Thursday, January 26, 2017

Revisiting The Republic

India Gate, detail, taken on 26th January 2016

Republic Day used to be my favourite national holiday as a child. I remember getting up at 6 am with unexpected gusto and dressing in my best on what always used to be a foggy, rainy and cold winter morning in Delhi. I used to head out, hand in hand with my parents, to watch the parade at India Gate. Some memories from the parade like the showering of marigold petals from helicopters, cheering as one colourful tableau after another sailed ahead and lastly, the flight show which succeeded the national anthem are clearly etched in my head.

As I grew, new questions began to pop in my head. What is a Republic? Why are we a Republic? And most importantly, what does a parade have to do with being a Republic? 
“26 January 1950 was the day the constitution came into force. India has the world’s largest written constitution.  We became a republic nation that day. That is why 26 Jan is celebrated as the Republic Day” The voice of my social studies teacher still drones in my ear. I got the basics right, but my questions still remained unanswered.

As a somewhat fully-functional adult, I now know that we are not just a republic, but a democratic republic. I know that being a republic means being able to elect an individual representing us. I know that we are one because we follow the constitution which grants equal rights to all of us, irrespective of race, religion, caste and colour. I surmise that the parade is just a means to instil a sense of unity & national pride in all of us.

Over the past few months, however, I haven’t seen an iota of either unity or national pride. All I have seen is division – between man & woman, between states & the union and of course between one religion & another. Jingoism was mistaken for Patriotism and hastily dubbed as National pride, thanks to the union home ministry issuing orders for the disabled to maintain maximum alertness during the national anthem. As money became paper overnight, the corrupt raised voice using poor man as shield.  Animal cruelty took precedence over animal welfare in Jallikattu. Men behaved worse than animals on New Year’s eve in Bangalore. Internet became an important platform to voice the displeasure of army men over their alleged mistreatment, while the same internet was used by trolls to target child actors.

Unity isn’t a difficult word to understand if one puts their head to it. Neither is equality and nor is national pride. How difficult is it for us to accept the opinions of others without branding, admonishing or hating them for it? Is it impossible for us to see people as they are, and not through glares of religion, region or caste? Why must we discriminate people on any other basis except sheer talent? And why, after 68 years of being a democratic republic and 71 years of being an independent nation do we still find ourselves divided at the national anthem? India indeed is a land of many tongues, but unfortunately, a majority of them seem to be wagging for unnecessary reasons.

Amidst all this chaos, the Republic day parade serves as an extravagant but essential reminder for all of us to stay united for at least 90 minutes. There is so much we have in common with our fellow countrymen that it is impossible to ignore. There is a common strain of love flowing through every religion. There are common ingredients in the cuisines of the North and the South. The same ocean water caresses the east coast as well as the west. But in a country with around 1.2 billion people, there are bound to be vastly divided opinions, some overpowering the other. In this case, we must rely on our sense of judgement and our innate values to choose the better opinion and form our own. Some opinions must be valued and some must be forgotten, but respect and love must be accorded to all. The ideals of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam must be taught and upheld by us, the people of this nation, for if there is any country on the face of the earth that can follow that ideal, it is India.

Happy Republic Day!




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