Battle hymns

Updated: Aug 19, 2018, 07:32 IST | Paromita Vohra

One can see that they don't even have a strong ideology of their own. They have absorbed the advocacies in the air, and acted on them, in the clumsy way of children trying to act on grown-up talk they've overheard

Battle hymns
llustration/Ravi Jadhav

Paromita VohraLast week, JNU student leader Umar Khalid was shot at by someone outside the Constitution Club. Speedy police response was not seen. A few days later, a video surfaced on social media where two young men claimed to be the attempting assassins. Had they succeeded in their attempt, their speech would have felt only chilling in its childish incoherence. Because they did not, we see how pitiful these men are. We have a moment to feel not only angry, but also sad at what is going on around us.

The two men — who identify themselves as Darwesh Shahpur and Naveen Dalal — see themselves in an epic light, karamveers, who will single themselves out by doing something for the cause of Bharat Mata, threatened by any who dissent from central ideology. They cite upbringing and tradition – we have been taught by our elders that such people are dogs, and such dogs must be killed. Their plan ahead is something of a screenplay derived from various nationalist films. They start with three slogans Inquilab Zindabad, Vande Mataram, Bharat Mata Ki Jai — almost like the tri-lingual title of older commercial films.

They plan to surrender at a time of their choosing, in the village of Sikh revolutionary freedom fighter Kartar Singh Sarabha, a member of the Ghadar party. They love the Constitution but are also annoyed with it for not allowing dissent. On the basis of these allegiances, they ask that their performance not be impeded. One holds the tricolour, the other has draped a very new-looking saffron cloth over his shoulders — it is a desperate tableau of perceived nationalism to be expressed through violence. But also a desperate bid at mattering in an increasingly cynical world.

These virtual foot-soldiers, misled by digital propaganda, sending their digital selfie reports, are vaguely reminiscent of Godse's defence, where he too cited tradition, patriotism and an unfair Gandhi, to justify, in his own words only, his act — to no good end. One can see that they don't even have a strong ideology of their own. They have absorbed the advocacies in the air, and acted on them, in the clumsy way of children trying to act on grown-up talk they've overheard, which could result in horrible tragedies.

Who are the grown ups who sing these battle hymns of the Republic that these young men have followed? Without a doubt the exhortative hatred in media, the calls to kill defined by people on news channels and an administration which never punishes such acts. Those who are quick to bristle against the slightest critique of normalised militant right-wing ideology might want to take a moment now, from the hectic activity of polarised arguments to consider if they want to participate in creating such a citizenry — children whose elders have let them down with a bad education, where television is supposedly both history and reality.

They are like the clueless sidekicks of the jeering bullies on television – bullies who will turn on them if they become inconvenient, because that's what bullies do. These boys might have thought they are fighting 'outsiders' but there is no righteous war here for them to be heroes in. They too are precarious insiders, however much they believe otherwise, for in the end, the economy and culture are not being made to include them either.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

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