This Is Why The ‘Senseless’ Display Of ‘Nationalism’ By Some Makes No Sense To Me

Posted on February 21, 2016 in Society

By Shasya Goel:

Lawyers shout slogans outside the Patiala House court in New Delhi, India, February 19, 2016. Dozens of lawyers on Friday held a protest march demanding action against what they call "anti-nationalists" supporting Kanhaiya Kumar, a Jawaharlal Nehru University student union leader accused of sedition. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee - RTX27OMT
Image Credit: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee.

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Watch out for the new catch-phrase doing the rounds in our country. And beware, lest you commit the mortal sin of speaking that which goes against the ‘democratic’ framework of our motherland, and never see the light of day again.

Recently, Home Minister Rajnath Singh released a statement in retaliation to the ongoing protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University: “If anyone raises anti-India slogans, tries to raise questions on the country’s unity and integrity, they will not be spared.”

I wonder if it ever occurred to him how ridiculous he sounds talking about the country’s unity and integrity in the same breath as this threat of not ‘sparing’ anyone. According to them, true unity is displayed not by standing in solidarity with the Kashmiris struggling with a veritable military occupation, but by suppressing dissent that threatens to break their narrow version of the country.

A Ph.D. scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Sandhya Devesan Nambiar shared her opinion over accusations hurled at the university for breeding anti-nationals. “Unfortunately, there’s something people don’t realise about JNU. We love the people of this country, the poor, the Dalit, the marginalised, the voiceless, and we uphold their fundamental liberties at any cost. When the state itself becomes their oppressor, we have courage enough to question such action, and humanity enough to adopt their lives and causes as our own. The state, however, is a big entity with quite a few resources to potentially sell manufactured truths to a gullible few, who are too eager to write off the many faults of the state and forget these poor beaten down lives, in return for comfortable lives of their own. But thankfully they are only a few, and the ones who understand that power can be abused repeatedly and speak out against it, are many. We hold hands with them, and invite the rest for a conversation over chai.”

Let us put it simply. When you arrest people like Kanhaiya Kumar, JNU’s Students’ Union President and charge him with ‘sedition’, it is because you give them a reason for such a ‘violation’. At a time when the demand for free speech has reached a new high, perhaps it is not a very good idea to do its exact opposite and curb dialogue that enables the youth to express and engage in an open forum on issues that directly affect them.

Amidst this uproar, a famous quote by Henry David Thoreau describes the sentiments of JNU students very well. “If injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go. Perchance it will wear smooth – certainly the machine will wear out. But if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

But the sad truth is that the ‘agents of injustice’ are hell bent on breaking those who attempt to fight injustice. After a series of horrific events, another incident that took the country by storm is a video that shows BJP MLA O.P. Sharma beating up a CPI activist outside the gate of the Patiala House Court. On being questioned over this brutal assault, Mr. Sharma responded,

“I would have opened fire if I had a gun. If someone abuses our mother, won’t I beat him up.”

Sure, raising slogans that question a judicial hanging, right to freedom of speech, and better standards of living for the oppressed is nothing but ‘anti-national’ rhetoric! But in no way do acts of physical violence or death threats fall within the boundaries of being a nationalist. In fact, if you call yourself a patriot, such a display of undying ‘devotion’ and ‘loyalty’ towards the nation only goes to show your ‘anti-human’ disposition. It entails no responsibility on one’s part to show the same virtues towards a fellow man, as towards the nation.

Does it not make more sense to worry about how our actions affect the lives of people? Is it not people that comprise the nation? The idea of a nation is nothing but an abstract concept which requires people to work together to build it from scratch so that they can call it a nation. It is our relentless struggle, years of discourse and discussions, and constant battle against elements that threaten freedom, that has led to the rise of this nation.

The real problem arises when the idea of ‘nationality’ becomes a social construct to be safeguarded by a display of senseless jingoism. Or when the need to direct public glare away from incessant goof ups makes it imperative to scuttle around calling oneself a true patriot to curtail debates about governance.

A beautiful analogy comes to mind as one thinks of George Orwell’s masterpiece Animal Farm. In this dystopian novella, animals rise to mutiny and drive away the drunken and irresponsible farmer Mr. Jones from the farm, renaming it ‘Animal Farm’. They adopt the ‘Seven Commandments of Animalism’, the most important of which is, “All animals are equal.”

But gradually, de facto power is exercised by a group of pigs who start to resemble humans, as they walk upright, carry whips, and wear clothes. The Seven Commandments are abridged to a single phrase: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” At the end, when the animals looked from pigs to humans, they realised they could no longer distinguish between the two.

And sadly, neither can we.