By Nijam Gara:
According to the eminent historian Benedict Anderson, a ‘nation’ is an imagined community. This community typically shares a common language or, at least, a common culture. Only then does the imagination hold a contextual meaning to it. While that is evident in the case of many modern western nation-states, what about India? Our country has more differences than commonalities. With 22 official languages and cultures that change from state to state, or even within a state, our sense of a nation is virtually an imagined notion.
The geographical concept of India as we see it today has been thrust upon us by ‘white’ colonial rulers. And since then, we have been trying to box ourselves into this idea of one nation. Of course, this has given us a common identity and, perhaps, helped us Indians bond together in spite having such disparate cultures. But can centuries of oppression be remedied under the garb of nationalism?
The idea of the modern nation-state of India, as envisaged by Jawaharlal Nehru and our constitutional architect Ambedkar, was supposed to make us leap past feudalism, casteism, and religious fundamentalism. Certainly, progress has been made but judging by the turmoil today, the right-wing seems hell-bent on reversing this by painting the country with a saffron brush. They want to foist an imagined ‘India’ and prescribe a particular definition of nation and nationalism that ignores the inherent schisms in our society.
A nation consists of people and not just land said Gurazada Apparao, an eminent Telugu poet. So what good is a nation that ignores the sentiments of its people? Can we use the same yardstick to measure the feelings of nationalism in a Dalit sanitation worker and a privileged army general? Is Irom Sharmila less of an Indian for protesting against the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act? Does Killing Mohammad Akhlaq for eating mutton make the angry mob that lynched him more Indian? Why is a tainted MLA in Gujarat out on bail despite being convicted for instigating mob violence in 2002 while a student leader of one of the most prestigious universities is languishing in judicial custody (booked under the draconian sedition law) for making a speech that was unsavory to the ruling elite? Ambani pilfering natural oil reserves in the Krishna-Godavari basin thanks to the largesse of elected governments (both Congress and non-Congress) does not count as an ‘anti-India’ act? Big corporate honchos can default on thousands of crores of public sector bank loans and yet be honoured with Padma Bhushans and Vibhushans but Dalit scholars are not paid their stipends for sharing their views on facebook?
On another level, when a government wishes to curtail the basic freedoms of its citizens in the name of nationalism, it should be equally accountable for its responsibilities towards the citizens. The alacrity with which it has acted to rusticate ‘anti-national’ students from Hyderabad Central University, that ultimately led to Rohith Vemula’s death, is missing when it comes to preventing the massacre of innocent people in Muzaffarnagar. The enthusiasm it showed in arresting Kanhaiya Kumar is clearly lacking when it comes to investigating the cold-blooded murder of more than 20 Dalit labourers by the Andhra Pradesh police in the forests of Tirupathi.
It is thus abundantly clear that the government has little regard for the Dalits and Muslims of this country. This seems to be an extension of the Vedic law whereby a Dalit speaking ‘out of turn’ is to be dealt with severely. Countless examples from the famed Puranas (such as Sambuka, Ekalavya, etc.) are just being replayed in real life by the right-wing power that now have a majority in government thanks to the media-created Modi mania. There is clearly a war on Dalits, Muslims and liberals in the country.
If we compare what is going on today in India with perhaps the most modern nation-state, the USA, ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘Occupy Wall Street’ supporters were never labeled anti-national or seditious by the government. Since our leaders are all too eager to import American capitalism, why not take a leaf out of their book on how to handle student protests?
But, is there a silver lining in all this despotism that is being perpetuated in our nation? Ironically, the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party from its battered Jan Sangh days offers an example. The right-wing has been able to spread its political tentacles in the country thanks to the Emergency regime of Indira Gandhi. Similarly, the strong show of strength by agitating liberal students across universities amidst the repressive tactics of the Modi government today will hopefully pave the way for a much-needed, truly liberal political force in the country.
Perhaps, unwittingly, the Manuvadis’ display of power is only leading to a previously unseen unity among Dalits, Muslims and likeminded liberals in the country. As J.R.R. Tolkien states, “…Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.”