na­tion. When peo­ple are to­day called anti-Hindu and anti-In­dian, the accuser is, in one stroke, col­laps­ing so­cio-re­li­gious iden­tity and faith­ful­ness to the na­tion-state. In that mas­ter­stroke, he rekin­dles the rup­tures of the past and nar­rows our In­dian-ness to spe­cific colours, sym­bols and rit­u­als. When that hap­pens, even a beau­ti­ful song of be­long­ing turns vi­o­lent. When the Ger­man na­tional an­them was ren­dered with gusto by Ger­man su­prem­a­cists un­der Adolf Hitler, it was an un­pa­tri­otic, un­mu­si­cal, in­hu­man act. Pa­tri­o­tism loses its self­less­ness and morphs into a flag-wav­ing, an­them-singing drill.

The pa­triot chal­lenges cul­ture, re­li­gion and any so­cial prac­tice that is un­demo­cratic. No saint, elder, writer, painter, sculp­tor, philoso­pher or singer is be­yond the en­quiry. The word of god is not ex­empt from ques­tion­ing and nei­ther is the athe­ist or ra­tio­nal­ist ab­so­lute. The pa­triot is an artist, a cit­i­zen, a sen­si­tive hu­man be­ing who cares for peo­ple and all that we trea­sure as this planet.

PA­TRI­O­TISM CAN­NOT BE RE­DUCED TO A REAL-ES­TATE BUSI­NESS OF AC­QUIR­ING OR SAFE­GUARD­ING LAND. PA­TRI­O­TISM CAN­NOT BE BOUND BY THE IDEA OF THE NA­TION. PA­TRI­OTS MUST HAVE THE COURAGE TO NAME THEIR OWN COUN­TRY AS THE PER­PE­TRA­TOR IF THAT IS THE TRUTH

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