A month after she was trolled for saying that it was the Kargil War that killed her father in 1999 and not Pakistan, Gurmehar Kaur is back, with a powerful blog post.
In it, she seeks to answer a fundamental question that goes to the core of her identity — who is she? A few weeks ago, the media, a handful of celebrities, the public and the Internet trolls who attacked her all had their different versions of who she is. But Kaur's own answer is not as straightforward (or smug, as the case happened to be) as theirs.
"[It's] a question, I could've answered without any inhibitions or a trace of wariness in my standard cheerful tone only a few weeks ago," she writes. "Now, I'm not so sure." In the brief self-portrait that follows, Kaur sounds exceptionally self-assured for her 20 years.
If she's upset over the attacks she faced on social media, she seems to have enough reserves of irony to be able to douse her feelings ("They say my humour is dry but works on certain days"). She may be smarting from her father's death, she's also an outspoken optimist ("I'm an idealist. An athlete. A peacenik"). She is also resoundingly clear about who she is not. "I'm not your angry, vindictive war mongering bechari you hoped me to be," Kaur writes. "I am not your 'Martyr's Daughter'."
To many, Kaur's assertion in the final sentence of the blog may seem puzzling. Since her father, an Indian army personnel, was killed in a war, should it not make her a martyr's daughter? Not necessarily.
"My father is a martyr. I'm his daughter," writes Kaur. "But. I am not your 'Martyr's Daughter'." By making this statement, she emphatically reclaims her agency as an individual, who can think for herself, without being circumscribed by her history, and express her opinions in her own distinctive voice.
If losing a loved one changes people, it also forces them to reckon with life after loss. There are many who may be shattered by their losses, but may not want to be known by them. Kaur's objection is, therefore, to the easy public (and, to an extent, media) culture of labelling a person a "victim", then judging their views in the light of a specific tragedy, on the presumption that their value system must have a direct correlation to the experiences that had befallen them. And that's just one part of it.
Kaur's statement should also resonate with many Indians for another reason too. It defies the current trend of sticking identity labels on citizens, based on the nature of their relationship with the nation. It is a slap in the face of the one-size-fits-all culture of patriotism that is plaguing free thought, expression of opinion, ways of life and social harmony in India right now.
Depending on what you like to eat, who you choose to love, the god you worship, if you have an Aadhaar card, how promptly you burst into the national song or stand up when the national anthem is being played, you could either be a patriot or an anti-national in the eye of the Indian State. In case you happen to be classified as the latter, your rightful place, as ardent defenders of this country will tell you ceaselessly, is in our neighbouring nation, which is supposed to be the object of much contempt.
She is a martyr's daughter, he's an anti-national, they are patriots — these attempts to shrink our politics, our sense of who we are, to labels that derive their meaning and validation from our orientation vis-a-vis the nation is all-pervasive.
A 20-year-old woman has reminded us again of a fundamental truth that many thinkers have reiterated: our identity is not a fixed entity. On the contrary, it is always changing, reactive to the social, political and economic forces that touch our lives, it assimilates diverse currents of thoughts and urges us to challenge those that hinder our freedom and others. It is the well-spring for the question Kaur asked so unflinchingly — Who am I?. Alas, that is a question many don't have the moral amplitude to ask of themselves.
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