Why every patriot should be worried, and, yes, ashamed

True patriotism requires you to be able to say that I am ashamed of my country in certain respects.

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Updated: November 27, 2015 7:52 am
aamir khan, aamir khan news, #AamirKhan , aamir khan intolerance, intolerance aamir khan, india news, latest news, news Actor Aamir Khan speaking at the Ramnath Goenka Express Excellence in Journalism Awards in New Delhi.

Aamir Khan soberly articulated an angst that many citizens feel. It is easy for many of us to identify with that angst. It would be helpful if those who attacked him bothered to read what he actually said. The worries he expressed about growing intolerance and, more specifically, the helplessness that the lack of a proper political response from those in highest positions of authority produces, are spot on. Even the homely conversation gesturing at the question of whether our children will live in an environment where they feel secure, protected by liberal values, has a familiar ring.

But it would be presumptuous to say that Aamir’s angst is my angst. He is a celebrity. In this age, one twisted act of retribution is to teach celebrities a lesson to put them in their place. There are many disturbing aspects to the response to Aamir Khan. One is the idea that because he is a celebrity, he deserves even more odium: To the sin of political transgression we can add the charge of ungratefulness. How can he, we intone, be so ungrateful to the country that made him a star? Once you are a celebrity, you forfeit the luxury of voicing concerns as an ordinary citizen. Aamir’s transgression and that of dozens of artists is that they made the transition from celebrity to citizen. They acted as patriots and reclaimed the idea that they cannot remain silent on the question of civic values. It is a sign of the tone-deafness of our democracy that Aamir’s critics would not for a moment even countenance a reverse question: If even someone as privileged and loved as Aamir’s family is feeling a little under siege, what must be going on?

ALSO READ: If nation can tolerate Aamir’s film (PK), how can he feel unsafe: RSS 

Of course, people can legitimately disagree with Aamir. But we are experiencing an insidious closure of language itself. Take two examples. The first charge against those who talk about intolerance is exaggeration. It is then countered with the false scienticism — look, the number of violent incidents has not risen dramatically, and so forth. As a piece of social science, this can be important. But data often tells yesterday’s story. We forget that averages are not helpful in assessing specific threats and experiences, and there is no data that can capture the suffocation that discourse can produce.

But the charge of exaggerated description fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the artiste’s speech act. When an artist intervenes, she is not only providing a description. She is articulating a warning about the future. We are so besotted with the politics of self-esteem that we even close off the sensible response to such warnings. The sensible response, even if you think it is exaggerated, is not to dismiss it as a conspiracy. Because, if you construct all warnings that way, you not only close the space for dialogue, you exhibit intolerance. You deny that there can be any individuality, you deny that they can be their own persons, not cogs in a vast conspiracy.

ALSO READ: Shiv Sena offers Rs 1 lakh ‘reward’ to anyone who slaps Aamir 

The proper response to a warning is to say, “We hear you. Let us stand together. We all want a country where no one will be targeted for being who they are; where your surname, or choice of life partner, or eating habits will not make you a target; that the state will ensure that these basic norms will be protected without discrimination; that those who spread poison from high office will be reprimanded; and that leaders will lead by example. Rest assured.” This, followed by commensurate actions would be far more reassuring.

Instead, what we get is a grudging odd sentence from the prime minister that talks at people, rather than to them; mendacious evasions from the finance minister, who seems more concerned about our image and lawyerly complications than articulating basic moral truths; and an army of party spokesmen and trolls that accuses critics of treason. There is no question it is being done in ways in which those who carry certain names are made to carry an extra burden of proving their patriotism. Many of my friends are experiencing this, silenced by this burden, and it is hard to disagree.

ALSO READ: To all people shouting obscenities at me… you’re only proving my point: Aamir Khan

The second coded form of intolerance is patriotism. So let us say it gracelessly. True patriotism requires the possibility that you are able to say, as an act of civic identification, that I am ashamed of my country in certain respects. A patriot who thinks we should never be ashamed of our country is a charlatan with no moral compass. A patriot who never contemplates the hard truths that the atmosphere in the country — both in a literal and metaphorical sense — might become suffocating to some citizens is no patriot. He is parroting a script that is repeated ad nauseum to avoid serious moral dialogue. Aamir had the grace to say that he is a patriot and he is proud of India. Some of us do feel like saying, “We are patriots and on several issues we are ashamed of India.” We are patriots, and rather than giving ourselves certificates or comparing ourselves to countries we don’t identify with, we worry about India’s future. Patriotism invoked as a closure, rather than a starting point, is the worst form of chicanery. All of us, from Arundhati Roy to Aamir Khan, are patriots in the true sense.

MUST SEE: Aamir Khan on intolerance: Here’s what everyone else has said 

The poet Jayanta Mahaptra, when returning his award, used the curious but evocative phrase, “moral asymmetry”. This can have many meanings. But in the context of artists and celebrities, one meaning immediately comes to mind: The asymmetry of responsibility placed on critics and artists on the one hand and political rulers on the other. The standard way of knocking down critics and celebrities these days is to make them responsible for the whole universe: You have no right to criticise X if you did not criticise Y and so on. You disable them by overburdening them. On the other hand, with politicians it is the reverse; they are exempt from even carrying out the duties of their station. All that critics are asking is that those in positions of power behave responsibly, in terms befitting the best values and duties of their station. This is not too much to ask for.

MUST SEE: Exclusive pics of Aamir Khan in Ludhiana

I don’t believe that the average Indian is growing more intolerant. But it is certainly the case that those setting the standards of public life and public discourse do not reflect this liberality. The norms are being set by people with small minds, resentful hearts, constricted souls and hateful speech. Every patriot should be worried about this and, yes, be ashamed.

MUST WATCH: Aamir Khan On Intolerance & Delinking Terrorism From Religion #RNGAwards

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and contributing editor, ‘The Indian Express’. This column first appeared in the print edition under the title 'who is a patriot?'

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    Hemant Kumar
    Nov 27, 2015 at 6:07 am
    Our country is incredible because of common people and not because of people like Bhanu Pratap who are self obsessed left intellectuals.
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      anonymous
      Nov 27, 2015 at 5:59 am
      What a dubious article.... the only ppl who need to be ashamed is the writer and the khan... Stop being trying the intellectual of all... this is not 60's where what ever you ppl will say, all will comply ... this paper hate propaa for current govt is well known... Get a life morons...
      Reply
    2. S
      Sandro Ghatak
      Nov 27, 2015 at 5:27 am
      Calling Arudhanti Roy a patriot explains a lot about the author. Only a deviant mind can make that ertion.
      Reply
      1. S
        Sandro Ghatak
        Nov 27, 2015 at 5:19 am
        if an honest person is warning about something ppl should listen. That wasn't the case here. er. "We all want a country where no one will be targeted for being who they are; where your surname, or choice of life partner, or eating habits will not make you a targeT" let's examine how many cases of eating habit targeting has happened in proportion to the potion of the country?
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          Desk bhakt
          Nov 27, 2015 at 3:12 pm
          Hey Dilip, I want to know what are you proud of as INDIAN? Our first target was Amir kHAn instead of kiran rao why is that? Why do we think Muslims are the reason behind terrorism acts? What about shiv Sena they trouble people so much literally beat them on roads? By carrying a Muslim or Hindu name you don't become one of them. One must follow the religion first. Do not target the religion but try to be a good citizen and help the country improve in unity and other important problems such as bringing electricity in many small villages, helping people without food, providing shelters. Do not boast yourself as INDIAN until you have helped your fellow citizens that's when you should pointing ohers mistake.. Till then just shut up !!
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            Desk bhakt
            Nov 27, 2015 at 3:00 pm
            I want to know one thing what are we proud of as Indians. Raping some girl on streets? Corrupt politicians? Communal riots taking place for money? People losing their freedom on what to do and what not to? What are we proud of here? Dirty roads? Illiteracy? What are we proud of? If someone has an answer please respond. Do not come up with this story how India was before 10, 15 or 50 years. Tell me what are you proud about as of now in terms of civic values.
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              Desk bhakt
              Nov 27, 2015 at 2:47 pm
              Why is Aamir blamed for acting in PK?? What if the same role was performed by Hrithik or Anil Kapoor or someone who is not from a Islamic background. Why is Raju Hirani not blamed for writing the story, screenplay and directing the movie. How did the movie become a super hit when people were getting angry that someone was mocking their religion? Pk was a huge hit because people liked it. Nobody else could have justice to that role except Aamir khan. Stop singling out a person and start cleaning your mind and heart from your home then spread it to the society. Anyone who is blaming Aamir should understand his concerns rather than demeaning him.
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                hayatlives
                Nov 27, 2015 at 10:43 am
                The norms are being set by people with small minds, resentful hearts, constricted souls and hateful speech. Every patriot should be worried about this and, yes, be ashamed. Great lines. Within these lies the crux of the argument that India is becoming intolerant by the day against every possible dissent.
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