Patriotism means calling out what you see as unfair: Sona Mohapatra

I have the most beautiful memories of celebrating Republic Day. To start with, January 26 is also my mother Nayantara’s birthday, and I’ve always felt like a warrior fighting for her! Every fight I pick up for gender rights is linked to the lack of freedom I saw in her life while growing up, despite her being an educated and working woman…

I never missed a single flag hoisting ceremony during my school days; in fact, I took pride in having a record in that - 12 straight years and no excuses to stay back at home! A cherished memory is leading the school’s parade as an elected senior school captain. The boy captain assumed he would lead the parade, but I convinced the principal that the captain who had won with a larger majority should do so, and no assumptions should be made just because I was a girl! That apart, another sweet memory of the day was the boondi laddoos that used to be distributed after the cultural program where I invariably performed.

I watch the Republic Day parade on television no matter which part of the world I am in. The state-wise tableaux are so beautiful and connect me to an old world India that I love and cherish. It’s a ritual that we cherish as a family. Also, my two sisters and I, if we are in the same city, love taking out our old school notebook of patriotic songs and sing together in a group with full gusto - Koti koti kanthon se nikli aaj yahi swar dhara hai, Hindustan hamara hai! Bharat varsh hamara hai!

Today, if you go on social media, you’ll genuinely believe that the whole country is on fire! But if you travel, meet people and look around, it also feels like things are gradually getting better especially when it comes to rural India and the smaller towns. I travel there often as a performing artiste to play big mahotsav concerts and I am heartened to see infrastructural work and visible progress in people’s lifestyles, that you do not see in the overcrowded, bursting-at-the seams cities.

But the not-so-good part is the lack of agency accorded to women and their safety and dignity across the board in India. Even top women politicians are subjected to sexist treatment and statements by their own colleagues. So I believe we have a long way to go when it comes to gender rights. A body like the NCW should be equipped with resources and trained personnel with a background in social work, trauma management and a specific skill set, apart from having powers to actually summon someone, leave alone take them to task!

The industry I belong to is a boys’ club and opportunities for women singers in particular are few and far between. So that makes me frustrated sometimes. All in all, my country has many complex problems which don’t have easy solutions, so it will take time, but I’m optimistic.

My ideal image of India is a culture that is inclusive and open-minded without losing its connection to its core philosophy, artistry and values. For me, patriotism means working for a better India. It means calling out what you see as unfair and unjust, with an intention to improve prospects for future generations. It means creation, not disruption.

— Co-ordinated by Anju Warrier

Singer, lyricist, composer Sona Mohapatra speaks out against injustice.

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