• Antara Basu


Entering the 67th day of the lockdown, and I was quite settled in my daily, albeit, monotonous routine, skipped my morning classes in favor of sleep, got something to eat, and buried myself comfortably beneath my phone and laptop to initiate the blessed, day-long process of scrolling. My Instagram feed, as usual, was dressed up in Vogue, laughed with memes, and altogether churned in politics. And then it caught my eye, an Economic Times post, that stated that on June 2 the Supreme Court, will be hearing a plea to change the name of the country in the constitution from ‘India’, to ‘Bharat’ or ‘Hindustan’. Why? Because it will instill a sense of pride in our own nationality.

India, it rolls off the tongue. Bharat, the Hindi version. Hindustan, and here we insert the communalism. Yet many don’t know that Hindustan was never supposed to refer to the Hindu community or religion, it was simply the Persian name for the Sindhu river. The Sindhu river which we also call Indus, so Hindustan was to basically identify the land beyond the Indus river. And this term became collectively used to refer to our country, but after years of communalization of issues, even this has been distorted. So much so that changing the name of my country, the name that I’ve grown up with will somehow instill nationalism within me.

And as I proceeded to work myself into a frenzy over a possible name change, I couldn’t help but wonder, about nationalism wrapped in ultra-nationalism and served up with Hindu nationalism. Being from a Hindu family, though I identify as an atheist, my identity will always be protected by the religion I was born into. Having had access to education, to technology I also recognize that I speak from a position of privilege. I speak from a position shared by much of the youth whose expectations have been veiled by nothing but discontentment at the state of our nation.

I do not remember feeling a sense of pride in our nationality when I wake up to notifications of violence, of upper caste communities against Dalits and other lower castes. I read about Hindu atrocities on Muslim counterparts and Muslim atrocities on Hindu counterparts. I put up stories of the same law enforcement in place to protect us, barging in colleges to attack students. I hear of young students killed because of a nation’s obsession with sexuality.

Hopelessness, anger, the outrage I can feel all of these, but I don’t remember feeling proud in a long time. Incidents start small, hurling of verbal abuses, casual remarks of religious intolerance, mob lynching under the shade of cow vigilantism, and all of a sudden the evening news can’t seem to go on without at least a single case of rioting, and yet, then we all sleep, wrapped in our blankets, confident in the warmth of our freedom. I do not remember feeling a sense of pride in our nationality when I fall asleep to the same cycle of notifications of communal, gender, sexual, caste, race, and of all the imaginable categories of discrimination.

So, no changing the name of the country in the constitution will not instill a sense of pride for a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, or in this case, reek of a drowsy democracy [Apologies for quoting clichés]. And it would take away another thing that resonates with people, to the youth. ‘India’ is what we have grown up with, it is what we identify with. I don’t desire to further harm the true meaning of Hindustan, but at the same time I cannot deny that however misrepresented it may be, the name ‘Hindustan’ has taken on a synonymous identity with Hindu nationalism, an identity which I do not want my secular country to be clothed in. Changing syllables won’t justify the hard-fought freedom of our ancestors. We might just have overcome colonist mindsets but we will never justify our freedom struggle until we unshackle the chains of bigotry. I want to believe, in the power of Indian democracy, in the strength of dismantling prejudice, and in the fight for a recovering translation of India.

Tonight, I’ll sleep with my phone on silent.