There’s something quite queer about the society we live in today. It is a society that constantly tries to impose itself upon us and in the process imparts a certain sense of identity to itself and its constituents. But oddly enough this pursuit to attach an identity to every single entity leads to a perplexing criss-cross of theories, beliefs and practices which ultimately paves the way for a loss of the vestige of the original identity that had prevailed prior to an exhaustive indoctrination. Ever since the concept of the Nation State emerged in the 18th century, political theorists as well as the common man have tried to comprehend the true meaning of nationalism. In the India of today, we like to look upon ourselves as a progressive, modern and liberal nation but does the prevalent theme of nationalistic fervour impede such ideals in any way? Today we seek to find out whether the concept of nationalism in its original or present incarnation is in tune with the motifs of the very State that it seeks to glorify. In addition, we shall explore the ominous avenues that threaten to instill a firm sense of nationalism by rooting out every ounce of humanistic sentiment.
Technically speaking nationalism is defined as a feeling of oneness among individuals pertaining to a common geographical, social, cultural or historical background. As such there seems to be no problem with the rudimentary idea of nationalism. In fact it will not be in any way inaccurate to suggest that it is highly natural for people sharing common attributes to develop a firm sense of loyalty towards common values and towards one another. So where does the problem lie? For starters the problem arises when in a diverse country like India a parallel notion of geographical, social, cultural and historical superiority creeps in rejecting the bliss of pluralism in the process. In present India, certain groups feel that it is their utmost responsibility to establish a status quo when it comes to how an Indian should live his or her life. The emergence of such an objective is hence bound to open up a debate on the very basic practices, habits and customs of Indians. But the reality is that in India attainment of any uniformity when it comes to a civil code is utopia at best. This partly explains why such a provision has not yet been incorporated in the Constitution. The gruesome aspect to this whole equation lies in the fact that portions of the so-called ‘majority ‘ believe that their way of life is what defines the essence of being a true Indian. To suggest that such a lot is prone to disillusion will be an understatement. To put things into context, the highly contentious issue of consuming beef serves as a perfect example. In the northern parts of India, there has cropped up a consortium of sorts of beef vigilantes. These incorrigible individuals have stopped at nothing to ensure that beef eaters pay a hefty price for doing something that they perceive as ‘un-Indian’. Recently the cow vigilantes resorted to assaulting women and infamous among their perennial atrocities is a practice of forcing ‘offenders’ to consume a concoction of cow dung, milk and honey so as to ‘purify’ their ‘corrupted’ bodies. It goes without saying that perpetrators of this kind do not solely suffer from a grotesque miscalculation of what it means to be an Indian, they are also inexorably motivated by the desire of catapulting their community above all others. Taking law into one’s own hands is thus just a side effect of a miserable disease that is threatening to assume epidemic proportions.
To a rational mind it is clear as daylight that the food and dress habits of an individual can never be at daggers drawn with the concept of loyalty to India. To large portions of the intelligentsia, talk of nationalism is nothing more than rhetorical nonsense upon stilts. Unfortunately, in between the radicals and the still lesser rationals there are those who are largely indifferent to the whole saga. To these ignorant masses their sense of nationalism extends no further than zealously following the fortunes of the Indian Cricket Team. Thus by unconsciously sitting on the fence as regards the identity of an Indian, these people only serve to perpetuate a problem whose very birth and survival should be of considerable alarm. Nationalism is not defined by the choices made in the private domain, instead it encompasses the thoughts and actions we carry out in the public domain. For example, nobody, ideally speaking, should bat an eyelid if an Indian chooses to eat a particular food item for dinner. But if the same behaviour follows after an Indian rashly describes the Kashmiri protesters as anti-nationals on social media then such an axiom needs changing. An instrumental factor behind the resurgence of the nationalism debate has been the volatile situation in Kashmir. Ever since the Indian army killed Burhan Wani, the face of Kashmiri militancy in an encounter on 8 July 2016, tensions have been scarcely below boiling point. Kashmir is no longer merely an apple of discord between India and Pakistan. Thanks in no small part to the inexplicable reluctance on part of the Government of India to diffuse matters in the valley and its persistence to keep Kashmiris cut off from the rest of the country, the locals have turned vehemently against the concept of an Indian Kashmir. For them there can be no compromise with India. They are engaged in a quest for their own independence and naturally to them their sense of nationalism bears no loyalty to India. If India does end up relinquishing Kashmir it shall be largely down to its own snobbery of compelling Kashmiris to abide by an ideology which in the former’s book constitutes nationalism. The recent comments of the renowned Indian journalist Arnab Goswami that fellow journalists criticising the actions of the Indian Army in Kashmir should be arrested only serve to highlight the level of naive intolerance an educated, qualified mind bears in this country.
It is high time that we realise that nationalism has no sacramental dimension. Nobody can and should compel us to worship a nation that is plagued by a multitude of flaws. Instead the nationalism we must uphold and practice is a version that questions every dogma, challenges every tradition and attacks every attempt at establishing a theorem for an ideal Indian to follow. As Indians we do have a lot to be proud of but while basking in our pride we must not ignore the elements that seem poised to permanently stain our glory. Today if an Indian does not feel goosebumps on hearing the national anthem he cannot be outrightly condemned as an anti-national. Whatever version of nationalism we preach and practice, it can never conceivably surmount the much greater ideal of humanism- something that the increasingly globalising nature of the world is sure to shed more light on in the time to come. Thus the meat of the matter is that in creating, nurturing and augmenting an unwavering sense of devotion and loyalty to our nation, we must not become oblivious to its sins: a true Indian need not stand up and salute the national flag, he need only stand up and object to anything and everything that defies logic and justice. A belligerent and blind cult of State worship will only serve to build a facade of nationalism- an omnipotent, misconstrued, all pervading ideal that consumes the very entity it was meant to celebrate. Calls for an ism that nullifies the unifying power of a nation must be nipped in the bud. In other words, jingoistic tendencies must be suppressed and nationalism must be viewed in the right light failing which nationalism might survive but our nation shall not.
The author, Priyam Marik, is presently a student of English at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.