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India, my India?

A painful realization dawned on me recently: I may not be able to exercise my right to vote, for the foreseeable future. That is the life of expats who attempt to make a life in a country different from where they are born.

I have spent most of my life in India; I grew up in India, I grew as a person in India. The person I am today is because of everything I saw, learnt, read, heard and observed growing up. India instilled in me the importance of individual values, taught me that humanity is the most important religion and being considerate to our fellow human beings is the most honest act of worship.

My experience of India was mostly academic, filled with idealism, honesty, freedom, optimism and respect. To me, India was synonymous with freedom and liberty. The largest democracy in the world succeeding in its effort to bring together people from different regions, religions, languages, castes and cultures. A melting pot of diversity, color, festivals, and most of all, people. Oh, the people!

I revelled in joy when Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif, so eloquently, in a couple minutes, summarized so succintly what was great about India. I still get goosebumps and a deep smile when I listen to it. It was a jarring realization that the experiment that is the Indian democracy (much to the surprise of Western democracies) was working!

To my delicate mind, the Constitution enshrined what it meant to be Indian. It provided the guiding light. Understanding the societal values it exuberated, helped shape my opinions on liberalism and its importance in democracies. 'Of the people, by the people, for the people', establishes the virtue of equal power to every individual in choosing people to govern them, holds a special place in my heart. 'Unity in diversity' were an expression of what India embodied for me, not random words strewed together.

I knew the Indian democracy had had its fair share of struggle. To me, 1947, 1950, 1971, 1975, 1984, 1992, 1993, existed in history, but the times I grew up in, were defined by peace and happiness. Communal disharmony was not a part of 'my' India, outside the discourse of vengeful uncles who I dismissed as a part of the fringe.

In the general elections of 2014, I exercised my right to vote. I was overjoyed and gratified that I could participate in the largest and most important festival of a democracy. And since then, I thought it was fair to ask my elected governments the tough questions and expect more from them. I judged my government for the promises they had made, not for what their predecessors had done. After all, I was only asking for what was my right. After all, it was a government for me. But one thing changed, through that period: An atmosphere of dialog and freedom, became one of repression and doubt. Pessimism crept in.

Even after I left the country in late 2016, I continued to engage in ways I could. The governments I had voted to power were still in term and represented me. And yet, with each day, the cracks in the society around me kept deepening. Ever since I had known, despite ideological differences between me, my family and my friends, we could still communicate with each other, not over each other. These days, we refrain from raising political topics, just to maintain civility in conversations, even though we feel the discomfort in the air surrounding us.

But now, everything seems different. India seems different.

Of late, I have struggled to reconcile with everything that's happening in India and wondered if I really know India. Not having voted in the national elections earlier this year, the results stunned me. I have struggled with a moral dilemma since. Do I even have a right to raise my concerns about a country where I don't vote anymore? Is it fair for me to critic a government that I didn't elect? I consider myself Indian, I will always be one. That allows me to share my opinions about what is going on, right? I never thought I would say this, but I also understand the apathy of the people that distance themselves from politics and don't bother with exercising their right to vote. (I understand it, but I don't accept it.)

Maybe I was blinded by optimism, and the distance cleared the air. Maybe, I was living a utopian dream that I had for what I want India to be, and I was oblivious to its problems. Maybe I never knew. Maybe I lived in a bubble.

India made me who I am today, I owe myself to India. But do I really know India... Anymore?

Comments

  1. Voting is a citizen's foremost duty in a democracy. If despite your citizenship you are unable to cast your vote in person - perhaps it is a good idea to work with your elected representative towards gaining the means to vote while living overseas.

    In a representative democracy, the system will not ask more than simple lawful behavior from its citizens. As long as you vote, your representative has you covered.

    "Do I even have a right to raise my concerns about a country where I don't vote anymore?"
    Unequivocally, yes. As a citizen, your freedom of expression is not inhibited by your inability to vote. On issues that don't affect you anymore because of your physical absence, your fellow citizens who still live there may choose not to take your voice seriously. They, however, have no right to silence you.

    If you still feel tacitly guilty about influencing public debate because of not having cast your ballot - you would be well advised to try your best to vote (either by making the trip, or by actively raising support for your cause i.e. being granted the ability to vote while overseas) to feel better about it. But by no means is your right to contribute to public debate made void by your absence.

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