The desecration of the Indian flag is a wakeup for many of us who take our sovereignty for granted.
In every nation’s history, a time comes suddenly when its people experience a moment that seems totally unreal, a moment of deja vu that people thought would never happen, yet it does and does so with such ferocity that it wipes away our core beliefs.
Some years ago, when the Jewish Prime Minister was assassinated, the people were shocked not so much by his assassination but more by the fact that the murderer was not an outsider but a Jew. After all, the Jews have a shared history by having gone through the holocaust together and faced many atrocities. ‘That is what binds us and is our identity’ was the perception of the whole society. ‘The threat was always from an outsider but never from one of us.’ That perception lay shattered as they understood for the first time that the enemy was within and their society and its imagined relationship are not what they thought it would be. That was a moment that changed them forever.
That is the feeling, I believe, millions of us are going through right now seeing the image of a man climbing the mast at Red Fort, a place which is associated in every Indian’s mind with only our national flag now being desecrated by another flag. The symbolism in the minds of one doing so is very clear. It is to show to all Indians that the national flag is replaceable and to create a sense of humiliation in our minds.
None of us thought it was possible. Hundreds of thousands of our forefathers have given their lives to see it unfurled, holding it in their hands, sometimes their blood spilt to see it not fall on the ground. Hindus and Sikhs fought the war of independence together, facing atrocities during partition which they thought held them together in a bond that couldn’t be shaken. Who would ever be able to break that bond, we thought? Today, like an apocryphal image, that very notion that we share a common history and that it binds us together, lies broken.
When the twin towers were attacked the Americans were shattered not so much by the destruction of the towers but baffled by two questions. Why would someone hate them so much so as to attack them and why would they attack the towers? The answer came from introspection and as we all know changed them forever.
The man who climbed the mast to replace the flag was simply representing an ideology. He didn’t act alone and all the men gathered along with him on the ramparts of the Red Fort represent a part of India that has got alienated. They don’t believe in the ideology of an Indian nation or shared history. Like the people who gathered in Jawaharlal Nehru University and shouted that India as a nation will be destroyed, the men on the rampart too are giving us the same message. That they don’t like the idea of the India that is emerging and would rather see it destroyed.
So, how do we face this moment of deja vu in our nation’s history that is staring us in the face? For seventy years no one had imagined doing so in our nation’s history. The trauma of the freedom movement, the partition held us together. Today, when a new ideology sweeps our nation, as one of self-reliance and pride, there is a force rising that tells us we shouldn’t dream and aim to take our place in the world.
India will not be the same again. Each time now when we see the national flag fluttering in the wind, a pain will accompany the joy that we felt. Yet that pain is an indispensable part of growing up as a nation to know that we can no longer take our most sacred symbols for granted, that there are others, both amongst us and outside who would like to see that symbol desecrated and destroyed.
As a poet once famously said,
“I have seen the other who tried to destroy me and I realised that it was coming from within me. It made me awaken from my dream.”
Terrorists choose their target where it would hurt and create terror, knowing that their victims failed to protect their most precious symbols of existence. That is why the most vulnerable, the most visible symbols are chosen and destroyed, one that may become a lasting image that cripples.
Did the men choose the flag at Red Fort for the same reason? Is it because that is where we as Indians are most vulnerable and thought ‘No Indian’ would ever do it to us. For generations, for millions like me who saw our flag fluttering in the wind and felt a sense of belonging, hope and pride, we never thought that a day would come when not a stranger but someone from within us would climb on it to change it.
Now that the moment has come and gone, should we not understand that this moment is not the first time but has been part of our history, a legacy that we as a nation cannot disown and cannot shake away, that it is always one of us that has given us a lesson on betrayal. This lesson, perhaps the most important lesson of Indian history, is never taught to us in schools. I pray and hope that this incident teaches us now, sooner rather than later something we didn’t learn in our textbooks.
Many a society has emerged stronger after seeing their most valued symbols under attack. That there are many, both within and outside whose sole aim is to see our symbols destroyed. The last thing we need to do today is to call it an act of vandalism by a few misguided lumpen elements who can be forgiven or won over. We have made that mistake many times in our history and paid for it.
I hope this incident shakes that passivity forever and we learn to call a spade a spade. There is a resilience within us as a society that has not died but has lived each time to rise for another day. I ask that day be now rather than later.