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Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free 

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments 
By narrow domestic walls 
Where words come out from the depth of truth 
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection 
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way 
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit 
Where the mind is led forward by thee 
Into ever-widening thought and action 
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake 

Rabindranath Tagore

 Whenever I read these lines, the hope about my country, where everyone fearlessly expresses  their option and the citizens debate the issues based on reason and rationality, is rekindled.  Right this moment, I’m desperately trying to rekindle that faith and hope. I need that hope to be alive or like a few others I, too, will lose it.

I  try to breathe, all I get is suffocation, I try to talk and I’m told to shut up.  And I’m not the only one. There are scores of others too whose voices are silenced simply because theirs is a voice of dissent.  You would think that in order to  take a drastic step of killing someone, there needs to exist an action  to provoke you beyond any reason? Absolutely not! All you have to do is consume a certain kind of meat and then fear for your life. Yes, that simple. Sentiments have become like sand castles that get hurt and dismembered with every syllable that is in disagreement.  And ,here I thought, that sentiments are a strong breed of a personal nature that help a person to frame their world view and yet not be derisive of the millions of other world views that co-exit.

I am disconcerted to say the least about the “national” debate that a man’s personal conversation with his wife expressing his fear about growing intolerance in the country has generated.  The minute this was uttered, the social media went into a frenzy. From hateful comments on how disappointed people were with his remark to people advising the man to go to Saudi and Pakistan where both his spouse and he can feel safe, the social media platforms spewed venom. And why did these theocratic nations surface as alternatives? For an excellent reason that, merits no other argument! He happens to be a Muslim! Now, isn’t it a wonderful example of how tolerant we all are  when we are practically killing the man with our verbal assault and  making the entire nation believe that the statement was not primarily an apprehensive voice with an undertone of fear but a blatantly “anti national” voice putting the entire nation down!  How dare he expressed his view about the leaving the country for another safer place!  How dare a  Muslim actor, talk so fearlessly about his fears disregarding that the country , where the majority religion is Hinduism,  made him what he is, despite his religion! How can he even think like this when another woman who has lost her husband in a war wants both her sons to join the Indian Army. As if patriotism is the property of people who want to send their children to the defense forces. All other lesser mortals have no shred of patriotism in them.

Does a citizen not have a right to express his/ her view on what he feels without being condemned?  One look at the quality of debate that it has generated on various platforms makes me put a big question mark on the very fabric of our society that claims to be secular and open!  To castigate him for not raising his voice when his own city Mumbai was burnt by his 'co-religionists'  is  classic example of  a debate that is based on the premise of  misinformation and a total disregard  to a person’s right of self expression. Why should past events be a qualifying criteria for expressing oneself today? Every day each of us talk about the various things that we find wrong in our society: price rise, unemployment, pollution, education system. Does it make us all anti-national to talk about the flaws of our motherland? One option that people have choosen, across histories, geographies and chronologies, when it comes to saving their life is to leave for another place. There are plenty of examples on this within our own coutry. The partition of the country, the 1984 riots, the Gujarat riots, the migration of Kashmiri Pandits, the list is endless.  The nation hasn’t labeled them as anti-national. Then why Aamir Khan? Is it because he is not a refugee? Or is it because he is not a victim of a riot and yet wanted to express his views?  To ask him to name a country where he wants to go is a foolish question and an attempt to intellectualize a very personal statement. No one sits down over a cup of coffee and says “Now let me see which places are safe for me to go before I think about feeling unsafe”.

 Aamir Khan is Amir Khan because he worked hard towards earning his living. His passion and diligence for his craft has made him what he is. To credit the Indian citizenry for his success is  negating his contribution in framing his own life and career.

 Fear falls under a very personal domain. If Aamir Khan or anyone else feels unsafe, they feel unsafe. And each one of us has a right to decide how to feel safe without our concerns being trivialized or made a mockery of. The delusionary statements, the rabid rants and unending panel discussions are never going to address the core issue. The issue of why a person , who should regard his country, the safest, feels unsafe.  However, engaging in a meaningful dialogue devoid of a fanatical vocabulary and an attempt to hammer an image of  “tolerant India” would.   

Let’s pause, let’s listen and listen intently what it means to feel fear without getting caught up in the web of defending the country, where it is not required.  


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