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Rabindranath Tagore Didn’t Want Nationalism To Be Reduced To Flag Hoisting, And I Agree

By Piyush Sharma:

flagThe Ministry of Human Resource Development has issued guidelines to make it mandatory for all central universities to hoist a 200-feet high Indian national flag. The rationale behind it is that it will instil a sense of ‘unity and integrity’ and would signify a ‘strong India’.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with it and no harm can come with flags flying high in every university. The argument that our universities with dilapidated walls and infrastructure should not make extravagant spending on flags is utterly farcical. We do not live in a nation so abjectly poor that we cannot afford a piece of cloth per college.

But what is being missed in all this noise in the media and news are the deeper philosophical debates related with the use and role of idols and symbols of nations such as the flag. Flags in modern times are not very different from totemic animals/symbols used by tribes around which they gathered to perform their rituals and express solidarity. Similar to this is our flag around which we gather every year on our days of national importance and express our solidarity and patriotism. Gandhiji strongly believed in the power of the flag to unite us. For it brings to our minds images of the sacrifices of the freedom struggle, of our soldiers who laid their lives for us, and various successes that we have so far achieved as a nation. It swells our chests with pride on seeing the fluttering flag of our nation in the open blue sky.

Rabindranath Tagore, on the other hand, was greatly critical of this belief of Gandhi. He believed that by introducing the flag as the symbol of ideals such as unity, fraternity, nationhood, peace etc. we are not trusting in the wisdom of the masses to comprehend these abstract ideals and, instead, are having to provide them with a flag. Thus, a flag can be thought of as a symbol on the electronic voting machine to assist people who cannot read simple letters like BJP/BSP/Congress. Not trusting in the wisdom of the people is actually antithetical to the idea of democracy itself.

Thus, what we have missed is the fact that flag is only a means and not the end in itself. Any self-proclaimed patriot who resorts to violence to avenge any disrespect to the flag is, thus, doing a disservice to the very flag he fights to defend. The concept should not be dogmatic, like religion, and any unintended discourteous act to it like Sachin putting it on his helmet or a model draping herself in tricolor should not be treated as acts of blasphemy. We must take a cue from British people who do not mind three-fourths of the Lords’ crowd who carry a British passport but wave Indian flags. They have matured, both as a nation and as a democracy, and their nationalism does not require the symbolism of a flag but is an economic nationalism respecting merit and the enterprising spirit which creates for them jobs, brings people out of poverty and creates products which earn them respect around the globe.

We have to remember that we had been a strong ‘nation’ for thousands of years before we became a ‘nation-state’ and adopted this flag in 1947. It is important here to be clear that we were not a ‘nation’ because we shared a common religion, language, ethnicity, creed, thought, culture, customs, cuisine, costume or were ever united under a common ruler. These are the various different characteristics that many political theorists and sociologists have used to define their conception of nationhood and state without coming to an agreement. In the words of Winston Churchill, India was no more a nation than equator was. It was a mere geographical expression.

But what Churchill could not comprehend was that India was a ‘nation’ because its people respected and shared the ideals of democracy, liberty, equality, justice, tolerance, debate, discussion, dissent all across its geography and throughout its history. For it did not matter whether people lived under Zain-ul-Abidin (in what is now Kashmir) or Akbar or the Buddhist sanghas or Ashoka because they all enjoyed the liberties that make up the ‘democratic system’. Ideas, thoughts, views were allowed to be freely shared. Scientific enquiry was promoted under royal patronage. Religious discussions took place with mutual respect of each others’ sentiments based not just on tolerance but acceptance (or swikriti as Amartya sen calls it) of one another.

Thus, instead of identifying epochs of Indian history in terms of ‘Hindu rashtra’, ‘Buddhist rashtra’, ‘Muslim rashtra’ etc. we should take notice of our heritage of democratic ideals that make us a nation. Far from the widely held belief, our democracy is not a gift of the ‘West’ to us but, instead, we have been a democracy even before this very word came into existence. And we stood and stand united not around the idol of nationhood but the ideals of it.

It still may be argued even after the masses have proven their wisdom for thousands of years that these abstract ideas still are very difficult to be understood by a large section of society which is uneducated. But surely we must expect this wisdom from students in our institutions of higher learning. What we need today is Plato’s philosopher king in our union’s HRD ministry to understand the real meaning of the flag.

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  1. Aniruddha Shidhaye

    What about Hindus living under the reign of Sikandar Butshikan. Surely they did not experience democarcy?

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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
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