Resident, usual resident; citizen, non-citizen; immigrant, illegal immigrant; Muslim, non-Muslim; Kashmiri, non-Kashmiri. In 2019, ascendant nationalism made way for narrowing definitions of who is a national — neat enough to fit a box to tick on a paper. From Kashmir to Assam, the complex matrix of identities woven over hundred of years of history and geography disintegrated into a jumble of numbers (370, 1971, 19 lakh), while from Sabarimala to Ayodhya, old identities proved strong despite the passage of centuries.
Towards the end of the year, the contesting figures took the shape of protests against the government. This shape seemed to have a common identity: young, articulate, seeking its rights under the Constitution, and rallying around the Preamble, beginning with the words ‘We, the people of India’.
The Sunday Express reaches out to men and women across the Republic, from the uneasy calm of the Valley to the angry disquiet of a campus, the desolation of Bastar to the solitude of a rape victim, and the hope for a job next to Millennium City Gurgaon to the longing for a temple in Ayodhya — to find out, in their own words and their own photographs or sketches, what they talk about when they talk about ‘being India’ and ‘being Indian’.
Rights That Matter Most: ‘RTI… Despite right to equality, we face discrimination’
Yogesh Makwana, 37
Makwana lives in Ahmedabad’s Rama Pir No Tekro, Gujarat’s biggest slum, with around 13,000-15,000 households, most of them Dalit like him. Since the 2016 Una assault on a group of Dalits, Gujarat has seen increasing Dalit assertion and, often, a resultant backlash from the upper castes. Having studied till Class 8, Makwana provides plumbers to various construction sites in the city.
What does India mean to you?
For me, the sense of being Indian is the strongest on August 15, January 26 and when saluting our Tricolour. I have that same pride when I come out to protest against the harassment of any person by police or politicians. I have been detained by police several times but I feel I am acting as per the Constitution. Recently, some bootleggers in our area were beating up a boy and I intervened and got him released. In return, the bootleggers filed a police complaint against me.
Have you ever been to Delhi?
No. A couple of times, my friend and I planned to go to Delhi, but it did not work out. But yes, we definitely want to visit Delhi.
What is the farthest place you have travelled to from your hometown?
I went to Bengaluru with friends on a trip.
Do you have a friend from another part of the country?
I have an engineer friend in Haryana. We met at a construction site and became friends since the project lasted around a year. We stay in regular touch over social media.
What are the three important rights you enjoy as a citizen of this country?
Right to equality, also the right to freedom of speech and expression. Despite the right to equality, on many occasions, we face discrimination. I also consider the Right to Information Act very vital and keep filing RTI applications on behalf of our locality.
For you, the government is…
Our governments think less of the public and more of their elected representatives. This is true of any (political) party, the Congress or the BJP. They talk of only religion, for electoral gains, while ignoring issues of education, employment etc.
For you, a good citizen is…
One who is full of humanity, who feels the pain of a sufferer.
For you, the most historical event has been…
November 26, 1949, when we adopted our Constitution, which gives us our rights.
In the New Year, what is the one change you hope for in the country?
There is so much unemployment due to recession. I want that a lot of people get jobs in the new year. My business has suffered a lot too. There is very less work. I used to hire 25-30 labourers per day from my area, but for the last three-four years, I have been able to hire only five-seven labourers daily.
On the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act…
The government wants to bring in people from other countries. But I can’t understand how they will give them employment and a better life. There is so much unemployment already… I am worried my family and I might be asked to prove citizenship too. We have our birth certificate, Aadhaar card etc and we keep them carefully in our almirah. But, you never know what documents this government may ask as proof of our citizenship.