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.
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.