A little over a month ago, we were laughing at the Napoleon complex that inspired the VC of JNU to request that an army tank be displayed “prominently” on campus to serve as a continuous reminder to students that…well, the army exists and students should be afraid of it, I guess?
Now, the Human Resource Development Ministry has asked IITs and central universities to host “patriotic bands” that will perform patriotic songs at college events. The government even took on the help of a private entertainment firm to identify 12 rock bands that meet this criteria, and while the official list of names are out yet, I feel certain that whoever these patriotic dozen are, I’ve never heard of any of them before. Because, you know, nationalist rock is literally nobody’s musical genre of choice, and I’m prepared to wager they sound awful.
The programs, scheduled to be held over the next month in colleges across the country, will be organised to celebrate 70 years of Indian independence and the 75th year of the Quit India movement. As part of this celebration, the government has also asked institutions to take their students to the memorials of freedom fighters and residences of martyrs. Earlier this month, institutions also organised an oath-taking ceremony where students and staff pledged to make India a “terrorism-free, caste-free, corruption-free, uncleanness-free and poverty-free society”.
Of course, all of this sounds like forcing patriotism down the throats of adults, and is part of a disturbing trend we’ve been seeing over the last few years. It feels like patriotism has now morphed into something dark and strange: from being forced to sing the national anthem in movie theatres to college students having to listen to patriotic bands, this new brand of patriotism seems to have more to do with force than a genuine love for anything.
Also, I don’t know if it’s just me, but do you feel words like “terrorism-free” may have political overtones here? It feels clear that we understand the word terrorism in a pretty loaded and biased way, considering how stone-pelters in Kashmir are labelled terrorists worthy of being shot at with pellet guns, while the 2 lakh Dera Sacha Sauda agitators, who continue to hold Haryana and Punjab hostage over a religious leader being guilty of rape, are merely being called an angry mob of devotees. It feels like when we use the word terrorism, we have a very narrow definition of the word that comes with religious overtones, and you wonder if asking college students to promise to fight terrorism between classes has more to with a subtle kind of brainwashing and bigotry than a meaningful or actionable commitment to national security.