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July 21, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Dilip D'Souza

Shamed By The Name Game

If you're an Indian cricket fan, you'll remember. In a match in Karachi on September 30, 1997, India's Rajesh Chauhan swung a full-toss from Pakistan's Saqlain Mushtaq into the midwicket stands. Six runs. Two balls of that final over later, India had won the match. That one muscular blow turned a likely loss into a famous victory Indians savour even today.

Even though we remember Chauhan's heroics, that day Saurav Ganguly had scored 80-odd runs. So it was he who won the Man of the Match award. It was not the first time, by no means. Over the years there have been dozens of matches held in Pakistan, like this one, in which Indian sportsmen have won awards. Now to my knowledge, nobody has asked Ganguly or anyone else to return those awards. Why not, I wonder. Isn't it patriotic to return Pakistani awards? After all, Dilip Kumar, the actor everyone knows is really Yusuf Khan, is being hounded to return the Pakistani award he got; apparently this is the only way he can show how Indian he is. So why not Saurav Ganguly?

Simple answer, of course. Saurav Ganguly is Saurav Ganguly. Dilip Kumar is Yusuf Khan, and when you have a name like that, your commitment to India is always questioned. Always. It does not matter how long you have lived in India, what you have done here, how you have lived your life. All that matters is your name. It alone will decide whether you will be subjected to tests of loyalty to India. "Yusuf Khan" means constant tests.

That's where we are today. For 52 years, Indians with names like that have served India with honour, honesty and courage -- from Maulana Azad to Captain Hanif-ud-Din, killed on June 7 in fighting in Turtuk -- but who cares? Indians with names like those are suspect Indians. That's an article of some faith. That's where we are today.

So Dilip Kumar must return his award. Women who, judging by the clothes they wear, also have names like those, must hold public demonstrations and carry "I Hate Pakistan" placards. At religious services to pray for our forces in Kargil, men with names like those must make an appearance beside other Indians: "casting aside religious differences", the caption below the photographs in the press says.

As if there are, without doubt and didn't you know, differences by religion in loyalty to the country. As if an award by itself makes you less Indian. As if the only way to be Indian is to hate Pakistan (why should we hate anyone anyway?) and hold up signs to say so. As if the rest of us, without names like those, need to be reassured by seeing these photographs on our front pages. Reassured that yes, those Yusufs and Hanifs and Mehrunissas have demonstrated their Indian-ness. Though only for now, of course. Naturally we reserve the right to question it again any time. Many times.

Yet, consider the deeds we can thank people with other names for. Three years ago, a man called Sukh Ram became everybody's symbol of the grasping corruption our country wallows in. Dozens of millions of rupees in unaccounted cash were found rolled in his bedsheets. A woman called Jayalalitha remains another such symbol, the crimes she is accused of summing even to billions of rupees vanished. Case after case against her struggles through special courts in Tamil Nadu, fighting past sustained efforts by this woman to subvert them. In 1996, once-minister Eduardo Faleiro stayed on in his sumptuous ministerial bungalow in New Delhi long after he was to have vacated it. Doordarshan's cameras showed us this man being finally, and physically, evicted. His belongings piled up on those pretty lawns as he spluttered on about the injustice and disgrace of it all. At the direction of a man called Bal Thackeray, we have watched men digging up cricket pitches, vandalising offices, terrorising nuns and young girls at convent schools, rioting all over Bombay. That rioting was so horrific, yet purposeful, that in his report about the events, Justice Srikrishna observed: "Bal Thackeray ... like a veteran general, commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims." The veteran general and his juniors themselves rejected that report, thus ending any hope of seeing the guilty punished. Thus shaming India, shaming you.

Ram, Jayalalitha, Faleiro and Thackeray. Deeds like theirs, but nobody thinks it necessary to question the Indian-ness of people with names like theirs. Not just that; instead of being punished swiftly for their crimes as they would be anywhere that laws mean something, vandals and rioters are actually hailed, actually pose, as courageous patriots.

It goes on. Taking time off from subverting her cases, the lady in Tamil Nadu arrived at Madras airport one evening to lay a wreath on the body of a soldier killed in Kargil, being taken to his grieving family. Many of you reading this, judging from a recent Internet poll, want Dilip Kumar to return his award to prove his patriotism. (The gentle irony is that you are subjected to tests too: weren't you screeched at here about not contributing enough to the families of soldiers killed and wounded in Kargil?). The loudest questions about his Indian-ness come from those who carried out "organised attacks" against ordinary Indians, from the "veteran general [who] commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks" to do so. The country's prime minister has neither the decency nor the spine to dismiss such questions as the repugnant rubbish they are. Instead he "leaves it" to Dilip Kumar to decide what to do with his award.

That's where we are today, too: where people who have evaded punishment for crimes against us are the ones who certify, with their wreaths and tests, which Indians are patriots and which are not.

That's India today. Know it and rejoice.

At a Quit India Day function in 1992, Captain Lakshmi of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army refused to even accept an award from people like these. She was that repelled by their destruction of the India she had fought for. On stage, in front of a chief minister and other notables, she handed back the petty token they were trying to give her and said: "I have no right to take any award or accept any felicitation as the independence we have achieved is false."

Indeed. In this independence, your name makes you suspect. On the other hand, your crimes not only make you a patriot, but also give you the power to decide others' patriotism. No questions asked.

That's why I was struck by a few lines I read in a recent review of a new book by Harold Evans called The American Century. The reviewer, Garry Wills, a professor of history at Northwestern University, writes: "[The book is] written with indignation. [Evans] notes that of the seventy blacks lynched in 1919, some were still wearing the uniform of the country. [He] criticises the dropping of the atom bomb. ... This is a honest book. Because it truly cares about America, it is also a patriotic one."

I was touched by this idea of patriotism. Not only does it seem that Evans is critical, even scornful, of much that his country has done this century; there is also no sign that he has demonstrated a blind hatred for any other country. And yet Garry Wills remarks that the book "truly cares about America."

I wonder when we will find the self-confidence for a similar patriotism in India. One which involves no hate for Pakistan, nor nonsensical tests called for by thugs, nor your name. One that grows out of caring for India, period.

Dilip D'Souza

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