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: ‘Right to practise one’s religion… to express oneself freely’
While the new Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra is the latest to announce a loan waiver, Ramesh Lingayat, whose family grows jowar and bajra, says he doesn’t want to take up farming since “farmers have always been at the receiving end”. From Choramba village in Maharashtra’s Nanded district, Lingayat is a final-year student of political science and history at the Shankarrao Chavan College in Ardhapur taluka of the district.
What does India mean to you?
I feel very proud every time I hear the national anthem being sung or when I watch our armed forces marching during the Republic Day parade. I think the most Indian thing about me are my culture and my traditions which teach me to respect our elders.
Have you ever been to Delhi?
Which is the farthest place you have travelled to from your hometown?
When I was in Class 12, our school had organised an educational tour to Bidar, Karnataka (160 km away).
Do you have a friend from another part of the country?
What are the three important rights you enjoy as a citizen of this country?
The right to be treated equally before the law, the right which guarantees personal freedom and the right to practise one’s religion are, I think, very important rights. But the most important right is the freedom to express yourself, in public as well as in private.
For you, the government is…
The government is for the people, of the people and should be working for the people.
For you, a good citizen is…
Someone who follows the laws of the land and is conscious about his duties towards the country and society.
For you, the most important historical event has been…
On November 26, 1949, the Constitution of India was presented to the Constituent Assembly by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.
That is the most important day for our country as the Constitution defines what India is. Before the Constitution came into force, our society was plagued by ills such as untouchability.
In the New Year, what is the one change you hope for in the country?
The country should implement the spirit of the Constitution both in word and spirit. I hope that change happens in the New Year.
On the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act…
Yes, I have heard about the protests and I feel they are completely correct. The Bill discriminates against people on the basis of religion and violates the basic tenet of the Constitution. My existence is enough proof that I am Indian. Of course, I have my birth certificate and other documents, which I have kept safely at home, but why should I have to prove my Indian-ness when I am born in the country?