Posted by: Vikram | October 4, 2009

What do Indians fear ?

America, and the West in general has a great fear of tyrants and tyranny. This is not surprising, after all history is to the nation what memory is to the individual. No surprise then, that China of today fears disorder and instability, at the cost of liberty, after all it has gone through almost a century of complete chaos. Europeans, fear tyranny, dictatorships and military force, no surprise given their World Wars. This brings us to the question : What does the Indian nation fear ?

One can see immediate problems in asking the question, since before the Republican era, India was not a nation. It was a cultural continuum with a people that did not have a very keen sense of history. Thus, while individual groups of India may fear instability or disorder, as a nation I dont think most Indians can be said to fear those things. So what are Indians scared of ?


This fear comes not so much from a past history of distinctness, but from a combination of the creation of Pakistan, the state and media’s propaganda, the general geo-political situation and history of Republican India. This is why Indians are almost paranoid about maintaining territorial integrity, and why a few Chinese maneuvers on the border can give the entire country jitters.


National humiliation in the national context comes in two different ways. One was the humiliation that the English colonizers inflicted on Indians during the British rule. Separate stuff for the goras, general tone of sub-ordination and sporadic cultural suppression affected the traditional Indian elite across the sub-continent. This is why, on Independence Day, Indians dress in their traditional garbs and dance their traditional dances.

Punjabi girls on Independence Day

Punjabi girls on Independence Day

There is a much more subtle second form of humiliation. This is the humiliation of ignoring. Indians can simply not stand that the West does not know about their great ‘culture’ and Bollywood. This is why a Shah Rukh Khan stopped for a routine check at an American airport sparks outrage, oh how could they not know who Shah Rukh is ? We worship him. But a 6 year old Dalit girl getting beaten up by some policemen in UP barely creates a flutter. India’s poverty and injustice embarrasses its elite, but doesnt worry or anger it.


Humiliation is something that I feel urban Indians are scared of more than rural India. Sadly, unlike what the Westerners and Chinese are scared of, the things urban Indians fear arent so much about values or national well-being, but rather about security and the part of the personal ego of the individual that is tied to his/her nationality.

That being said, millions of the impoverished rural masses fear a return (if it has gone away) to the despotism and oppression of caste and monarchy. ‘Barso ghulami ki raat mein azaadi ka sunhare sapna’ (बरसो घुलामी की रात में आजादी का सुनहरा सपना), the dream has not come true but they are in no mood to return to the past. They keep voting, because they remember their history of no representation and no power. And it is this fear, that has kept and keeps India democratic.

The Punjabi girls picture is from the Tribune newspaper of Chandigarh.


  1. Sure,what you have said is all correct.Frankly,I fear a situation of terror and Govt’s response time being miserably slow and the feeling that we are fighting more for votes and less against terror.I fear appeasement policy.I fear complete insensitivity of the establishment towards the common man.I fear inflation because poor man will just die of hunger.I fear Govt’s couldn’t careless attitude.

    • Chowlasaab, I am thinking more in terms as a nation, rather than individual concerns, which are important as well. Obviously, inflation, security (not just from terrorists) and government apathy are concerns for most Indians.

      • Vikram isn’t the entire nation worried about all the points that I have mentioned?I think they are.
        I know individuals do not matter,but these are national issues and concerns.

      • Chowlasaab, I agree that most of the nation is worried about the things you have mentioned. But I was referring more to the permanent fears that afflict Indians due to history and the nature of our country, not government mismanagement or terrorism.

  2. very interesting analysis

    Thanks Reema

  3. Nice write up.
    I have a feeling the Chinese are equally scared of disintegration like us. Isn’t that what the one China policy is all about?

    We also have a huge inferiority complex as a nation due to our colonial history and rampant casteism. Manifests as insecurity about our color and race in ineractions with Western people.

    We’ve become so desensitized to poverty that we don’t view such issues as important enough to be discussed. Infact most Indians would want the world to believe nothing like that happens here. About the outrage on Shahrukh’s detention.. the same factors at work I guess. We still want the West to approve of everything we do (one reason why we value awards like the Oscars so much) and it irritates us when the West forgets our existence except when quoting about poverty and dowry deaths.

    BTW, why do Americans fear tyranny?

    • China is 92 % Han. One China policy is more about the borderlands where Han have been migrating to in the last 60 years.

      You are spot on about the fear of disapproval from the west. But I think this applies less in the countryside and to the newer political elite whose power is based on the rural vote (eg Mayawati).

      Americans fought their War Of Independence against a tyrannical English King, they were heavily involved in the 2 World Wars against dictators. I think they also fear being called racist.

  4. Hmm.. Their War of Independence is next to nothing compared to the colonial brutalities experienced by many countries.

    This fear of tyranny IMO is the exclusive creation of the American media which sees terrorists everywhere. They’ve created a seige mentality among the people.

  5. I think in this aspect one has to take many factors into consideration. I think the fears of rural India would be different – for them it would be inflation,more poverty, casteism. Disintegration is probably hardly their fear. The urban India – and among them the educated ones probably fear corruption, lawlessness, terrorism.
    You have looked into the broader aspects as a nation, but then in that case humiliation does not fit in there…. or have I not read the post right?

    • Yes, humiliation of the kind I have talked about here does not really apply to the rural Indians. The rural/urban difference extends to what people fear.

  6. Hi, very thoughtful post again, but I cannot agree to this:

    “This is why a Shah Rukh Khan stopped for a routine check at an American airport sparks outrage, oh how could they not know who Shah Rukh is ? We worship him. ”

    If I’m not wrong, SRK was profiled because of his name, it wasn’t just a routine check. And I didn’t notice any anger, duh. If anything most of us were gloating at SRK’s discomfort and making really snide and personal comments like “SRK thinks he rules the world” and bla-bla. I feel the incident should have been used to highlight the humiliation the ordinary Muslim faces when (s)he faces such paranoia. Instead the Indian elite found a great opportunity to sling some serious mud, and with prominent newspapers like TOI taking a VERY personal stance, it turned really ugly.

    So my conclusion is:

    “The Indian elite is used to meekly submitting to such humiliation, and expects everyone else to do the same. Anyone who questions it is liable for severe aspersions to be cast on his/her sexual orientation 😐 ”

    I have a similar example like the Dalit girl’s . During the Mohd. Haneef fracas, when he was returning to India, every news channel was on overdrive spouting irrelevant crap like “Dr. Haneef is travelling by so-and-so airline” and “He will arrive at so-and-so time”
    If I remember right, TimesNow was the only channel that reported the story about this Army major who died fighting a number (i think 6) of armed terrorists, on the same day, in Kashmir.

    Apropos the SRK issue, it would be interesting to delve into this crab mentality of ours, as per which every successful person is a crook, and we prefer insulting successful people rather than accept that we may simply not be as good!

    Oh you know, SRK is gay, Rajnikanth is a joker, Dhirubhai Ambani is a fraud, that successful govt. official who lives down the street is corrupt, etc.

    “irritates us when the West forgets our existence except when quoting about poverty and dowry deaths.”

    I do get extremely annoyed when foreigners (and even NRIs sometimes) start talking crap about India. The problem is it’s dismissed as teenage angst 😀 , and I’m accused of being “blind” and “unrealistic”. It irritates me not because I’d prefer to be blind, it’s because the West is also fucked up to some degree. And they’ve got no moral right to lecture us, not when their society also has grave problems. It’s this mudslinging with this pseudo-superior attitude that gets my goat.

    The west and those Indians who “liberate” themselves from India would do a lot better to solve their own problems instead of overemphasizing ours just to prove that they are superior.

    Sorry, it turned out to be long 😛

    Anyway this was another nice post, very interesting. It’s always nice to see some constructive and objective criticism sans the malice.

  7. Awesome post, Vikram, couldn’t have said it better myself. Unfortunately, quite a lot of the time I am guilty of this hypocrital fear of the middle classes as well…

    • Yes, it is an issue for the middle class collectively, so we all display that fear in one way or another.

  8. That is why these people come to this country to steal money from the American people through their conning of funds when they obtain 800 numbers and create an illegal company name and scam people from their hard earned money!! They have no morals, no souls. They stink like BO and live off of curry everything. Go back to your smelly open sewer system country stay there we don’t need your nasty people here! Stop breeding your kind of ugliest people in the world. No even sure what color your skin is. That is why you people have arranged marriages cause nobody else wants to marry your kind. I hear your country smells like a dirty elephants ass!!

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