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Why WE (The People) Deserve the Bharat Ratna?

01/01/2015 7:58 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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Subhendu Sarkar via Getty Images
KOLKATA, WEST BENGAL, INDIA - 2014/10/17: An extremely crowded street in Burra Bazaar. Burra Bazaar (Big Market) is the commercial nucleus of Kolkata and is one of the largest wholesale markets in India. Right from the British East India Company days it has been in existence. The whole area is further divided into about twenty-five specialized sub-markets which are called by the name of items sold there. Burra Bazaar is extremely congested and remains abuzz throughout the day. The merchants are mostly non-Bengalis while the countless porters and labourers who work here usually come from neighbouring state of Bihar. Burra Bazaar caters to people not only of West Bengal but other parts of India as well. (Photo by Subhendu Sarkar/LightRocket via Getty Images)

I am the ordinary Indian (not aam aadmi) writing-in to humbly lay claim to the Bharat Ratna. Since politicians are too busy recommending each other (dead and alive) and their detractors are too busy disputing them--the task has fallen on me to recommend my ilk. Unlike them, who have vested interests in creating false gods and new icons, I have no such hidden agenda. I recommend myself and every other Indian with good reason and can justify our contribution to India throughout its existence.

Let me clarify at the start though that I by no mean wish to dismiss or disrespect all those who have received this honour. There are those that truly deserve it--statesmen, philosophers, artists, scientists, sportsmen who brought India glory and many others who fought for India's unity and integrity. But those were days when the deserving still got their due. Of late, the habit has been not to pick those that deserve it the most, but to pick favourites out from whoever could possibly deserve it, and that is a large pool in India--any way you define it.

It's interesting to observe that an overwhelming number of the recipients of this award are politicians, some with questionable politics and morals. One of these was associated with a sectarian problem in Punjab, India's emergency and widespread corruption. Under another's watch took place the massacre of thousands of Sikhs although he blamed large trees and mysterious earthquakes for it. Finally, our most recent recipient who, despite his secular credentials and mediocre poetry, supported a rath yatra to bring down a disputed structure whose significance was more than religious, it represented India's core values--secularism and equality. Each of these episodes contributed to manufacturing a culture of distrust and hate that India never recovered from. It probably never will. Why then did we give India's highest honour to these folks? Because politicians give these awards to each other (and to themselves) to help wash their common sins.

Now, let's talk about you or me--the aam folk. Why do we, the people, deserve it the most? Let's start with what we didn't do. For starters, we didn't indulge in the politics of hate that killed people or encouraged violence. Nor did we endorse or ride on or behind any real or mythical rath going nowhere. We don't have time for this. We have to earn, feed our families and pay our taxes to finance the Bharat Ratna.

And what did we do? Over the last sixty years, if anyone kept India's democracy, its freedom, inclusiveness, and secularism, tolerance and unity safe, it was you or me. Every few years, despite the corrupt, the disgraceful, and the shameless leaders that were presented to us--we went out to vote. We went because we believed it was the best for all of us--not just me. We believed that despite an emergency, unending hate speeches, sectarian violence and attempts to divide our country, our state, our city, our community sometimes even our homes on communal, caste or gender lines, we should not give up on democracy and the idea of India.

I am the minority, whose trust was broken by politicians but my faith in India sustained me. You are the ordinary Muslim on whom the rubble of the Babri Masjid fell but you got up nevertheless refusing to pick up arms to kill, even at the gravest provocation. You are also the Hindu whose faith is vandalised everyday to justify ghar wapsi and other such crimes on the innocent but you continue to believe in an inclusive and tolerant Hinduism. I am the young Indian murdered for marrying someone from another faith, the love jihadi whose only crime was love, the tribal without a voice killed in Assam, the sexual minority whose rights were violated by the very police who was meant to protect it. Nevertheless, neither of us stopped believing and continued to fight for freedom, justice and tolerance the threads that bind the fabric called India. Not only because my rights are important but also because if your rights are violated mine are violated too.

You and I are also the aam aadmi who is really a woman, molested, harassed but determined to fight. Not just to keep yourself and your environment safe but to remind your molesters and your self-appointed protectors that your body, your clothes and your minds, will not be controlled by hollow tradition, misplaced shame or intimidation. Also, to constantly remind these politicians, who make the same meaningless commitments each year about our security but never deliver, and the police force which rarely fulfils its role as protectors.

Why should the Bharat Ratna go to these politicians? Why can't it go to those that hold the idea of India sacrosanct--we the people? So what if it's an individual award--let it be dedicated once to the ordinary Indian who works everyday to keep this country together with our faith, tolerance, commitment and taxes. And if we common folks do not deserve the Bharat Ratna, who does? Whoever gets the Bharat Ratna now and in the future--and honestly who in a deeply divided, aspirational and restless India cares--can't possibly mean anything. You can give it to who you want and have a party at our expense--we are used to it.

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