The curious case of Indian Nationalism

The history of India is a long contested one. Not only has its origins been contested but also the ‘Idea of India’ in itself is a comparatively recent historical trend. If we leave alone the nationalist discourses in the British Raj which flourished as the most useful counter-ideology to that of colonialism, there has rarely been references made to the collective consciousness of the Indian people – as belonging to the common land. And this is mainstream history – one which has for centuries neglected the voices of the women, dalits, adivasis, religious and sexual minorities, ethnic and linguistic groups. Think of any group which has been fighting for their rights, or struggling to fight for their rights today – you will see they have had almost no presence in any kind of ‘history’. Where does the entire gamete of national identity and nationalism fit for these millions of people, needs better introspection.

We have all seen instances of the collective consciousness poured out in the streets. The recent Delhi gang-rape case saw the middle classes come away from their TV sets and the shopping malls. They came together and protested, unparalleled in the recent public memory – also got an anti-rape act in place, the moral pressures ensuring that the prime accused died in a much too deserved shameful manner. There were outraged people, wanting to lynch him and his partners in crime causing the most painful death, demanding for chemical castration and death penalty and public executions, again unparalleled in the recent public memory. We were all very angry. The people of the country were rising. A revolution, to take the guarantee of the security of its citizens, was in place, people told. If it was collective consciousness or mob fury, I am not entirely sure. I have till today not been able to establish for myself if I should support whatever comes as support and solidarity from an increasingly detached and dehumanised class, or be critical or dismissive of it. I leave that view open.

There are decades of struggle ongoing in several parts of the country, they have not received as much love and affection of the media and ruling classes as the concerns of the urban elite. A power cut in Delhi or Mumbai for a day gets hours of nervous reporting, poor adivasis dying in order to prevent their land from being taken away is never interesting enough. A rape and murder of a young dalit girl is mentioned in passing – as if its nothing to worry much. It indeed has stopped surprising me, because the public apathy to them has shown neither sympathy nor remorse for the millions of such cases. It is not just what is ignored, it is also what is highlighted. The fallacy lies not just in making these people invisible, it is also their protests which are highlighted as the ‘single biggest threat to democracy’. When the state did not hesitate to lathicharge and use tear shells on a peaceful protest demanding stringent rape laws; what makes people stop thinking that flesh-piercing bullets are not being used against their own country-people. What makes them not believe that the landmines are used by the security forces, executing orders of the state, to silence opposition – to pick out and choose people who do not let their lives and livelihoods snatched away in a flash. Is it the supreme idea of the nation – the idea of public good – is it the idea of the supremacy of the state, as the protector, executer and arbitrator of inviolable rights and fundamental duties? What if the state has failed to perform its primary role, what if it has conveniently stopped performing its primary duty. Seems a bit scary for a generation blaming individual corrupt politicians as the reason behind everything that is wrong with the country today.

This is the reality for many millions of people, who have nobody to go to in times of desperate need. The middle classes are too busy trying to eke out a living in small towns and cities, to try and run with the pace of their lives. The NGOs are too busy to develop plans to ’empower’ them – building models for alternative life and livelihood for them. They usually don’t ask these people to question why they need an alternative in the first place. All these people have with them is themselves, to organise, mobilise and put up a collective fight – to fight with the overarching state. When one such successful campaign gains momentum and is read about in some newspaper, it is dismissed as an attempt of foreign countries trying to disrupt the ‘development of India’. Seems quite ironic an opinion from a population obsessed with foreign brands of clothing as a favourite choice. ‘Anti-patriotism’ and ‘Anti-development’ are buzzwords. It actually fits in line with the present idea of India – one of systematic exclusion, injustice and historical oppression.

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.

Martin Luther King Jr.

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One thought on “The curious case of Indian Nationalism

  1. Writing a lot off late are we? Late comment from me, but nevertheless.

    You have once again vocalised soo many of my concerns. The protests that last for a short time and die make me very uneasy. Especially because I feel off late, some forms of violence are more legitimate than others. Like wife beating, violence by the State, violence against ‘militant forces’ and the list is long. And some kinds of violence get attention. This in itself is problematic like you have identified. In some sense, the very ways in which the ‘nation’ functions are often violent.

    Pieces like this must be written more and more should be reading. But maybe, it will be seen as ‘anti-nationalist’ or like ‘sedition’. But one does risk that anyway.

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