The news of it spread rapidly, as any news does in a boys hostel. The reactions ranged mostly from outrage to disbelief. Holed up in their rooms, some in groups, most of the boys discussed this. For those who did not have much of an idea about dispute in Kashmir it came as a shock. While some of them could not wrap their head around why someone would not sing the national anthem, others thought whatever the politics or views of the three were it was their business.
Nuance has always repelled the majority. Through the regular 'terrorists ke sath link hoga', 'India ke tukde pe palte hain', jis thaali mein khaate hain...' assessments, most of the boys were just interested in learning what the hostel warden, an aged ex army man with a mustache he was proud of and a huge picture of a tiger in his office did. Few discussed the issue dispassionately. Beyond the right and wrong, beyond the rhetoric. When I think back, I feel glad that there was room for such analysis then.
Today the debates that are hogging headlines are steeped in rhetoric. To be binary in thought, in discussion; to be radical in expression, in argument, has become order of the day. There upon us is a unique problem where anti-intellectualism is fanned amidst a generations' lack of delving deep into any issue. In a quick fix, 4G, short attention span era, the complex, the layered, the fundamental issues of nationalism, morality, ideology are getting shunted through a problematic passage. Problematic for the fact that the demons of these issues, unless handled in a mature manner, will haunt us time and again.
Jingoism has to be banished. With the various currents and undercurrents around in the world, fanning polarities is only to make these currents extreme. While basic woes of human beings remain unaddressed, the privileged are consumed in waging a battle that has failure on both sides.Okay, enough of symbolism and abstractions. May the young, who are the rightful inheritor of the world we live, engage in more mature understanding of the debates that are raging. There is no net gain in militant idealism or ideology. The answers that we seek has to be sought within people, within communities, within religion, within nations, and the prodding has to happen, to quote Vajpayee ji, in 'insaaniyat ke daayre' mein.
Coming back to the story, were these batchmates banished by others after what they did? Did a few friendships forged for a few months break? No, for both. Maybe a few jingoistic ones were disgruntled, but nothing was taken too far. The guys went on to pursue higher education in India and UK. They are all married now and are working professionals in India and abroad.
And what really happened in the warden office on 26th of January in 2003? The three Kashmiri boys were called into the warden office. No one actually new what happened in there. Two versions of the story are: i) the warden asked the boys to sing the national anthem ii) the warden in his usual style delivered a long lecture and let them off. No one knew for sure. No one perhaps asked. Sixteen years back, thankfully, the boys weren't booked for sedition nor was anyone branded anti-national for continuing to be friends with those who refused to sing the national anthem.