I remember as a child whenever my mom or dad would scold me I told myself they don’t love me. When they criticised me, for how I performed in school or at a competition, I felt even worse. The current lot of chest-thumping nationalists remind me of that petulant seven-year-old child that loudly declares “you don’t love me” for every imagined hurt.

When angry, loud declaration of patriotism becomes the crutch of the State, something has to be amiss. An accusation as serious as “anti-national” has been used to describe all and sundry–loud rebellious students, environmentalists and those fighting for tribal rights, those fighting corporatisation, journalists, and so many others. It has come to the point where I suspect any hardworking person who hasn’t yet been called anti-national would start taking exception to it.

In fact, it seems, the words are being thrown around to divert attention from any issue of national interest — equality, justice, and freedom.

Calling for the destruction of the country as we know it is sure unpalatable. But many people of law have said it isn’t criminal. Even being anti-India isn’t criminal, they have said. What is criminal is a call and incitement for violence.

But on the question of anti-nation, anti-India, I wonder what exactly is India? What is nationalism? Is India just a vast expanse of land stretching from Kashmir (POK included, of course) to Kanyakumari? Or does it include the people therein? If you can’t accept, as equals, the Kashmiris, the Manipuris, the Nagas, the Gonds, the Tamils, the dalits, the women, the students and the poor, how, then are you a nationalist?

I don’t know who Rohith Vemula was as a person, but I understand that he called for justice for dalits, for the disenfranchised. He was a nationalist, hounded for raising his voice. I don’t know Kanhaiya. But he too fought, through speech and action, for the welfare of the poor. He is a nationalist, jailed and harassed for having a voice. I don’t know Umar Khalid either. But I have read he wanted to work for tribal rights, for Kashmiris, for the marginalised. He, then, is a nationalist, currently on the run from a State that appears to on a vengeful hunt for those who are relatively powerless while opportunistically hobnobbing with the powerful who have the same views.

Our idea of nation as a vague, philosophic, romantic entity has little meaning unless we, as people, come to accept the people within the physical boundaries.

The inability of pseudo-nationalists to accept them has already shattered the country into a thousand pieces. Alleged calls to break the country apart, then, are rather impotent threats. In a country where Kashmir wants to go its way, Arunachal is barely sticking around, Tamil Nadu has been protesting, half your country is at war with the government, the country is defined by its physical boundaries.

I wonder what is anti-national. Asking for azaadi, is it? But, I too, shouted “Humko kya chahiye… azaadi” in 2012. I want freedom to be a woman in my country. Kashmiris and north-easterns, I suppose, want freedom from AFSPA, from racism. Our tribals want the freedom to live. We all want azaadi just from different oppressions.

Criticising your country is not unpatriotic. If anything, it is the patriotic thing to do. To criticise. To demand more. To demand that the country be better, not just for a handful but for every one of its people. To demand equality, freedom and justice. Till that time comes, the patriot will keep calling for azaadi. Let’s see how long the Government continues to stamp its feet and vengefully pull their pigtails.