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First ‘Intolerance’, Now ‘Nationalism’: We Throw Words About, Do We Know What They Mean?

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By Atiya Anis:

Activists from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), shout slogans during a protest march in New Delhi, India, February 24, 2016. Thousands of ABVP members on Wednesday carried out the march against "anti-national sloganeering" raised at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus earlier this month, protesters said. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi - RTX28BSL
Image Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi.

First was the word ‘intolerance’, and this time around its ‘nationalism’. I am amazed at the play of words. I had read somewhere, “Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise, you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” This is exactly what we are busy doing, shouting slogans of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, and forcing everyone to chant ‘Vande Martaram’.

In theory, nationalism is defined as a “feeling that people have of being proud of their country and is often accompanied by the belief that it is better or more important than other countries.” Although it is essential to be proud of one’s existence and legacy, at the same time a blindly exaggerated portrayal of your country, defying the principles of humanity can easily lead to extreme movements. Extreme nationalism has the power to create competition between different nations, leading to war as happened in the case of the World Wars. It can also result in internal extremism like Nazism, a phenomenon which Germany still regrets. The current trend shows that an enemy country doesn’t need to put in any effort to damage India. We, by our acts of bigotry, are capable of doing it ourselves.

In the current Jawaharlal Nehru Universty row, I am shocked at the shameful stand by some of the media houses and the inflated reactions from people. Not to forget the lawyers, who possess the dual qualification of being the judge and God, who also decided not to let go of an opportunity for some publicity, in the frenzied sequence of events. Legislature, Executive, Judiciary and Media have been called the four pillars of democracy. In a country, where the electorate has become disillusioned with its elected representatives, the lawyers and media have also decided to follow suit.

Lawyers marching from Patiala Court to India Gate shouting slogans of ‘Pakistan Murdabad’ and ‘kill the anti-nationals’ made me feel insecure within my own country. This growing mob culture which is becoming the pop culture of the current time will take its toll on the secular and diverse culture of this nation. This mob culture is gradually gaining ground. From the lynching of a man on the basis of rumours in Dadri to the incident at Patiala House. Don’t be happy if this time you are a part of the mob. It will not take too long for people to change their minds, form another group and choose a new target.

The media was also on fire to complement the damage, to spread terror and to pronounce the accused guilty. Arnab Goswami and the like took no time in declaring Umar Khalid, a 28-year-old JNU student, as a Pakistani agent and anti-national. It must take a lot of insecurity within a person to listen to such loud and accusatory voices. I learnt very early in life that empty vessels make the most noise. It isn’t rocket science. I wonder when the rest of country will realise this. Aren’t we all sadists? We enjoy such shows as long the one being hounded holds views that are against our own. We love to see the anchor crush the speakers because deep down we all are frustrated. Frustrated with our jobs, relationships, responsibilities, money, increasing expenses, and everyday struggles. We are too weak to address our problems and such shows give us the adrenaline rush to make us feel stronger. In India, the one who can shout, who can torture, is powerful.

Whatever the TRPs might say, it was a black day for the Indian media.

The politicians who wanted to cash in on the publicity jumped in. The HRD Minister expressed the desire to place national flags in all universities. I heard a certain BJP MLA, Mr. O.P. Sharma, who beat up a Communist Party of India activist claiming, “I would have opened fire if I had a gun. If someone abuses our mother, won’t I beat him up?” To my knowledge, India must be the only country, where it would be difficult to differentiate between a goon and politician. I also heard the sloganeering lawyers who turned to a hysterical mob within the court premises threatening the JNU supporters to go to Pakistan and assaulting them.

Who are these people whose blood boils at the slightest provocation? Who are we fighting against? Who do we want to send to Pakistan? As per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), every day, 93 women are being raped in India. How come their blood cools down when women are raped and paraded naked in this very country? Why does the sloganeering mob disappear when it comes to standing with the Manipuri women, who stripped down to protest against the suspected custodial rape and police atrocities? Where was the conscience of Mr. Shrama and ABVP when around 3000 farmers committed suicide last year? Where was the urban mob of lawyers when tribals and farmers were protesting the unjust land acquisition by corporates and big business houses? Why doesn’t the lawyer ‘brigade’ refuse to fight for the rich and mighty defaulters and criminals? Does ‘nationalism’ and Bharat Mata allow its sons only to bash up the poor and the underdog? Why does the ABVP object to Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai? What stops them from burning the posters of Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Is it so that condemning the killing of poor people is exempt from the definition of nationalism.

Maybe Indian nationalism excludes the poor and also those from north-east and south of India, whom we love to ridicule. Actually, nationalism is ‘north-Indian nationalism’. Proud sons of ‘Bharat Mata’, what responsibility have you fulfilled in a country which ranks at the top of the world hunger list with 194.6 million undernourished people (2015 Annual Report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), and with 3000 children dying every day due to hunger? How have you contributed when you saw a child in torn clothes, begging barefoot in the freezing Delhi winter?

These fascist forces want to control the dreams, imagination and thought process of the people. It will be a tough fight but we cannot let them succeed in their attempts at shrinking the space of opinion and dissent in this country. We need to slow down, retrospect, rethink and analyse because no nationalism is greater than humanity. We all need to stand united, with our disagreements. And as the Father of Nation put it, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you will win.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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