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An estimated 5-minute read

My Name is Unpatriotic and I am not a Terrorist.

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Note: -  I admit to only a passing acquaintance with serious literature, political theory, Indian history and philosophy and I welcome constructive criticism and comment. All conclusions drawn are as a result of my own conjecture, and I could be wrong.

Lata Mangeshkar confidently whines the national anthem in the background as I hurriedly suppress a sneeze. It is a weekend evening and the theatre is full of families complete with snotty five year olds who are guaranteed to drown the more interesting parts of the movie in a shower of comments, largely involving - 1. the shortage of popcorn
2. papa, baathrooooom! (and)
3. mummy, what is Hrithik uncle doing to Barbara aunty? Pappiiiiiiiiiiii hawwwwwww!

This time, as I hunt desperately for a hanky or a tissue to drown my sneeze in, I watch a kindergartener being roughly pulled to his feet by his mother, who tells him off, This is the national anthem! Don't you know you have to stand up! What do they teach you in school!

What do they teach us, indeed. It sets off an interesting series of thoughts. Ever since I was three feet tall and in a pinafore, I have been dutifully standing up for the anthem and singing along, because it was the patriotic thing to do, and patriotic, my teachers told me, is always the right thing to be. Swayed by greed for obedience medals, I complied without question.

Middle school and high school went by in a blur of obsessing over skin, hair, stomach fat, the opposite sex, some rather violent music and some fashionably depressing literature (Kafka, anyone? Nietzche?), and not a lot of thought went to things like patriotism.

Yet I find that it is becoming increasingly important to know exactly why we value the things we value, and as the world grows smaller every day, I find myself questioning the utility of patriotism.

Who even knows what patriotism is? Nationalism? Not necessarily. 'Patriotism',as suggested by its root patria, points to a vaguer, wider attachment to a location and a lifestyle, says the Stanford Encyclopedia on Philosophy. For us Indians that means that patriotism is the pride in an identity and not in a nation. Nations are communities of people sharing a commonality of culture, and this commonality may be of religion or of culture, or of language, or of something else. It follows, then,  that your average Indian belongs simultaneously to several 'nations', and two Indians will rarely possess exactly the same origins or belong to exactly the same nations. Which brings us to identity.

Identity, Amartya Sen argues in his excellent essay on history as an 'enterprise of knowledge', is a question of choice based on informed consent, and not an involuntary social construct. The question is not settled, but what we do know for certain is that militantly Hindu political elements are afraid of exactly what Sen suggests; the Saffronisation of history textbooks in school has many consequences, the most immediate of which is the low horizon of knowledge, which is saddening in itself. However the most pernicious consequence is one that will have the most lasting effect; saffronisation - or any manipulation of history, limits our knowledge of our own richly heterodoxical past and consequentially limits our ability to gainfully claim our respective identities from them; to choose what to take pride in, as Sen says, based on an objective evaluation of all available facts.

 Saffronisation can be as subtle as referring to all Muslim rulers as 'invaders', or simply those parts of history which do not fit with the political requirement of a 'Hindu' past. And why is it troubling to refer to all Muslim kings as invaders? Because India was never a nation; today, it is still only a nation-state by convenience. Much of 1947 was spent in head-scratching across continents, as men across the world struggled with the demarcation of an 'Indian nation', where none seemed to exist; as Churchill famously said - "India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the equator."

But we are, today, a nation state. We of different nations come together under the same flag in consequence of what may be argued to be a social contract, where we have limited our rights (to speech, for example) as individuals to gain some freedoms as a people, including the shared use of resources. A nation-state thus appears to arise not from a spontaneous love in our hearts for our human brothers, but a primitive desire of preservation. If this is so, our 'contractual' consideration for gaining the position of 'citizens' in such a state, is the voluntary limitation of our rights. Where does 'patriotic' love figure in this? Why are we required to 'love' our country? Our borders are an accident of history; they are not an accurate demarcation of a particular nation or of its people; they are at most a relic of the Partition of India.

The Partition is universally acknowledged as having been politically ill-advised and a humanitarian disaster; if our identity is a function of our choice, the Partition is not something we would proudly pick, which begs the question -  what significance does our nation-state of India have to our understanding of where we come from? And why must we take pride in it?

In its inception during the French Renaissance, the concept of patriotism was limited largely to the rule of law, common good and humanism. Over the years, political convenience and organised religion have colluded to redefine patriotism as the confrontational love of a nation-state to the exclusion of all others. It is a negative, parochial outlook.

It is my argument that such a sentiment can only be damaging in the long term to both the intelligence and the growth of a people and a nation-state. As the world grows smaller and borders grow increasingly irrelevant, traditions need to be questioned. I have my own questions, and these questions remain unanswered.

So I watch the flag wave on the Inox screen, and I stand up obediently as the anthem plays.

But mired in my doubts, I stand in silence.

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