Reflections on a Poem

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By: Minna Kabir

Dear BJP Government, into that Heaven of Freedom, let my country awake

          with true Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas Sabka Vishwas

Where  the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free.
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.
Where words come out from the depths of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection.
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way,
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.
Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever widening thought and action.
Into that heaven of freedom my Father, let my country awake.

                                                                 RABINDRANATH TAGORE
                                                                  Gitanjali

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high:

Dear Government can you not feel the fear, the pain, and the sense of rejection, from the people who brought you to power with a huge majority, and who you are supposed to serve and look after so that my country may awake to “sabka saath sabka vikas sabka vishwas?” The mind cannot be without fear and our heads cannot be held high when I open the pages of the newspapers, and watch on TV screens, words spoken by our elected representatives, words like, “those raising anti-government slogans will be buried alive.”, “They will be attacked by sticks, shot at, and put in prison. They will be shot at like dogs.” Is this what my India will have to endure for the next five years of your term in office?

Where knowledge is free:

How can knowledge be free when the people you are supposed to serve, are not heard when they express their dissent? When their cries for sympathy and understanding are met with a ‘lathi-charge’ and even bullets? When their cries for equality of all people are met by putting them behind bars, and then by not providing them access to due justice and the rule of law? When their cries for a hearing are met with stony silence or words of hate? And when the democratic institutions of our dear country, which are meant to protect us and guard our Constitutions and laws, turn a deaf ear to the pleas for protection and justice? Is this Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas Sabka Vishwas?

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls:

Every morning my country, instead of awakening into that heaven of freedom that Rabindranath Tagore spoke of, awakens to the feeling of fragmentation after the CAA has been pushed through Parliament in a hurry. My country fears being broken up into “tukde tukde” with the impending NPR and NRC, because it has broken up our society into the “pro” and the “anti” sloganeering that is generating hate and negativity all over the country. Is this not enough for a government to rethink the legislation?

Where words come out from the depths of truth:

We no longer know what to believe from the mouths of our government. We hear one thing one day, and then something else the next day. We hear different things from different people who are our elected representatives. Words of hope one day, and then words that bring fear and dread another day. Is it not our Constitution that is supposed to provide the boundaries of truth for all? Are we not all taught from childhood to respect above all else our Constitution and the rule of law? Our students, our young people, the women of our country, and our people are looking up to you to look them in the eye and speak in Rabindranath Tagore words “words from the depths of truth.”

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection:

Yes we have to stretch our arms towards perfection, but as frail human beings we have to realize that we are not always perfect in our decisions and actions. Our egos however do not allow us to admit that maybe we are wrong. We do not climb down from our positions, even though all around people seem to be saying you are making a mistake in using a law on the basis of religion, a law that will serve to divide our country, a law that can be misused in the years to come, and a law that is against the basic tenets of our constitution. Do not build walls on the basis of religion, the common people have suffered enough during the partition, when families were partitioned along with our country, because our rulers then wanted to divide and rule. Yes you are the duly elected government, but it is a sign of strength and not of weakness if you allow the opposition to express itself. It is a sign of a healthy democracy if there is a free press, and if there is room for debate in Parliament and in the larger society. And if you say that we were not allowed to do it when we were in the opposition, is that a reason for not doing it now and setting a good precedent?

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way:

Let discourse, open discussion, difference of opinion, dissent, all be allowed to flourish in this great democracy of ours which has stood out in the world because of its famed spirit of tolerance, love and brotherhood. We have been praised all over this world because of the “unity in diversity” we have shown through the ages. A person who travels all over the country from north to south and from east to west, encounters so many different types of cultures, so many languages, so many habits, so many ways of dressing, so many ways of doing things, some contradicting each other, some clashing with each other. But we have endured all the differences through the ages, because we have, in our diversity, had “the clear stream of reason” and unity guiding us through the centuries. Our differences have made us unique through history, so let us make our differences our strength, and be a beacon of hope to this world which is getting so divided.

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit:

If our country is to travel into that “heaven of freedom”, let us not look back into the mistakes made in our history. Human societies from time eternal have achieved greatness, but have also made mistakes and have been responsible for wrong actions. If we stay in the desert sand of dead habit and try to extort revenge for some deeds of history, how will our country reach that “heaven of freedom”? Let us look forward, let us learn from mistakes made at different times in our history, and let us not try to extract revenge from the common people of our country who just want to live in peace and freedom. Let us strive towards a society where every Indian, regardless of what religion or community he belongs to, can have a roof over his head, food to eat, water to drink, medical help when necessary, a good education for his children, a means to earn a living with dignity, an efficient and honest system of governance, and a future for all coming generations. Let us not waste time and resources, looking back in time and history, at which Raja did something wrong, or which Sultan made a mistake, or which other country is going wrong somewhere, and where we should have revenge, and there will be plenty of space for everyone in that “heaven of freedom to which our great India will awake.”

Where the mind is led forward by Thee, into ever widening thought and action, into that heaven of freedom my Father, let my Country awake:

An atmosphere of negativity, revenge and threats towards neighbouring countries perceived wrongs, changing names of streets and buildings and statues because of a perceived sense of humiliation or grievance, a feeling of ‘us’ and ‘them’, will never lead us forward into ever widening thought and action. India has always been a shining beacon of tolerance, an example of assimilation of diversity, peaceful non-cooperation with unjust currents in history, and if you as our elected government diverted your attention to positivity regardless of what goes on around us, it would not be a sign of weakness, but a sign of the great strength and values that we Indians hold dear. We have our great institutions and we have our brave armed forces, but let us use them as deterrents and guardians, and not as threats, so that we can uphold the values of peace and tolerance in the world. Let us uphold the values of Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and all the other great people of our country, and let us not have to tell any of our people “go back to where you belong, or go back to where you come from”, because that would be a very negation of all our great Indian cultural traditions and values.        


Minna Kabir has extensive experience working with child rights and human rights movements in Kolkata, Jharkhand and Delhi.

Image courtesy: https://designway4u.blogspot.com/