Comment: The privilege of having a country

1999

Let's not make any bones about it. There is a war going on between India and Pakistan. If India was a small country, we would call it a full-scale war. We are not talking cricket here. It's the real thing, with our soldiers and airmen getting killed. People getting injured and maimed, possibly for life. Their parents heartbroken, their friends and relations grief stricken. Our boys are out there dying for you and me. Not for some vague ideal, but for you and me. When soldiers go to war, they always say, "for my country". And what does "my country" mean? It's not just the land. It's the people. Indians. You and me.

As NRIs, one thing we take for granted is the fact that we have a country. No one threw us out of India. We might complain about it, curse our politicians, scream with frustration when confronted with masses of red tape and tear our hair out the minute we land at Bombay airport. Yet one thing we know beyond a shadow of a doubt. We have a country. And it is undoubtedly ours.

As an NRI, you may have questioned your identity many times. But it's always in terms of questioning your "original" identity - ie, an Indian, versus something else. India is always what you start with. Have you ever thought of the people who don't even have something to start with? Or worse, have started with something, like the Tibetan refugees in India, who now can't go back? When we agonise over whether or not to return and settle down in India, we never have to ask the question "Will we have a country to go back to?" It is a privileged position to be in, to have a country and not worry about whether it will exist a few years from now.

If you have ever met a refugee, you will have seen the look of envy on his face even as you routinely criticise your home-country. He is envious because he knows that you can so happily abuse your country because it is yours, and if anyone has a right to do so, it is you. You may lambaste America, the UK, or Singapore, wherever you live. Or you may sing its praises. But at the bottom of your heart, you are doing so as a foreigner. You can't get totally heated up about it. But India? Your heart is in it, and you are on fire. And that is a privilege too, to feel such passion.

Luckily we all know that there is no chance that India will suddenly be over-run by invaders. The Kashmir situation is not new, and our soldiers have been fighting and dying in the icy wastelands of Siachen for years. But till now, these battles have been euphemistically called "border skirmishes" and our soldiers have been routinely dying. And the problem with euphemistic "border skirmishes" is that there is nothing euphemistic about death. It has taken TV pictures of air-strikes and hero pilots to make us sit up and take notice. And one hopes that the Indian government doesn't forget those who have lost their lives in the earlier battles in Kashmir.

So as we go about our daily lives abroad, we need to always remember this. That there are people dying for us. We owe it to them to make India a better place for everyone.

- Chetan Dhruve in London

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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