The soul of India

Finding a humbling glimpse of constitutional India in the midst of the farmers’ protests

The soul of India

Like most citizenry caught up in the unknowns of the pandemic, the ongoing farmers' protest was a sideshow that was generating mixed emotions. Though instinctively, something seemed amiss about the way the bills were passed, about how the hapless farmers were risking their lives on the outskirts of Delhi, especially given the experience of previous big bang 'reforms' like demonetisation, GST etc. But the backdrop of the raging pandemic and the need to maintain 'social distancing' were valid considerations that raised questions about the timing and means of the mass protest. However, an eerily familiar pattern of dissing and ridiculing emerged that we had witnessed in the earlier protests like CAA/NRC, and the project of 'othering' started in full earnest — a minority community, a specific state and the ghosts of a defunct insurgency movement i.e., Khalistan, were hijacking the storyline. Shamefully casual invocation of 'anti-national' was getting afforded on the entire movement, as random people of no consequence and regrettable opinions, were conveniently showcased as the 'real intent' behind the movement. A disquieting pattern was visible and the by now, credibility-less media was constructing yet another 'anti-national' narrative.

Now, I must clarify, I am neither from a farming family, Punjab or a Sikh, just a concerned young person who is sick of the pettiness, hate and 'adjectification' of all those in minorities of race, region, religion or opinion. Though I am old enough to know the critical difference between a nationalist and a patriot, and I choose to be the latter. I am a proud Indian who loves our civilisational and constitutional values and am intelligent enough to know that very often the citizens, state and its institutions fail to live up to our constitutional morality and therefore we must stand up to correct ourselves — unlike the blind love of a nationalist, who is proud of the state, irrespective of what it does.

A chance drive from Delhi to Chandigarh forced us to choose the supposedly less disruptive route, given the protest 'blockade'. We took the Tikri-border, which ostensibly had a lesser 'blockade' then the Singhu border, except what we saw, convinced me of the description in the international press of the 'world's largest protest'! Over 30 days into the protest, the sea of humanity perched on the other side of the road in tractor-trollies and makeshift tents, defying all norms of expected mobocracy. Old folks soaking the sun trying to shrug the previous night's winter freeze, young men working tirelessly and efficiently with the calm and dedication of a professional organisation — their faces, forlorn yet determined. Meticulous order and undying spirit writ over their faces, they themselves pulled up any errant driver who disrupted the normal flow of traffic. Conversing and sharing tea with the odd policemen, it was societal conviviality at its 'profoundest'. Small huddles, speeches and 'mini-protests' within the overall ecosystem gave it a character without jarring the overall theme — everyone was there for the 'other', yet doing their own bit, individually yet collectively. Sudden shouts of 'Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan' erupt, dutifully followed by 'Bharat Mata ki Jai', festooned flags and posters of the protest all over — but nothing to suggest any political party, personality and god forbid, Khalistan! The air had a welcoming, genteel and almost spiritual sense of purpose, and we drove for miles on end, and the so-called 'less disruptive route' was a drive through civility, decency and decorum.

After we had left Tikri behind, we noticed organic encampments of refreshments for the farmers (anyone really) who was plying the road. We crossed several slow-driving tractor-trollies with protest farmers packed like sardines on the hard metal of the trolley, softened only by a carpet of dry grass. We peered closely and that same look of hurt, concerned and determined farmer, was all over. The journey was interspersed by these commune feeding-points where people waved frantically at vehicles, literally inviting them to partake refreshments, completely surreal. Following protestations from my younger sister who wanted to 'thank the people who were doing so much for the farmers', we did so. Soon, people rushed towards us with tea, sugarcane juice and started inviting us for prasad and food … we froze at the unbelievable genuineness and generosity of people we didn't even know? On informing them that we only wanted to pay our respects and 'thank them' — we saw them break into puzzled embarrassment and endearing smiles. Old men and women with shrivelled hands gave their blessing in Punjabi, which we only understood as it came from their hearts and went straight to ours, and the exact words were, frankly, irrelevant.

As we drove through the countless such stoppages, there was a silence of guilt and an invaluable lesson for us on the periphery of our prior doubts and ignorance. This was no political revelry, no picnic, no seditious sloganeering or misguided fervour — this was the purest of emotions that we ever saw or felt. This was the unseen soul of India that we always talk about, but never see — the unseen refinement of constitutional India. No one cared about the language, religion or region for they were passionately beseeching us to understand that there still exists a world that cannot be seduced with legalese, the media circus, thundering political rhetoric or meaningless promises. They shamed us inadvertently with their inclusivity, embrace and love when all we carried within ourselves were unverified attributions. The sight of the geriatric and burly Sikh farmer with his flowing silvery beard, the broadest shoulders, the largest heart and the gentlest soul who put his hands on our head and thanked us for our 'contribution', is a moving emotion that I will always cherish. Next time anyone suggests Khalistan, 'anti-national' or political backing towards the farmers — please do pay a visit (preferably in the bone-chilling night), and you will come back a proud patriot, ready to take on the so-called 'nationalists', who'd want you to believe otherwise. Indeed, these farmers are the soul of India, which the soulless most, seek to disparage.

The writer is a second year law student. Views expressed are personal

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