Even BJP MLA OP Sharma, the guardian of Mother India, probably concedes that the least one expects from a mother is tolerance. Tolerance to grumpy teenhood, tolerance to indifferent adulthood, tolerance to bouts of anger, tolerance to minor rebellions — apart from the millions of times when she is just there, laughing indulgently.
Even Vikram Singh Chauhan probably concedes that as a nation we don’t leave patriotism to chance. From chapters on freedom struggle to those on freedom heroes, from national anthems to national songs, we truly, actually, sincerely believe for a long time (till hopefully we grow up) that Hindustan is “saare jahan se achha”.
Even ABVP national organising secretary Sunil Ambekar, who rubbishes the teaching of stories of the poor, Dalits, women, human rights and secularism, as “that goes against the Indian ethos and takes a turn against national security”, probably has seen at times a persecuted poor or a lower caste, even, god forbid, a woman. For, you know, these things are known to happen.
Even Smriti Irani, a mother of three as she emphasises, must know that when we send our children out in the world to study, we also want them to learn. About the world beyond their known boundaries, their books, their Facebooks and Instagrams. We want them to face indefensible truths, encounter their fears, meet “the others”, and make up their own minds about those closer.
Even Rajnath Singh has probably figured that the sight of a Delhi Police van promising reassurance was a very hard and very long battle. Still, I would not trust my daughter walking up to them for help. And after this week, given that he is a teenager high on emotions and quick with opinions, probably not even my son.
Mr Home Minister, you may have gathered that I am not the kind of patriot you would want me to be. Still, I happen to be a mother, the other being you would have us revere. And so, let me tell you, the faith that we are a democracy, resting on sound credentials and not just the size of the national flag we hoist, was one of the few things that I was thankful of when I thought of my children’s future here. In this past week, as police have entered campuses to drag out students, as an MLA has exhibited the kind of behaviour that would not be tolerated on a school ground, as lawyers (should we keep calling them that?) have assaulted the unarmed (never allowed, we tell our children repeatedly), as TV channels have reduced the meaning of patriotism to blind nationalism, and branded our kind as traitors, I have hung my head in shame.
As someone who still halts when Jana Mana Gana is played, it gladdens my heart that revising the fundamental rights ahead of his annual examinations, my son wants to know how shouting slogans breaks any of those. “Every citizen must uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India,” he reads out. “Does it mean we can’t criticise it?” Last evening, he wanted to know why OP Sharma had still not been arrested.
As a mother, I struggle to not let show that I have fewer and fewer answers.
You invoke Mother India, Sir, well I am raising two. This is not how mothers want their children, ever, to end up. You can ask Vikram Singh Chauhan’s mother, you can ask O.P. Sharma’s, you can even ask Afzal Guru’s should you care, but easiest still, you can ask Kanhaiya Kumar’s as he languishes in jail and she watches from thousands of kilometres away, unable to be by his side as he is assaulted on live TV minutes from the country’s seat of government.
If our concept of Mother India is that indelible image of a woman hauling the plough on her bare shoulders to raise her family, fighting off poverty and continuous assaults, you don’t have to look further than Meena Devi.
On the other hand, should after this episode, any of us mothers raise children who care enough to fight for beliefs as passionately, as strongly, and as non-violently, standing on the steps of a university with few around to hear, we would be in her debt.