We are Anti-CAA Protesters. Yes, We Are Reclaiming the Word Deshbhakti


We are Anti-CAA Protesters. Yes, We Are Reclaiming the Word Deshbhakti

Illustration: Sid M

Deshbhakti. I have a thorny relationship with this word, I’ll admit. For many years now, I’ve thought of it as a verbal grenade, to be launched for quick and easy obliteration of the opposition in an argument.

All bets are off, when deshbhakti is on the line. Feeling resentful about twin disasters that were demonetisation and the poorly planned GST rollout? Where’s your deshbhakti, man? Nation-building requires some sacrifice. Disturbed by the brutality unleashed on the citizens of Kashmir and the violation of their fundamental rights? You must be a Pak-loving anti-national, go back where you came from. So it’s been a while since I heard this word without rolling my eyes in derision, even contempt. Deshbhakti is for the sentimental soppiness of my grandparents’ generation, and I wanted no part in that. Somewhere, in the recesses of my mind I knew it was a privilege — a massive one at that — to disconnect so completely, to be so indifferent to an idea as potent, insidious, and ephemeral as deshbhakti. It’s a privilege to be able to reject the idea of nationhood, or the demand that one swear fealty to it. And it’s a privilege to be able to leave, when the nation has stopped serving its purpose — be it the one we were born in, or the one we adopted. I had that privilege, and I wore it like a shield. Let them have deshbhakti, we don’t want it anyway, I, and so many like me, told ourselves every so often.

But something seems to have shifted within the very air of the country in the last 10 days. It feels cooler, doesn’t stink as much. Deshbhakti doesn’t feel like a dirty word anymore. Suddenly, it’s something I want to embrace; something to hold close like a kangri under a pheran on a chilly, unending winter night. Deshbhakti doesn’t disgust me anymore. How can it, seeing, as we have, so many of its heartwarming facets, piercing the darkness and the fear shrouding the country?


People hold national flag during a protest against the new citizenship law, at Jamia Millia Islamia University on December 20, 2019 in New Delhi, India.

Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Deshbhakti is all the fierce hijabi and burkha-clad women who refuse to be sidelined or othered, leading from the front. The young college girls who made a sorry excuse of a TV reporter dive for cover when he had the temerity to ask them if they considered themselves Indian. Deshbhakti is Ladeeda Sakhaloon and Aysha Renna, the warrior women from Kerala, whose faces have become the symbols of the students’ protests in Delhi. And deshbhakti is all the Hindu women wearing the hijab in retaliation to the PM’s comment about mischief-makers being identified by their clothing.

Deshbhakti is all the college students picking trash off of the roads and grounds where they protested, mere hours after the police opened fire and lathi-charged them on trumped up charges. Deshbhakti is them offering roses to their oppressors in a desperate attempt to appeal to their dwindling humanity.

Deshbhakti is all the many, many young men and women running around protests offering Parle-G and candy to tired demonstrators, and sindoor-sporting aunties bossily ordering the young to drink up glasses of Rasna, and the shawl-wearing aunties stationed like self-appointed sentries around protest venues with boxes of rewri and gajak in outstretched arms. The resistance has a place for everyone, and for every heartfelt contribution, big or small.

Deshbhakti is all the snow-haired uncles in cargo shorts, flashing reassuring smiles to worried, first-time protesters. “Beta, don’t worry,” I heard them say, again and again and again, as many times it took, to as many teenagers who needed to hear it.

Deshbhakti is all the brave women who formed impenetrable human walls around the men to keep the police from detaining them under the ruse of Section 144 and violating their bodies with impunity.

Deshbhakti is all the fierce hijabi and burkha-clad women who refuse to be sidelined or othered, leading from the front.

Deshbhakti is all the people who lied to their bigoted bosses, the daily-wage workers who lost the day’s pay, the “spoiled” millennials who showed up even though their parents forbade them from making anti-government statements publicly, and those who spent hours in traffic and trains, and those who walked for miles to participate in the protest — not to become its heroes or the faces of the resistance, but just as nameless, faceless parts of the crowd — all because staying silent this time around was simply not an option.

Deshbhakti is the angry middle-aged man angrily schooling a flustered Pragya Thakur aboard an aircraft in public service and the art of shame, knowing, full well, her links to saffron terrorism. It is the revulsion with which PM Narendra Modi’s speech was received, as he furiously backpedalled, trying desperately to undo the damage Home Minister Amit Shah had done by giving the protests an anti-Congress, political spin. And deshbhakti is also all the fury that rained on Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for standing by as mute, helpless spectators and occasional Twitter warriors, while Muslims were being brutalised.

Deshbhakti is Varun Grover’s rousing “hum kagaz nahi dikhayenge” anthem as it reverberated not just across India, but around the world as the Indian diaspora took to the streets in multiple continents and countries in solidarity with their people back home.

Deshbhakti, I’ve learned in the last 10 days, is everything but what the right-wing merchants of hate want us to believe it is. I’m so proud of you, my lion-hearted, untameable deshbhakts, for reclaiming a word that has, for far too long, has been politically exploited and bastardised. May your deshbhakti never be questioned or ridiculed again.