Ashamed to be an Indian?

If you are one to take cues from the media, this is a time to feel ashamed.

[gives you two minutes of respectful silence]

Okay.. finished with working yourself into a state of shame for being an Indian?

Good.. Let us proceed then.

Now and again, we see people proclaiming that they are either so proud to be an Indian, or so ashamed of being a part of this messed up society.

National pride usually rides bi-annual waves – once on the Independence day and once on the Republic day. Sometimes, very rarely, it makes a cameo appearance if someone/something Indian beats someone/something First-world – Team India wins the world cup, Abhinav Bindra or Mary Kom  fetches Olympic medals, Sunita Williams becomes NASA’s poster girl. (P.S. : Emphasis on First-world. I can’t remember the last time I saw India’s chest swell with pride when someone/something Indian beat someone/something Ethiopian or Turkish. You are free to remind me if the problem is my memory.)

National shame though,  is a frequent visitor – it comes and goes, comes and goes.. whenever a gang-rape or honor killing happens is reported in a big way, whenever a self-proclaimed revolution-maker unearths Qutb-high mounds of evidence of corruption, whenever communal riots burst out, whenever the state machinery fails in spectacular ways (which is always, but yeah – if you are Indian, you know the specially spectacular ways I am talking about).

 

What is the deal with pride and shame?

Typical conjecture girl analogy time..

Scenario A :

I have a house.

It is an ancestral house with heritage value. It has been revamped to suit modern tastes and conveniences wherever necessary. The decor shouts sophistication and chic. It is filled with highly successful, accomplished and special people as family. It looks amazing, it is maintained amazing, it feels amazing.

Should I be super-proud of the house? Is it my achievement to be proud of?

Scenario B :

I have a house.

It is essentially a one-room house. It has paint – wherever the paint hasn’t peeled away. It has a roof – wherever I don’t see the tarpaulin when I look up. It has electricity – in one plug-point. It has water – as much as I could rush and push, grab and drag during the ‘water hour’ at the local water pump. It gives a warm shelter to others – cockroaches, lizards, mice, and a lonely bandicoot.

Should I be ashamed of the house? Is it my mistake to be ashamed of? Even if it is in some way, does it help to be in shame?

If you were my neighbor, you’d probably put a hand around my shoulder and tell me that I should not. Especially if it is the shame scenario.

 

Taking house = nation.. The same applies? No? Why? How? Step-by-step batao mujhe.

 

My question is : If we are to be ashamed of being Indians, what exactly are we ashamed of?

For that, I’d typically get a list – dramatic stuff put in bombastic and clever words. Great. I heard you there, darling.

As I see it, pride and shame are very personal emotions. One feels pride about one’s own achievements, one’s own ability, one’s own attitude. One feels shame about one’s own mistakes – real or perceived.

If I happen to feel proud about being an Indian, it is an emotion that arose not from within, but from being told since childhood that one should feel proud about one’s nation. It is taught. Just as many Indians feel shame about their dark complexions. Just as many people around the world feel shame about being introverted. These are not the raw emotions. The raw ones are – pride about feeling ‘correctly’ patriotic, and shame about the daily humiliation one faces from an insensitive society ignorant about melanin and introversion.

So, when one peels away the outer layer of ‘taught’ emotions, real pride & shame have deeply personal triggers.

 

My next question is : Are all those reasons for being ashamed to be an Indian so personal that they trigger such a personal emotion as shame?

If you are put together enough not to label me to be cynical, insensitive and elitist-philosophical-types, I expect the response to that question to be  on the lines of : “Of course, it is personal! What happened to that person today, could happen to me or my loved ones tomorrow. All that corruption and state failure is wasting my hard-earned tax money. All this mess is in my society, of which I am a part of. Of course, it is personal!!”

Umm.. yeah.. I shall turn a blind eye to the hell load of “me” and “mine” in that. Because if I tell you that the overload of “my” in that indicates an undercurrent of self-centered attitude, you are going to jump up and down in closed-minded rage. So, let us quietly forget that I wrote and you read this particular paragraph. Thank you.

 So, everything is personal and everything evokes shame. Fine. It is apparently fashionable to feel ashamed to be an Indian.

For how long does this fashionable shame have to last?

Two days? Ok.

A week? Hmm.. to each, his/her own.

A month? Ah.. well..

Do I hear ‘everybody will forget this in three days and go back to their lives. Is desh ka kuch nahin ho sakta. Mera bharat mahaan!’?

Do I hear ‘for as long as it takes to solve the problem’? Really?

Darling.. negative emotions such as shame & anger have to subside – by nature. A healthy mind ensures and asks for that. If you keep that diya of anger & shame lit for long, you are most probably edging towards depression or maniac obsession. Forgetting negativity is natural and healthy. The human mind has only so much capacity to process such things. So do news channels. Every  firework rocket that goes up, may be to burst into a spectacularly colorful shower of sparks, has to fall to earth – along with the ashes.

Do I hear ‘THIS is the problem with this country. Nobody cares. We are numb. No change can come without keeping that anger and sense of shame alive.’?

Ok then..

 

My next question is : Did extended shrinking-with-shame and jumping with blood-at-boiling-point-outrage – instead of letting the taught emotions take a back seat and approaching the issue with a problem-solver’s mind – help solve any problem? Ever?

No.. don’t say ‘all revolutions in history’. Revolutions may stem from collective anger, but have always been led and taken forward to fruition by pragmatic intellect and leadership. I see neither deep thought nor much pragmatism in the recent protests. So.. what else?

 

[Takes cup of tea to mouth, sips, and waits for an answer.. while watching with an amused smirk, more protesters holding posters asking for castration & public hanging for rapists, and more state authorities coming up with not-the-real-point solutions. Isn’t it funny to watch knees jerking all around, and repeatedly? ]

 
P.S. To all feeble voices saying “Woh sab theek hai.. magar kuch toh karna padega.. something has to be done and something has to change!” :
Yes dear, soch rahein hain.. kuch toh karenge hi. Tab tak, baito. Please stop jumping, sit down, relax, and let us think rationally to see what sensible courses of action we have before us. Kya loge? Tea?

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17 thoughts on “Ashamed to be an Indian?

  1. How personal shame is, is deeply cultural. I think it *should* be, but I don’t think it always is. Most parents would (to varying degree) feel shame if they children do something wrong. Rightly or not, they feel this reflects poorly on them as parents.

    In some cultures, parents would feel shame if they 25-year-old daughter falls in love with the “wrong” guy, had the wrong job, or puts on “wrong” clothes. If what she’s doing really is wrong, any resulting shame should fall on her alone, but in practice it doesn’t.

    I’ve heard plenty of statements of the type “she brought shame on the family”, with my eyes, such statements are nonsensical – yet they’re tragically common. (I don’t know about India first-hand, but based on among other things your posts, I’d say they seem to be somewhat common)

    • I would still argue that shame is deeply personal. Even in cultural ‘taught’ shame, if you peel away the “dishonour”, “what will people say” layer, the shame is not really about what it is made out to be but about “how could I bring up my daughter like this”. It is just that it takes some maturity to realize that what they feel is not shame but social humiliation.

  2. I’ll rather be ashamed of being a part of this society than ashamed to be an Indian. And it is not just about this one incident but the general way in which we treat each other. I feel ashamed but also hopeful. We are improving. Bit by bit. Person by person. I heard a lot of sane voices during the protests. It felt good.

    Coming back to the anger part. I have been feeling realy angry from the last two years. It is not subsiding. I sometimes feel like holding everyone in the street by their collars and shout at them. So, in a way your post makes sense. I need a shrink.

  3. Just what i was looking for. I was searching for people’s thought on Indians, especially NRIs, feeling increasingly ashamed about India these days. I’ll give more thought to to what you have written.

  4. To be absolutely honest, I’m not convinced by your house analogy. Firstly, the house you describe in scenario B cannot be compared with a country like India. A more accurate description would be a house with several distinct rooms, some in the state you have described, while others similar to the one in scenario A, equipped with luxury that people in other rooms cannot even begin to imagine.

    Secondly, I am not ashamed of having a house in a poor condition. What I am ashamed of, however, is the lack of desire to do anything about it. Note: lack of desire, not lack of skills or resources. India is a country blessed with a generation of hard-working, well educated young people, like yourself. Did you know there are more gifted and talented students in India than there are students in the UK, where I grew up. We have a wealth of natural resources which, if used appropriately, could allow us to improve the run-down, deteriorating parts of our house. But due to lack of effort in improving and maintaining infrastructure, we do none of that.

    My another complaint about your post is that you assume pride and shame cannon co-exist. I argue that they can. While I’m ashamed of the inequality, sexism and corruption in our society, I am proud of the hundreds of thousands of people who have recently started to raise their voice against injustice. It shows our society has had enough and are prepared to start changing. I believe that if managed carefully, anger can be a very constructive emotion, providing the vital motivational push that can help maintain the drive required to fight for what we deserve.

    • Hey Sara,

      Welcome to this blog. Thanks a lot for taking the time to read, and comment on my post.

      I get what you say. But, excuse me for not responding to it – I really don’t remember the specifics of this post, and feel too tired to read through the huge essay I had churned out.

      May be, I’d come back to it at a later point of time and respond to your points. Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

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