"Where one can disagree with another viewpoint without mocking a fellow citizen's dignity and personal space. This is fraternity in action"
President Ram Nath Kovind
President Ram Nath Kovind's address to the nation on the eve of our 69th Republic Day contained plenty of references to what is supposed to be India's biggest issue right now- the Padmaavat controversy.
Quite apart from the fact that the protests do, in fact make a mockery of the concept of freedom of speech, they have also been blatantly hindering the so-called nationalistic sentiments and motives of the "aggrieved" parties. After all, it is appalling to attack a school bus to protect the honour of one's community.
If we attempt to look at this controversy with even a hint of perspective, we'll realize that it ought to be a non-issue. The people of India struggle daily under critical problems like unemployment, hunger, and corruption. Unfortunately, unemployment, hunger, and corruption are three among a pile of seemingly unyielding issues that have always acquired a place for themselves in speeches like these. Every year, we got through the issues we face as a nation, and the steps that we need to take in order to develop out of them. Part of the reason why we haven't fully been able to get over them is because we get so easily distracted by non-issues like the Padmaavat controversy. We take offence fast enough when someone dares to have an opinion different to ours. And if that opinion happens to be, by any awful chance, about our ancestors from the 1530s, who probably didn't even exist, and were a figment of some poet's imagination, then our rage knows no bounds- not even innocent children in a school bus. And of course, such action definitely portrays our communities in better light than all the slander a piece of art hands out.
What are we doing? Why this regression? Why this unreasonable stifling of one's basic human right of freedom of speech, expression and thought?
This Republic Day, we ought to try get to the bottom of this mindset of ours. Every year, we outline our country's problems that have shackled it to the tag of a third world nation. We come up with plausible solutions, and we attempt to do better next year. However, the progress is never satisfactory. And the reason for that is the mindset people have displayed in this current controversy. Such gross ignorance and narrow-mindedness, such basic disregard for our own constitution. The tendency to think first, and think only about our "honour", and show total disregard for rational thinking and acknowledgement of facts is what keeps pulling us down as a nation.
India has, once again, taken giant strides in various spheres this past year. But how can we celebrate this growth if our minds remain stunted?
As always, the solution lies in proper education. We need to work together to create an environment of free thought, knowledge, and intellectualism in our educational institutions. We need to teach our students history that isn't modified to suit any ideology. We need to inculcate in them respect and zeal for the arts, and sensitize them to the need for respecting the differences between each one of us.
To the people protesting Padmaavat, or, for that matter, any work of art for such baseless reasons, I'd like to say that you do not own India, and you certainly don't represent her.
No, India's pride and representation lies in the hearts of the selfless soldier protecting our sovereignty. It lies in her engineers and scientists, who work each day to make life easier for others. It lies in the hearts of her farmers- worn out, neglected, ridden with worry and debt, and yet toiling away to feed a nation.
It lies with the student and teachers who are building a country based on free thought, expression and knowledge.
Its representation lies in the hearts of little kids who will watch and participate in all the pomp and splendour of this day, with awe and smiles on their faces, and slowly realize their love and respect for their motherland.
Let us work hard to protect those smiles.