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’.
What does the Constitution mean in their lives, in letter and spirit? Which rights matter to them the most, at home and beyond, as they enter 2020, the 70th year of the Republic.
Rights That Matter Most: ‘Freedom of speech. We can say anything against anyone, protest when we don’t agree’
Sanjay Kumar has been looking for a job since he completed his BA English (Hons) from a government college in Gurgaon in June this year. He is a resident of Nuh in Mewat district, which has been identified by NITI Aayog as the country’s most backward district. In 2017-18, the unemployment rate in the country stood at 6.1 per cent, according to data released by the government earlier in 2019.
What does India mean to you?
As an Indian, I feel it is a good country, but there are problems of cleanliness and hygiene, and of corruption. Things like women’s empowerment are spoken of very often, but nothing is done towards addressing these issues. I have a strong sense of nationalism and I’m proud of the country, but I feel there is a lot that still needs to be done.
Have you ever been to Delhi?
Yes, of course. Gurgaon is 35 km from here, and Delhi is 45 km away. I studied in a college in Gurgaon, which is right next to Delhi, so I used to go there often with my friends and family. Plus, even now, most of my friends are working in either Delhi or Gurgaon, so I travel there frequently.
What is the farthest place you have travelled to from your hometown?
The farthest I have travelled to is the Vaishno Devi temple, where I went with my family in 2017. I have also gone to Manali — that was for a school trip.
Do you have a friend from another part of the country?
Lots of them. I have friends in Gurgaon, Delhi, Jaipur, Ahmedabad. It is a wide circle….
What are the three important rights you enjoy as a citizen of this country?
I don’t know about three, but I think India has all the rights people should enjoy. Freedom of speech is (the) most important (right). It is there in reality; not just in the Constitution because people can protest against the things they object to. But now the government is trying to finish the kind of democracy the country should be.
For you, the government is…
As a member of the youth, I would say a government is one that focuses on providing basic necessities to youth — good education, health facilities, jobs, food. For example, in Mewat, there is no education. Children who go out of the district to study spend four hours each day just travelling. How will they study? How will they catch up with those who have better opportunities? This is what affects our success.
For you, a good citizen is…
Someone who thinks about his country or nation, focuses on his work, keeps the country clean, respects women, is against corruption.
For you, the most important historical event has been…
Kargil. It was the Indian Army’s best performance.
In the New Year, what is the one change you hope for in the country?
I want the government to think about the people, to provide youth with skills so that they are qualified enough to apply for jobs.
On the protests against Citizenship Amendment Act…
There have been protests in Mewat as well. Here CAA is not as big an issue as the NRC. I have an Aadhaar card and other documents, but most people in Mewat do not. Most people here are illiterate, they won’t even have basic documents such as Aadhaar card and voter ID card. But the real issue is, it is 2019, so many people are unemployed, this is not the time for CAA. Why does the government not focus on employment and other issues? We can manage without CAA and NRC.