An edited version of this column on the occasion of India’s 74th Independence Day has been published on National Herald web and print edition of Sunday, 16 August.
My feeling of patriotism under a Hindu nationalist regime
At the Wagah border in Punjab, every evening India and Pakistan’s Army engage in a beating retreat ceremony which is attended by hundreds on both sides of the border. While they are at it, on both sides, patriotic slogans are raised. During my visit, I heard the Indian side shouting “Pakistan murdabad” and Pakistanis shouting “India murdabad”.
Is this patriotism? Why should I wish ‘murdabad’ or death upon the other country and its people when I do not even know them? As American comedian Doug Stanhope once said, “Nationalism does nothing but teach you to hate people you never met, and to take pride in accomplishments you had no part in.”
Rabindranath Tagore said, “I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.”
Today in the BJP ruled India every day it seems patriotism and nationalism are triumphing over humanity which makes it hard for me to negotiate with the changed milieu of India and confuses my feelings of patriotism. I see a couple of major flaws in the nationalism or patriotism preached by BJP-RSS combine.
Firstly, it makes no sense that just because some great things happened in the past on the land I was born in, I should be proud about it all the time and think that my country is better than others. The history of human civilization across the globe is amazing. Every civilization, every culture, every country is uniquely great, just as much as they are uniquely flawed. I see no reason why national ‘pride’ should be a default position. Secondly, and in that logic, there is no reason to feel shame or guilt or anger about the past. Specially if it is not a recent past but hundreds and thousands of years old past. Thirdly, if at all we acknowledge historical wrongs, like colonization, slavery, invasions, genocide, we cannot seek revenge of the past from people of the present. Revenge is not a virtue. Every religion of the world including Hinduism espouses forgiveness.
We cannot judge medieval past with modern standards of nation states, democracy, human rights, Constitutional values, rule of law and so on. But the Hindu nationalists in India defied these values by demolishing the Babri Masjid. The place of worship, for whatever its past, was a matter of faith for Indian citizens of present times, and the demolition violated their freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution. Honourable Supreme Court itself held the demolition wrong and yet Prime Minister Modi, who should be committed to protect the rights of every citizens and not just the ones who voted for him, participated in a grand celebration based upon an act of revenge.
So why should I feel proud about a regime which commits wrong? Are Chinese citizens proud of the human rights violations against the Uighur Muslims? Are the Myanmar citizens proud of the genocide of Rohingyas? Were Germans proud of the killings of Jews? I do not know. At least I am not proud of what Indian government is doing to a section of its own citizens. And I am not proud of the people who condone it.
It should be noted that ‘nation’ is not a piece of land or government. Nation is not a religion. It is the citizens. Their actions are what make us proud or ashamed. When Indian citizens win a Nobel prize or Olympic Gold, they make us proud. But when another commits mob lynching in name of religion it makes us ashamed.
I am not proud of the various Hindu nationalist projects promoted by RSS-BJP which seeks to otherize the Muslim citizens, and I am ashamed of the people who allowed this transgression from our Constitutional vision. I am ashamed that today people see ‘secularism’ as a bad word; they voted to power a person who belongs to an organization whose ideologies murdered Gandhi, and under whose watch a dreaded anti-Muslim pogrom went unabated. I am ashamed that our intellectual capacity is attacked, truth is turned into lies and lies into truth, institutions are destroyed, educational policies, history, demography, are all being rewritten with the singular motive of a theological state, a Hindu Rashtra.
That is not to say I am not patriotic. I love my nation and am committed to protect her from all kinds of wrong, including the ones committed by BJP-RSS regime. I am proud of the national flag. When the National Song is played, I stand up even when I am alone in a room. But for me, India is the nation which was born on August 15, 1947. The basis of my patriotism is not the land I was born upon, but the Constitution enacted by our political forefathers. For me, India is the people who are committed to the Constitution. The Constitution is my supreme text and that is where my loyalty and patriotism lie.
With that thought, happy Independence Day.