“Get out of my country, you bloody b***h!” Those were the words a complete stranger shouted at me just before exiting the metro. A few minutes earlier, he had said I would be torn to a thousand bits had this been Pakistan.
It had all started innocuously enough, on what appeared to be a regular Saturday afternoon, as I made my way back home from college. The man approached me asking if he could see the badges pinned on my bag. There’s one with a quote from Rohith Vemula’s suicide note, another from when I saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and a third about azadi with the words “JNU ke saath”.
That was what had got his attention. I had seen him looking at me earlier, but had chalked it up to him trying to get a look at the metro route, blinking above me. He appeared to be in his twenties, dressed in a kurta-pajama, basically, your regular metro commuter.
As the train approached the Rajiv Chowk station, he got up and came up to me, quite unthreatening. I thought he was genuinely interested in the issues that the JNU movement had foregrounded earlier this year. He asked me where I got the badge from, and I told him it was from one of the various JNU protest marches. “Yeh Kanhaiya vagaira ke saath ya unke khilaf?” Is this in support of Kanhaiya [Kumar] and his lot or against them, he asked.
I replied that it was in support of the JNU students. And that’s when his tenor changed. “Tum log desh se azadi chahte ho? Desh ke hazaar-hazaar tukde karna chahte ho?” Do you people want freedom from this country? Do you want the country split in to thousands of pieces?
I told him that what I wanted, in fact, was the azadi to think, speak, and exist without fear. The constitution guarantees the freedom to speech and expression, I told him. He responded with the stock argument, the how-can-you-say-this-about-our-grand-country, how-can-you-want-to-break-it-up. I tried explaining that shouting slogans does not constitute wanting freedom from the country.
Things escalated from here on. “Agar hum Pakistan mein hote, tumhare hazaar-hazaar tukde hote!” (If we were in Pakistan, you would be torn into a thousand pieces). We are in India, I tried to tell him. Criticising Pakistan does not make us any better — we are a distinct country, with our own issues that cannot be resolved by making comparisons with other countries. Am I supposed to be grateful that my body is intact, despite having an opinion contrary to his?
By this time, we had managed to attract a fair bit of attention, an entire compartment of people staring intently as this man verbally attacked and threatened me.
He got hysterical at this point: “Do not criticise my country! Do not even try to criticise my country!” When I responded asking why, and attempted to cite this as the perfect example as to why azadi is important, he categorically said “yeh badge utaaro” (Take off this badge!). I refused and, as the doors began to open, he reiterated, “Yeh badge abhi utaaro!” (Take it off now!). I asked him why, and by this time he had started walking towards to the door.
“Get out of my country! Get out of my country, you bloody b***h!” he screamed as he stepped out.
The entire compartment was still staring at me. The adrenaline wearing off, I had begun shaking and was willing myself not to cry. Nobody reached out to me, nobody asked if I was alright.
Besides the obvious issues of complete intolerance and the shockingly low esteem in which the right to free speech (it is not a privilege, it is a right) is held, this incident has brought many issues to light. The space within which one can talk, debate, discuss is shrinking by the minute, and ignorance is blinding so many people. Am I a b***h because my opinion differs from yours? Am I a b***h because you don’t like my opinion? Or I am a b***h simply because I have an opinion?
Not wanting to listen and trying to shut me up in your jingoistic, pseudo-patriotic frenzy is not okay.
The incident has shaken me, especially since I seem to live in a happy bubble where the people I interact with think similarly. This country is mine, and my love for it is inherent, an intrinsic part of my identity as an Indian. I am here to stay, my badges in tow.
Kanhaiya Kumar said it best, “Hum desh se azadi nahin chahte, hum desh mein azadi chahte hain”. (We don’t want freedom from India, we want freedom in India.
(The writer, 19, is a third year student of English at Ramjas College, Delhi University)