Azhar, Narendran, Moses, Shaik Mohammed, Shanmugam, Thiruthani Kumaran. These were some of my school friends whom I vividly remember. Those were the days where Azhar used to be the captain of the cricket team and all of us had one thing in common: to play cricket and win if possible. Playing together was fun and the school environment enabled us to have fun, fight, run and enjoy our childhood.
Even in college, there wasn’t an iota of any feeling of separation on the lines of caste, religion, economic status, or region. The only known separation was that of the academic discipline we had chosen such as electronics, electrical, mechanical or civil engineering. Little did we, as students, know of a world which had existed, and of which I am coming to know now. Little did we know that it is a reality which we, as Indians, need to deal with.
Recent developments such as the ‘beef-eating’ controversy, the so-called ‘ghar wapsi’, and the more recent Jawaharlal Nehru University incident and research scholar Rohit Vemula’s suicide at Hyderabad Central University, and more dangerously, the linking of these to the definition of nationalism are worrying issues in a democratic and vibrant society like India. Ordinary people taking the law into their own hands and considering themselves the guardians of ‘nationalism’ sets a very dangerous precedent. Discussions, debate, counter views are important ingredients in a vibrant democracy. Any group, party, or union has the freedom to express their views in a non-violent, progressive way.
Things start to disintegrate when the group starts taking matters into its own hands and proclaims itself to be the guardian of whatever it is that it stands for. The situation becomes increasingly scary when the government makes a conscious decision to stand as a mute spectator which eventually leads to hatred, divisions, violence and possibly even death.
In a democratic, secular country like India, describing definitions for nationalism and classifying citizens as ‘nationalists’ and ‘anti-nationals’ goes against the very ethos of a constitution based on the ideals of a liberal democracy. When narrow definitions are expounded and efforts are made to thrust that on the citizens who are forced to abide by it, it has the potential to move away from the democratic environment to a more fascistic society.
Our country has made huge progress in maintaining unity in diversity. It possesses unique qualities which binds people of different regions, religions, people who speak different languages, have different customs and beliefs and allows them to live together as ‘Indians’. It is time that we, as Indians, stood up together to broaden our vision and our definitions instead of further narrowing them down. It is high time that we as Indians stood united instead of taking sides on account of ‘nationalism’.
My nationalism cannot be defined narrowly. Instead, it should be broad enough to accommodate the differences and diversity that exists among the people that live in India. It should be broad enough to allow the nation to move forward and become a place where people thrive, innovate, solve real problems that people have like tackling poverty and, more importantly, ensuring that children have a safe and healthy environment to enjoy their childhood. Let’s look for a broader definition of nationalism which will accommodate diversity and promote unity.