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Patriotism – Supererogatory Virtue, Or Unjustifiable Prejudice

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By Anirudh Nimmagadda:

All of us are, with very few exceptions, taught to love and respect our national heritage from a very young age. At barely five years of age, we are told of the significance of our Independence and Republic days. At six, we are taught to rise when the national anthem is played. At seven, we are taught the words of the anthem and those to the national pledge, and are made to repeat each of them at least once every day for the next several years. As we progress through school, we are related an increasingly detailed and increasingly biased (favorably so) version of our nation’s history, while concurrently being fed watered-down versions of those of others.

The above are but a few of the factors that plant within us the seeds of patriotism. We are, to put it bluntly, brainwashed while impressionable into believing that patriotism is good, that it is right, and that as citizens of the country we are under a moral obligation to support our own countrymen over those from a foreign land. Once inserted this belief remains ingrained in our psyche for a considerable amount of time, to the extent that even when mature we are markedly less comfortable with foreigners than we are with other Indians. Some of us go as far as to dismiss acquaintances who admit to cheering for a sports team that is not Indian as iconoclasts undeserving of our attention and company.

To many, all this talk may seem an attempt at raising a storm – in a teacup; it does not matter, to those of us who see patriotism as an unconditionally positive character trait, how it is instilled, or when. The purpose of the present article is to question that claim. Is patriotism a merit or a prejudice?

In the first comprehensive philosophical treatise on the subject, Stephen Nathan (1993) characterized patriotism as involving a special affection for, a sense of personal identification with, and a concern for the well-being of, one’s country, and also a willingness to sacrifice to promote the country’s good.

This is by no means the only definition around and indeed one can be patriotic to different degrees.

Extreme patriotism best summed up by the phrase “my country… right or wrong” advocates the casting away of moral considerations whenever major interests of the country are at stake. This amounts to a rejection of morality itself and it is a great pity that ‘extreme patriotism’ is not ‘extremely rare’: politicians play to this beat all the time, and not always unsuccessfully.

Another version of patriotism, championed as ‘robust patriotism’ by Alasdair MacIntyre concedes that the ‘larger interests’ of a country cannot be beyond questioning. However, he insists that one must work for the benefit of one’s nation even if the result of that work may be detrimental to humanity at large. Consequently, even robust patriotism rejects morality, or at least an important part of it: that which concerns universal justice and common human solidarity.

Both forms of patriotism discussed above are, in truth, little more than twisted versions of group egoism built around notions of a shared communal history. The only justification for such beliefs can be that one needs no other reason to love one’s country. JB Zimmerman retorts “the love for one’s country … is in many cases no more than the love of an ass for its stall” (Nathanson, 1993). There is merit in Zimmerman’s argument. Feeling an attachment to the land we are born in makes little sense, given we did not choose to be born there. Also, any feelings of gratitude one may have for one’s country (odd, since ‘country’ is an abstract concept) could well be misplaced. We are law-abiding and tax-paying citizens; aren’t we?

What then is the right thing to feel regarding our country of birth? Utter indifference? Is rejecting the emotional bonds tying us to our patria and embracing cosmopolitanism the just thing to do?

Nathanson proposes that we do not have to go that far, and that while global social concern is an important virtue in all humans there are occasions when it may be good to support one’s country over others. For instance, it is good for a citizen to enlist in the military when his country is at war, as long as the war is for a just cause. Additionally, Nathanson’s patriot is not uncritical of his country nor does he support it unconditionally. He will expect it to deserve that support and concern by living up to certain standards and when it fails to do so, he will withdraw that support.

While Nathanson’s patriotism seems agreeable, especially when compared to its alternatives, there is a flaw: it does not argue that patriotism is a moral duty or even a supererogation quality, merely that it is morally unobjectionable. In other words, patriotism has nothing going for it from a moral point of view and as such can be placed in the same basket as racism or petty regionalism.

Humans are naturally selective. We all have preferences for people we like to hang out with, places we want to hang out at, and groups we want to be part of, but that no matter how important these entities are to us our choices are, at best, of no moral import. They are morally permissible, when kept within limits, but indifferent in themselves. The same applies to patriotism (Primoratz, 2002).

I conclude that patriotism is far from being the moral duty we are brought up to believe it is, is in fact a trait of questionable moral character. Taken to an extreme, it can be extremely damaging, as evidenced by the multiple wars – motivated by patriotism – that have occurred in the past two centuries. Further, there is no evidence or argument to support the claim that patriotism is a virtue, while there is good reason to consider a belief in moral universalism one. There is, however, a moral gray area that encompasses Nathanson’s rather watered-down version of patriotism, which is, if little else, not wrong. Opinions on how much one could, or should, love one’s country can therefore vary from person to person. And they will; feel free to leave your comments below.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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