Freedom is a responsibility, not just pride

But do we have any right to feel proud for what our ancestors did centuries back when we have squandered our inheritance?

By Kiran Kumbhar

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Tue 15 Aug 2017, 9:32 PM

Last updated: Tue 15 Aug 2017, 11:33 PM

Am I proud to be an Indian? The fact is that neither I nor any other Indian can take personal credit for having been born here. After all, nationality is essentially accidental. Nevertheless, as we grew up we were instructed to feel proud to be Indians. We were also told to feel proud of India, the civilisation which 'gifted' complex mathematics to the world and knew plastic surgery even before the world knew plastic. But do we have any right to feel proud for what our ancestors did centuries back when we have squandered our inheritance?

When I went to the United States for higher studies, I wasn't sure what effect the crossover would have on my outlook towards India, especially since the national pride I had passively absorbed since childhood had been tempered by the maturity of my mid-20s. But I was aware that for many in the Indian diaspora, living outside India reinforces such pride. Some begin sprinkling random 'facts' about the 'greatness' of India in conversations with non-Indians. Some even start looking down upon the culture and people of the nation where they were welcomed. But though I was uncertain what effect America would have on my Indianness, I knew I was eager to just talk about 'my country' with anyone curious.

During such conversations with non-Indian students, I became aware of how national pride makes one almost blind to the deficiencies of the nation, and makes one almost always exaggerate its strengths. For example, many Americans ask their Indian friends about 'the caste system', and I realised I could either give the stock 'proud Indian' response of 'there is no caste in "modern" India', or could honestly convey how caste remains a strong social and political phenomenon in much of India despite some partly successful efforts to make it less relevant.

I feel happy to report I went with the latter option. In other words, as I let go of national pride, its place came to be filled by a sense of responsibility. I realised that the accident of being born in India has conferred on me a crucial responsibility, that of being an inheritor of everything the idea of India encompasses, and of being an honest transmitter of that idea. I began feeling responsible, rather than proud, as an Indian. And responsibility meant a willingness to acknowledge the negative aspects of my history and culture.

The other day a friend who works abroad told me he felt sympathetic to demands for banning beef in India since "we Indians consider cows as gods". I told him that there are many Muslims, Christians, adivasis and Hindus too who do not in fact believe the cow to be divine and who consume beef. I asked him why he was not including those millions of Indians in his definition of India and Indians. It is not a coincidence that "proud" Indians tend to have a very narrow understanding of India, one that is restricted to the small part of India that they grew up seeing and feeling attached to. But when one feels responsible as an Indian, one tends to be more inclusive and tolerant of the country's multiple cultures and peoples.

Let us teach our kids to feel responsible, not proud, as Indians. Let us kindle within young Indians a strong desire to work for a better present and future. - The Wire

Kiran Kumbhar is a physician and health policy graduate

More news from