Why we must stop preaching this lie.
“Sare Jahan se Accha, Hindustan Hamara” (Better than the entire world, is our Hindustan) are words etched in every Indian person’s psyche.
It is the unofficial national song. It forms the basis for our national identity.
Of course, the notion that one’s nation is the greatest is not exclusive to India, but in this country of 1.2 billion people, we drum it in with so much gusto, that we often forget it completely contradicts with our national motto — Satyameva Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails).
I suppose it’s easy for a country like India — with more than five* thousand years of documented history, one of the world’s oldest religions, the largest democracy, the third highest purchasing parity, the fourth longest rail network, the sixth highest number of billionaires — to imagine that it is the “greatest” country in the world. Of course, what it forgets is that a lot of the aforementioned “achievements” are either consequences of simply having been inhabited for a long time or having the second largest population in the world. For the former, the current citizens cannot take credit, and surely, for the latter, they shouldn’t want to.
Indians have always been overly patriotic (a byproduct of the British Raj and the consequent struggle for independence), but in the last decade and a half — a period of unprecedented economic growth and the rise of the Great Indian Middle Class — a new, extremism-driven wave of nationalism is taking hold of the country. One that is making it “cool” to beat your chest and blindly proclaim that your country is the greatest, whereas those who dare to criticise the many pandemic flaws and point out the potpourri of contradictions that is “India Inc”, are chastised and labelled unpatriotic.
While the modern, educated, middle-class Indian will rattle of a bunch of statistics and rankings off the top of their head to prove to you how well India Inc is performing, we often forget (and/or don’t like to be reminded) about the various problems that plague this behemoth nation.
Although we have the 10th highest GDP in the world, we rank 133rd, behind China (93rd) and Congo Republic (128th) for GDP per capita. We’re 50th (out of 224) for Infant Mortality Rate. 155th when it comes to environmental performance — only 23 nations are worse than us and most of them are the poorest of Africans states. 147th “best” in education — Cambodia, where Pol Pot tried to kill anyone with the ability to read or write ranks 134th. 105th in the Gender Gap index. 135th on the Human Development Index. Nearly 69% of the population, that’s roughly 850 million people live on under $2 a day.
In a nation that is home to the world’s third largest Muslim population, our political leaders keep using the offensive misnomer “Hindustan”. The colours on our flag were supposed to represent our unity in diversity and secularism, but modern India is a nation of 29 states, of which an alarming number would happily secede; and in a vacuum of genuine leadership, we’ve elected a Prime Minister who was embroiled in a sectarian violence court case (then acquitted — this is India after all).
At the stroke of midnight 15th August 1947, when Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, delivered his stirring speech “Tryst with Destiny”, I doubt he could have envisioned a country so far from his vision less than just seven decades after he made his famous proclamations.
I love my country — wholeheartedly. But just like I would love my future children with all my heart, it will not stop me from correcting their mistakes and pointing out flaws. In fact, it would be in their best interest for me to tell them when they do something wrong and teach them how they could improve on areas of deficiencies. Similarly, “blind patriotism” is akin to bad parenting and is a disservice to your country.
Perhaps when we teach kids “Sare Jahan Se Accha, Hindustan Hamara”, we should also point out that it was written by a prominent and gifted Muslim poet Muhammad Iqbal, who is also credited with the conception of Pakistan. That our national motto, “Satyameva Jayate” is timeless and much more worthy of a national identity than hollow claims of greatness.
We should teach the next generation of leaders that true patriotism is not ignoring your weaknesses, but identifying them so you can fix them.
That greatness is not the goal, but achieving equality, alleviating poverty, hunger and disease is what will make us a great country.
We should teach them that when you face monumental challenges, it should be seen as an opportunity to show that with unity, perseverance and determination, we are capable of solving any problem…
That it is noble to care for your own citizens, but the noblest of pursuits is to care for all the peoples of the world, regardless of borders, race, gender, sexuality, religion or creed. That people everywhere deserve dignity and respect and that we should aim to leave this world better than we found it.
India is not the greatest country in the world. It’s not even a great one. But it could be.
[title image credit: Varun Chatterji]
This article originally appeared on Medium on the 15th of August, 2014.