There are many ways to fame and approval but in the backdrop of tense ties with Pakistan, the quickest and most popular route appears to publicly proclaim one’s patriotism.
A clutch of Indian theatre owners exhibited that tendency on Friday when they moved to ban movies with Pakistani artistes or technicians, attributing the reason to “patriotism”.
They were following in the footsteps of the Indian motion picture producers association (IMPPA) which last month, banned Pakistani artistes from the film industry “till normalcy returns”. They gave the same reason for their decision: Patriotism.
Except that nothing about this action is patriotic.
The attempt to banish Fawad Khan from our cinemas is loud chest-thumping, unthinkingly nationalist and short-sighted, yes, but not patriotic – for the simple reason that patriotism emanates from a love of the country and is supposed to benefit the country, not be a short-cut to primetime television.
The rush to ban movies with Pakistani connections and push artistes from the neighbouring country to apologise for militancy and terror betrays two simple motives.
One, that there is little thought invested in the action. Banning individuals or hurting an industry does little to dissuade Pakistan’s terror leadership from launching more strikes against India or subvert the bilateral atmosphere. Indeed, steps such as these or banning cricket matches vitiates the atmosphere and robs the tense relationship of its only silver lining: Human-to-human bonds across the border.
More tensions suit hawks– the absence of any positives tying both countries together helps extremists ratchet up rhetoric. More soldiers are deployed on the frontiers that raise risks of potential casualties as a result of the war-mongering.
The second, and more egregious takeaway, is the naked cynicism of such moves and the tenuous connection it has to genuine feelings for the country. People who feel a sense of belonging and love for their motherland usually strive to give their all for public service. They dedicate their lives to causes, choose difficult professions, undertake painstaking work or advocacy to improve their communities. Even among those patriots who aren’t satisfied by such seemingly passive pursuits, there is a common desire to not take the easy way out of a problem: Think Bhagat Singh, who faced infinitely more difficult times than the current advocates of pop patriotism.
Moves to ban films have none of these characteristics. They are opportunistic ploys to grab eyeballs and rack up nationalism fervours – more often than not, they are an attempt to gain political brownie points or improve one’s business prospects.
The mounting military casualties in Kashmir is a matter of national concern but not one that can be solved through myopic, self-congratulatory moves such a film ban. A concern for the soldier in Siachen or Kargil has to go hand-in-hand with a concern for the Kashmiri population, their demands, aspirations and anger, an introspection of what has gone wrong in the Valley – not just an uncritical toeing of the government line.
None of these people who profess a love for the army stop to think what ratcheting up tensions would mean for the soldier, already struggling under the weight of a hostile, often invisible, enemy, poor equipment and inclement weather. They don’t care if more soldiers die in more conflicts. They aren’t interested in mitigating the conflict or containing hostilities, because that will shift the focus. There is a reason why shoddy military gear and allegations of corruption in the procurement of army equipment never triggers nationalist fervour.
Patriotism isn’t supposed to be easy. It is a difficult and lonely vigil that is supposed to lead to a nation’s general betterment – inspiring people to end bias, improve living standards and make their communities a more livable space for everyone. It is about standing up for people’s rights, fighting against prejudices and even criticizing the government.
It isn’t pretending to care about the country for an hour and going about with our daily lives. It isn’t just about war.
(Views expressed are personal. The author tweets at @dhrubo127)